The Words of the Pople Family
New York, USA - "The Role of Women in Social Transformation" was the theme of an afternoon meeting co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Iraq and Nigeria to the United Nations and organized by the Universal Peace Federation. It took place at the Mission of Nigeria headquarters on March 9 as a Parallel Event associated with the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women, "Beijing + 15."
"I tell women they don't need to look for power, "Amb. Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of Nigeria, said. "You are divinely powered." A mother of five and grandmother of three, she emphasized the importance of the family as the fulcrum of society. "You can fulfill any role in society and still be a woman, wife, and mother."
Rev. Tsu-Wei Zoe Chang, President of the United Nations Women's Guild, chaired the opening session. "Peace starts at home, with young generations learning respect and cooperation," she said. She envisions women being at the forefront in new inter-religious peace-building initiatives.
Reports on improved status for women in their respective nations were given by H.E. Dr. Hamid Al Bayati, Permanent Representative of Iraq and a member of the Commission on the Status of Women, and H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka. Both reported increasing opportunities for women in public life. For example, the new Iraqi constitution requires that 25 percent of the members of parliament be women, and 27 percent are now women. In 1960, Sri Lanka was the first country to elect a woman prime minister. Only 5 percent of the members of its parliament are currently women. "I think the quality of our politics will improve if we have more women in government," Ambassador Kohona stated.
There was a spirited discussion about Iraq. Elections for the Iraqi parliament were held two days earlier, and one woman in the audience commented to Ambassador Al Bayati that while women can now hold public office, "they are absent from political negotiations." He cited additional statistics and affirmed that "We have come a long way since 2003." When asked why he as a man was speaking on behalf of women's rights, he talked about the need for men to join in advocating for women and encouraged women to work with men who are on their side. An Afghani reported that 27.5 percent of the members of her parliament are now women, and a Pakistani noted that her country was the first to elect a Muslim woman as president.
"The heart of the human problem is the human heart," stated Mrs. Lynn Walsh, head of UPF's Women for Peace Initiative. She encouraged women to "draw upon their primary strengths of cooperation, empathy, relational intelligence, multi-tasking and contextual problem solving." These qualities are useful in working in collaboration with men, she said, "Whose thinking tends to be more compartmentalized, linear, and systematic, focusing on single tasks."
After a break, dialogue groups offered opportunities to discuss the presentations and share best practices. Dr. Jacqueline McLeod and Mrs. Tomiko Duggan joined Convener Mrs. Genie Kagawa in facilitating the discussions. Some participants were passionate about issues such as human trafficking, women being exploited by advertisers as sex objects, the need for parenting education, and transmission of values from one generation to another.
Model initiatives were described, including a program honoring outstanding citizens as "Mr. and Mrs. Core Values" and a community garden where resettled refugees grow food side by side with local families.
This month, the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women is reviewing the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. Many parallel events have been organized by NGOs to contribute to the conversation.
The Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global policy-making body on women's issues. Every year, representatives of Member States gather to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.
While UN bodies deliberate based on official reports, speakers at this Parallel Event urged the UN to value the wisdom and input of both official and unofficial sources, men and women, city dwellers and rural folk, well-educated and uneducated.