With a focus on women’s resilience, two of the side events at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Thursday focused on hope and happiness and included poignant, personal accounts from victims of an acid attack, genocide, child marriage and terrorist bombing.
Women and Girls: From Adversity to Hope
“Their personal stories are the catalyst for change,” said Zainab Zeb Khan, president of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance and the moderator for “Women and Girls: From Adversity to Hope.” “Without giving these stories proper validation we cannot progress to the change needed in our society today.”
SEEING LIFE DIFFERENTLY
Monica Singh survived an acid attack that scarred 90 percent of her body 10 years ago. Over that time, she said, she progressed from a patient in a wheelchair who needed help to feed herself to earning her fashion design degree to speaking before hundreds of people at the United Nations.
“Now I use that accident as a life-changing moment,” Monica said. “Now I see differently. That accident made me see positivity in my life.”
‘GOD IN OUR HEARTS’
Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide, shared how she had been a typical 14-year-old living in a happy family when her family was forced into hiding more than 20 years ago. She witnessed houses being destroyed and watched neighbors with machetes hunt down other neighbors. Her father and three brothers were taken and slaughtered. She was dragged away from her mother and sister where they were hiding and raped near her destroyed home.
“Wherever we were we prayed,” Consolee said. “Whatever happened, we had God in our hearts.”
SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE WITH TRUTH
Naila Amin, now a college student and activist, was four when her family came to America for a better life. When she was eight, they returned to Pakistan for a visit, and while there she was engaged to a cousin 13 years older. They returned to the United States, and after a conflict with her father, who beat her, she was removed from her home by Child Protective Services.
Over time she learned to see herself not as a victim but as a survivor. She reconciled with her father, who told her that if he had been better educated he would have known better. And she has started a foundation that works to end the custom of forced marriages.
“You set the world on fire with the truth,” Naila said. “We have to speak out. Women have been silenced too long.”
SHOWING LOVE INSTEAD OF HATE
Deeply affected by the attack on the World Trade Center, Sarri Singer moved to Israel in 2001 to volunteer with various organizations working with victims of terror and their families. In 2003, she barely escaped with her life when a teenage boy blew himself up on a bus of civilian innocents. She suffered burns, blown ear drums, embedded shrapnel which cannot be removed from some places.
Yet she does not dwell on hate or revenge.
“I refuse to give in to hate,” Sarri said. “I will not let this experience destroy me, to make me do the kind of things that revenge makes people do to each other. I chose to live my life doing the opposite of what that day was all about – showing love instead of hate.”
As each woman shared her story, the resounding message from each was, “Whatever happens, never lose hope.”
Happiness and Gender Equality in the Sustainable Development Goals
The focus of this year’s CSW is women’s empowerment and its link to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the stories of adversity ended in hope, much still must be done to attain Goal No. 3 ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all and Goal No. 5 supporting gender equality across the globe.
Four years ago, the United Nations passed a resolution designating March 20 as the International Day of Happiness, recognizing the relevance of happiness and wellbeing in lives around the world. In the session, Happiness and Gender Equality in the Sustainable Development Goals, Moderator Stacy London noted that happiness plays a powerful role in one’s life.
REMEMBERING THE HUMAN DIMENSION
Some countries look at an index that ranks Gross National Happiness to guide its decisions and policies and to be vigilant about remembering not to forget the human dimension, said Kunzang Namgyel, permanent representative of Bhutan to the United Nations. Much needs to be done to ensure happiness for the world, she said.
“Progress in our pursuit of happiness will remain elusive if we do not eliminate violence and inequality against women and girls,” she said.
The United Arab Emirates is one of only five countries in the world that has appointed a minister of happiness, said Lana Nusseibeh, permanent representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations.
“We believe this is a real testament in how important this element is in our government thinking and in creating a stable society,” she said.
GENDER EQUITY IS KEY
Gender equity is at the core of a peaceful and prosperous society, she said. Societies cannot be happy and cannot be productive if half of their society is not empowered.
Many variables go into determining a country’s happiness. Iceland, which ranks among the top countries in the world in terms of happiness, also receives high marks for gender equality and social support in times of crisis, said Einar Gunnarsson, permanent representative of Iceland to the United Nations.