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CSW Wraps up Second Week of Work

As the CSW winds down this week, commission members continue to work on the outcome document addressing the issue of “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.” The commission’s work is informed and influenced by the many delegates, panel discussions, presentations and related events sponsored by member states, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. Among the highlights from the past two weeks:

Briefing from the U.S. Delegation to the CSW

  U.S. Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Christy Turlington Burns chat with Jill Iscol before the beginning of the briefing.

Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, was joined at the U.S. briefing by five experts and activists who are working to help women and girls to be empowered and be women of change in their communities.

They included Christy Turlington Burns, fashion model and founder of Every Mother Counts; John Coonrod, vice president of The Hunger Project; Jill Iscol, president of the Hummingbird Foundation and author of “Hearts on Fire,” stories of private citizens doing public service; Melinda Newport, director of nutrition services for the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma; and Catherine Bertini, professor of public administration at Syracuse University.

After describing some of the programs currently in place to aid women in developing countries, Verveer found herself facing a determined college student who wanted to know why the United States has not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The United Nations General Assembly adopted the international convention in 1976, and 187 out of 193 countries have ratified it. The United States is the only developed nation that has not ratified the CEDAW treaty.

“I am asked that question all over the world,” Verveer said. “And it is no fun to have to defend something that is indefensible. We need two-thirds of the Senate. We need a super-majority to pass it. We need to have a huge education process. I don’t even call it CEDAW anymore. I call it the ‘Women’s Human Rights Convention.’ This touches every woman. I don’t think anyone would not support women’s rights.”

Verveer also discussed the gender gap in education, noting that one of the Millennium Development Goals focuses on education and that education is one of the most effective fundamental ways to foster development. Still, many girls leave school without the ability to read or do simple math.

“There is an increasing recognition, regardless of where you sit, that if we don’t do a better job of educating girls, then we won’t have the vibrant emerging market that we want. We won’t have the kind of world that we want. We need to grow the commitment to girls’ education.”

While Women Weep

  Nikole Lim (far right) joins the panelists in discussing her documentary "While Women Weep."

A screening of the documentary “While Women Weep,” offered a look at the lives of three Kenyan women who are inspiring other widows and orphans in their community to overcome adversity and live freely in hope. Nikole Lim, founder of Freely in Hope, produced the movie to showcase women’s stories that would serve to empower the next generation of girls.

“Our motto is, ‘If one woman can make it,’ then they can give back to the next generation so that others can make it too,” Lim said.

The presentation also included a discussion panel with women from Australia and Papua, New Guinea, who shared the circumstances of life in those countries and their slow progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. A representative from the Salvation Army’s World Service Office also discussed “Worth,” a project that combines financial savings, empowerment of women and literacy.

Sextortion: Have We Reached the Tipping Point?

  Nancy Hendry (left) and Joan Winship, with the International Association of Women Judges, discuss the issue of "sextortion."

Sextortion is the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage, explained the panelists in this session sponsored by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ). This hidden form of corruption is pervasive in societies throughout the world:

  • In Canada, a South Korean woman seeking refugee status was invited by the judge hearing her case to a coffee shop, where she was told that is she made an “arrangement” with him then he would be able to grant her application. The woman, suspicious about the invitation, had told her fiancé, who taped the exchange.
  • In the United States, a woman applying for a green card met with an immigration official, who made it clear that if she wanted the card then she would have to exchange sexual favors. She captured evidence on a digital camera.
  • In Tanzania, a high school student was told by her teacher that if she wanted to do well on her exams then she would have to meet with him in a guest house. The student told her mother, and the teacher was caught in a sting operation.
  • In the Philippines, a woman needed a judge to sign a document; however, the judge told her that if he signed it then she would have to become his “girlfriend” and give him kiss every morning.

In an effort to publicize these kinds of trends, the word “sextortion” was created, said Nancy Hendry, a senior advisor at IAWJ. Three common characteristics of sextortion are: a person in a position of authority who is abusing that authority, an exchange or quid pro quo that involves sex and a coercive pressure that is authority rather than violence.

“They all involve a form of sexual exploitation or abuse, “Hendry said. “They all involve people in power, so there is a corruption component. The fact that sextortion involves both sex and corruption makes it harder to prosecute under existing models. As a result, we have a whole series of cases that fall between the cracks, and we want to change that.”

IAWJ is working to bring awareness to the issue through public education. The organization received a grant and has been working in Tanzania and the Philippines, reaching out to judges and conducting seminars in court centers and colleges.

Empowering Rural Girls

  Michelle Bachelet, executive direcgtor of UN Women, discusses girls issues with girls from Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Malawi.

The UNICEF-sponsored event, Empowering Rural Girls: From Invisibility to Agency, featured Michelle Bachelet, undersecretary general and executive director of UN Women, and three adolescent girls from rural areas in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Malawi, who provided a compelling look at the challenges girls face in developing countries.

In introducing the panel, Lynne Featherstone, minister for equalities in the United Kingdom, said that she hoped the session would bring to light the different that education, access to health care and increased earning opportunities can make in a girl’s life.

On the one hand, it is still clear that girls face terrible difficulties throughout the world, Bachelet said. Yet, on the other hand, there are many accounts of girls’ accomplishments because they were empowered in some way.

“We cannot miss the tremendous potential these girls have to empower other girls,” Bachelet said. “Why is UN Women here? We want girls to have a bright future. It is important that all of us invest more in girls, helping them organize, helping them so their voices can be heard.”

Girls must have strong role models and support from both their mother and father; they must be taught from their first steps in life that they can do anything and that their destiny is not only marriage.

“We need to show how important and relevant girls are for society,” Bachelet said. “We also need to tackle social roots and economic roots. We need to empower women politically and economically. That is why we need them in policy and decision-making positions.”

Transforming the world through education