What women want from UN Women…in no more than 3 minutes!

Posted on 08 March 2011 by

February 26th was quite an exciting day for everybody at the Women Learning Partnership as we were hosting the Symposium at the New School titled “Celebrating UN Women: The Way Forward.” A special reason for this excitment was of course the guest of honor, Dr. Michele Bachelet, former President of Chile, and current Under-Secretary General heading UN Women.

This was one of the very few events that Dr. Bachelet was attending within the framework of the 55th CSW and, most importantly, she would be present during the opening plenary entitled “Voices from the Field”. In addition, more than 600 persons had signed up to attend in a venue that can take no more than 500 persons. It was obvious that many people were keen on hearing Dr. Bachelet especially given her own path as a single mother, an NGO activist, a pediatrician, a political prisoner who lived in exile, a woman head of state and most of all, a feminist who has worked for women’s rights and gender equality.

My own anxiety was even more dramatic… I was moderating the Voices from the Field panel which featured powerful, passionate, and insightful women from Bahrain (Wajeeha al Baharna), Jordan (Asma Khader), Nigeria (Sindi Medar-Gould), India (Malika Dutt) and Afghanistan (Sakeena Yakoubi). Some five minutes before the panel, I was informed that Dr. Bachelet will have to leave for another appointment at 11:00 and I was left with the challenging task of getting my panelists to highlight a key issue related to women’s rights, flag the ways in which these issues could be addressed in collaboration with UN-Women, and also share their insights, experience and passion in less than 5 minutes each. Oh, and did I mention that all of these wonderful women are also quite expressive… Notwithstanding the stress, all panelists combined wit, bravado, eloquence and most of all, brevity and made compelling statements about women’s political participation, gender based violence, young women’s participation, the impact of conflict on women and other key issues of concern in less than five minutes each. The high motivation to engage positively and constructively with Dr. Bachelet became the order of the day… I watched as she took copious notes of my colleagues’ statements after which, she took the floor again and responded to their analysis, suggestions and vision. This was a dream panel for any moderator.

As the day unfolded and we went through the subsequent panel on Culture, Religion, and Human Rights and the concluding panel on the way forward after a stopover in Jeddah to hear a taped address by former USG and head of UNFPA, Thoraya Obeid, many of us came agreed that positive engagement with UN Women is a real possibility.

As Thoraya Obeid indicated “UN Women should be able to bring conflicting views and peoples together”. There are certainly high expectations on that front. In her address, Karima Bennoun from Algeria said that “the objectives of UN Women should be the universal promotion of universal declarations”. Indeed, participants in the “Views from the Field” panel unequivocally called for the implementation of CEDAW, resolutions 1325 and 1820 as well as other UN conventions, declarations and resolution related to women.

In her concluding remarks, Mahnaz Afkhami pointed out that a synergy needs to be developed with UN Women where mutual responsibility and a sense of ownership are established. These are of critical importance since all of our experiences indicate that traditionally UN organizations do not normally consult and engage with civil society and, as such, “it would be very helpful to analyze how UN Women situates itself within the UN system; as we have all worked hard for this entity to be established, we need to empower it so that it empowers us”.

un women executive director michelle bachelet at wlp symposium

Less than two months have passed since the creation of UN Women. The first encounter with its Executive Director, Dr. Bachelet, within the course of this symposium was quite positive. We are now all left with the challenge of building and nurturing this relationship with this a unique entity within the UN system.

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