THE SIXTY-FIRST SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN (CSW61)
13-24 March 2017
Report by Anastassiya Perevezentseva for Augustinians International
During my visit to the UN 61 session of the Commission on the Status of Women on the 21st of March, I was fortunate to attend two Lehigh-led events: one briefing in the UN HQ and one side event at UNCC.
The first event was called “Young Women’s Leadership and Voices at the UN” and was organized in partnership with United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), DPI/NGO Relations and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the second one, “Developing Africa with Active Citizenship: Empowering Women and Girls”, was sponsored by the NGO African Citizens Development Foundation (ACDF) situated in Lagos, Nigeria. The panelists of the first briefing included: Rena Zhu (Lehigh, AAUW), Aasha Shaik (Rutgers, AAUW), Alina Saba, Antoinette Gingerelli (Harvard, AAUW), Aishu Narasimhadevara (Women’s Medical Association member of DPI steering committee), and Noluthando Nzimande (GLUNN 2017 intern at Grail Link to the United Nations Network). The panelists of the second event included Kayode Ajayi-Smith (ACDF, Lehigh), Dr. Belinda Archibong (Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College), Dr Ugochi Ohajuruka (CEO and Founder of “Health for All Initiative”) and the event itself was moderated by Lehigh University Youth Representatives for ACDF Kelsey Leck, Sam Hau, and Frederick Coleman. The two events highlighted important issues related to women empowerment and gave a voice to women from different parts of the world to talk about their own experience.
The first event that I visited was dedicated to representing young women at the United Nations. The event was opened with remarks by Antoinette Gingerelli and moderated by Rena Zhu, who tied in her experience and reactions to the speeches. Aasha Shaik has performed a song dedicated to women and girls. She has continued with her speech about the importance of intersectionality in the feminist public discourse. She had also pinpointed how girls rights can get lost when we try to fit their unique problems and issues under women or under children. In addition, she stated that religion, culture, and ethnicity contribute to the idea of intersectionality and that each single women and girl will have a different experience. Alina Saba has talked about the generational divide between women and girls and the need to cooperate together across generations for women’s and girl’s rights. Noluthando Nzimande shared her unique experience of being a 16 year old that grew up in a rural area of Africa. She has brought the public attention to the interconnectedness of climate change and economic underdevelopment to the problems that young rural women face where she had grown up and throughout the world. She was grateful to the UN for caring about her unique experience and allowing her to share it on an international platform. Aishu Narasimhadevara has shared her experience of interacting with high schoolers from Japan, from a region that experienced experienced nuclear and ecological catastrophes. She has highlighted that internally displaced people faced a lot of discrimination. However, though we might have different life circumstances we can come together to help those in need through the power of social media and initiatives like Better Together. She also had pointed out the importance of raising awareness of the Refugee Crisis and addressing the created negative mindset by media coverage of refugees. An overarching message of the briefing was to work together to support women and girls.
The second, side-event initiated by ACDF talked about women’s issues but also provided a context for them in the case of Nigeria. ACDF is promoting active citizenship in Africa and building a cultural society. Key achievement of the NGO was the establishment of the Citizens Comprehensive College in Lagos. The paradigm of the Citizens Comprehensive College is to develop a child’s “soft” and “hard” skills. Kayode then has read the opening statement from the President of the NGO who was in Nigeria at the time, and the locus of the speech was that women empowerment is a prerequisite to world peace. ACDF demands free and compulsory education up to university level for women and girls. The panelists were asked questions by the moderators and later the floor was open for Q&A. The highlights from Dr. Archibong’s answers included that there is an economic problem behind the issue of a gender gap. Girls tend to drop out and skip school more because there is no sanitary accommodations for them. In addition, when there are economic or health shocks and crises, it affects female school attendance and will not male. That happens because the family will view a girl’s education to be a less costly sacrifice for the family than the boy’s. Safety nets would help parents to protect girls from early marriage in order to get bridal prices and keep them in schools. Dr Ohajuruka has also added that there are safety issues that face girls such as sexual abuse and abduction. Girls risk being molested even at school and that is another factor to their non-attendance in addition to economic issues. Dr Ohajuruka’s NGO partnered with UNICEF to provide a sanitary kit reusable for three months which gives girls opportunity to stay in school and gives them confidence in themselves. The government of Nigeria should be continued to be pressured to provide acceptable sanitary conditions. Kayode added that within the Citizens Comprehensive College young girls and boys are groomed equally. Also, cultural reforms are needed to change the power dynamics structures in Nigerian family that gives preference to males. Dr. Archibong noted that one thing that could be done to lower the opportunity cost for parents would be to create social protection for parents that they do not have to make this decisions of who to send to school at the expense of the other, the boy or the girl. Increase education in Nigeria could help the society to transform the culture by showing that educating girls even shows great long-term economic gains. This could be done both through social media and community meetings. Dr. Ohajuruka noted that it is important to promote awareness, sensitization, and education among parents around facts such as that mortality rates are reduced when more women are educated. A deep rooted culture of child brides and inequality could be changed through a grassroots approach. Kayode also noted the importance of mentorship among youth.
In regards to the question concerning public health in Nigeria, panelists noted cultural obstacles that will push people to turn to spiritual healers but not doctors, a lack of machinery and infrastructure, as well as issues of health assessment. Economic distribution in the family that in many cases disadvantages the female could also contribute to the women in the family not receiving the health care needed because of the male-heads irresponsible financial decisions. Another serious issue that was raised was concerning sexual assault and women trafficking. This is a very important topic for Nigeria, especially after the Chibok girls tragedy. The panelists talked about untold domestic violence in the country and that the stigma of rape also often affects the girl, who is actually the victim. Again, this issue should be brought to light with awareness and sensitization. The girls and women affected by the problem should be supported and justice should be sought for the crimes committed against them. Dr. Archibong noted that as an economist, she sees how the issue of trafficking is intrinsically connected to economic underdevelopment. A lot of women due to the situation in Nigeria can buy into the lie that “the grass is greener on the other side”. In addition, the costs of doing act of violence legally should be very high. Kayode also talked about another sort of discrimination: sexual harassment in the workplace in Nigeria, which is systematic. A discussion was also started about the need to have more female leadership in political offices. It was proposed to create a system of affirmative action for female politicians such as the initiative in India, which gave effective results in promoting gender equality. Later, during the Q&A many participants who were from Nigeria and other African countries shared their own experiences and proposed solutions. The event was very beneficial to understanding how gender inequality manifests itself in a local context within a specific country.
- It could be potentially valuable to connect with the African Citizens Development Foundation NGO with on the ground Augustinians International. The contact could be achieved through Lehigh Youth Representatives.
- The two events that NGOs initiated highlight the main concerns of women that the NGO could solve on the ground through a Catholic perspective.