Beijing + 10: US Women play keyrole in defeating Washington's obstructive stances Print E-mail
The Deccan Herald -- Wednesday, March 23, 2005
UN comes alive with women
It was a celebration as much as it was knowledge-sharing and debate among 7,000 women at New York

At a time when, to quote Prof Amartya Sen, “the United Nations is often separated out these days for particular chastisement for being ineffective (or worse)”, approximately 7,000 women converged in New York between February 28 and March 11 to participate in a special session, the 49th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Being something of a celebration not only of ten years since the world conference on women in Beijing, but also of 30 years since the first UN World Conference in Mexico in 1975, the CSW had organised ten days of serious knowledge-sharing and debate. There were a total of approximately 200 events of which about 30 were official events on subjects ranging from current challenges and forward-looking strategies for the advancement and empowerment of women and girls, to the integration of gender perspectives in macro-economics.

The NGO Committee of the CSW was chaired by an Indian lawyer called Bani Duggal and she had enabled a whole range of events starting from reflections on the past to very specific issues spread out over New York, all captured in a ‘CSW 2005 Handbook’. She along with an equally dynamic Korean Chair of the CSW orchestrated some memorable experiences, as for example, a celebration of Women’s Day, where the Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai was the chief guest, but many of the stalwarts of the Mexico, Nairobi and Copenhagen conferences and UN office-bearers spoke to the future from the past.

Fascinating proposal

Wangari Maathai had a fascinating composite proposal for women, namely, to engage in environmental conservation of natural resources as perhaps the most critical way for ensuring peace. She argued that most wars and conflicts were over natural resources, including the war against Iraq. It is not difficult to imagine the applause of the whole house at this statement from the public podium on a day when the UN was celebrating 30 years of women’s conferencing, with two former secretary generals present and several of the high-level former office-bearers in the Department of Women Affairs.

And almost in continuation of Wangari’s explicit statement, most of the former senior women officials who had worked in the UN lamented on the lack of progress on the ground and the lack of acceptance of women’s quest for justice, not only by governments and civil societies, but by the UN establishment itself.

Ministers and officials from 150 or more countries described their own work, whether it was the usual report of ten years since Beijing, or specifically the changes they had made in the mechanisms, or the way they have addressed the impact of globalisation, or even sometimes speaking boldly on how international atmospherics were destroying their efforts.

As always, the United States provided the most absurd barrier to progress — first introducing a paragraph in the declaration to mute the assertion of women’s rights over reproduction, and then again to mute the efforts to affirm economic security for women in an unequal and insecure world. But, the spirit of the gathering was so progressive and the unity of disgust with the behaviour of the US government over Afgh-anistan, Iraq and international law so tangible that without much difficulty, these irritations were overcome.

It was moving to see the distress of the American women’s lobby, consisting of not only the older women, but also a number of young women, especially academics and activists, who are working for women’s advancement both in their country and worldwide. They played a key role in overpowering their government’s obstructive stances.

Three pointers
The size of the gathering and its creativity clearly revealed three major pointers. One, women saw the international space that the United Nations’ system offers as a space that provides the particular advantage of collective will and collective sharing of anxiety without constraint, which in some ways establishes a legitimate political pressure, a benefit which does not exist in national regions.

A second clear signal was an informed understanding of the havoc that was being caused by what could euphemistically be called the new international economic order. The new face of economic development, one of preoccupation with security and domination, is creating sharper and sharper disparities of every kind, while privatising essential services and devastating the earth.

The third was a determination, both that the UN had to be salvaged and saved from being hijacked, and simultaneously that women worldwide had a role to play as a world-level political movement and a united political force, and had to find that fistful of salt, that campaign that gripped the imagination and shook the oppressor off. It seemed Maathai had triggered such an idea, a doable transnational campaign, led by women (as indeed they are leading in so many locales all over the world) to conserve natural resources with their collective energy.
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