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Reflections from CSW: Memories Are Revolutionary

4 March 2010 2 Comments

Alicia Simoni , Community Manager and Staff Writer

Commentary by Alicia Simoni
Community Manager and Staff Writer

I’m sure I’m not alone in disliking doctor’s appointments. Thankfully it’s been years since I’ve even had a cold, so my visits are typically just routine business. These appointments don’t make me uncomfortable because I dread any particular procedure or fear a certain diagnosis. It’s the part when a kind physician sits across from me and asks me to recount my family’s medical history that I hate. Does anyone in your extended family suffer from heart disease? I don’t know. Does anyone in your extended family have autoimmune disorders? I’m not sure. The questions go on and on, presumably in search of a clue from the past that could unlock my potential future – or at least tell me what to watch for. And all I can do is shake my head with uncertainty.

My mother passed away when I was 10 years old. Until recently – over 20 years later – I’ve had very little contact with anyone related to her. Invariably doctor’s appointments remind me of everything I lost on the day my mom died, including a sense of who I am, a connection to what came before me, and a guide to how to navigate what lies ahead.

At the moment, I’m in New York City at the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). It is remarkable to be in the presence of countless truly amazing women – I’ve inadvertently found myself at a panel discussion facilitated by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, listened to hours of heart wrenching, courageous testimony by Burmese women about the violence they experience at the hands of their government, and participated in a lively group exercise illustrating the unique healing power of the arts. I’ve run into old friends and made many new ones.

I’m inspired by the women I’m here with, and yet also disillusioned. One of the resounding emotions I’ve heard over the past few days is of frustration. There is general agreement that the UN has not done enough in the past 15 years and there is utter disappointment in the current proceedings. To quote an open letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that is dated March 2 and currently circulating here at the meetings:

“… At every juncture in the process, civil society members have faced significant roadblocks – from the outcome documents having been agreed upon ahead of time and adopted by the second date of the CSW54 meetings, to the line-ups at registration, to the lack of sufficient space, the difficult and unhealthy conditions in the meeting rooms, the lack of interpretation in conference rooms, and so many other obstacles in between. Women from around the world have come to the CSW in hopes of being heard, and have invested considerable time and resources to get there. They have experienced discouragement and a profound sense of disrespect.”

As I shuffle from room to room, vying with thousands of women from around the world for a limited number of seats in the hundreds of sessions on women’s issues, I find myself revisiting the feeling I have in the doctor’s office. It is a sense of melancholy that is magnified by not knowing exactly what it is that I am missing.

Everything I’ve done — personally, professionally, politically, and everything in between — in the decade since graduating from college has been informed by the feminist values I first learned as a university student. And yet suddenly I feel as though I don’t know enough about where I – we – stand as women in society.

And I’m not alone.

On Monday during a discussion about “Winning Strategies for Gender Equality” a young woman stood up in front of a room full of women, including several who declared themselves to be well over 80 years old, and doggedly asserted: “Young women like me weren’t at Beijing. We don’t have those memories, we didn’t learn those lessons. How did marginalized women from the Global South have the resources to get there? How did you make sure people heard what you had to say? We need you to tell us what you did and how you did it.”

This afternoon during a session on the relationship between the financial sector and the women’s movement which was held at Goldman Sachs, Christine Grumm from the Women’s Funding Network reminded a room full of accomplished, middle aged women that many young women today simply do not believe that a white woman in America is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid. In Christine’s words, “the re-education of young women is critical. They have never known overt discrimination.”

I am 30 years old. Since the moment I was born I’ve been reaping the benefits of the hard work and perseverance of generations of women before me. I would like to think that I don’t take the opportunities and privileges I have for granted. However, I am beginning to realize that moving forward – as an individual and as part of the global woman’s movement – relies on a past that is longer and richer than my own life experiences provide. I – and other young women – need older women’s memories to buttress our own.

Sadly my mother can’t fill in the gaps when I’m at the doctor’s office. But there are countless women who can tell me about their experience of the woman’s movement or simply of being a woman in the midst of a constantly evolving society. How far have we come? What do we need to hold on to as women? What do we need to keep fighting for?

Memories can be revolutionary. Please share yours.

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2 Comments to “Reflections from CSW: Memories Are Revolutionary”
  1. Diana Kutlow says:

    Thank you for sharing your reminder that each step is built on those that went before. Here at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, we are lucky to have one of the pioneers of gender inclusive peacebuilding, Dee Aker. Even more luckily, she continues to share her lifelong experience with a several generations of women who have much to learn. I know that mentoring takes a lot of time and energy, but I hope she can see the benefits of her efforts.

  2. alicia says:

    I absolutely agree Diana. I am grateful to be one of the many women who has had the opportunity to learn from Dee!

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