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Women in the Boardroom, Women in the Kitchen: CSW55

23 February 2011 3 Comments

Mary Liston Liepold, Ph.D.

by Mary Liepold, Editor in Chief

Because I am a woman, I’ve spent part of every day for the last 45 years thinking about what I’m going to feed my family. Because I’m a middle-class American, I have never had to think about how I will feed them. Many Americans do, along with many, many other women around the world.

Right now we are hearing nothing from the US Congress―with women in 93 of its 541 seats―about family meals or the jobs that buy them. They’re caught up in budget-cutting instead. Meanwhile, across the Middle East, citizens are rising up in unprecedented numbers to press their governments for change. In most cases, their discontent has as much to do with lack of jobs and rising global food prices as it does with the ideal of democracy. In life as we live it day to day, food comes first.

It’s especially timely, then, that the 2011 UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting that opened on Tuesday is focused on education and jobs for women, and that the 2012 theme is rural women and hunger. Today is Day 4 of CSW55, the 55th session and the first since the UN rolled its various gender entities into the new UNWomen. At any given time the CSW comprises 45 Member States that are elected by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and present recommendations to ECOSOC at the end of each two-week working session. The themes in each multi-year program of work are based loosely on the Beijing Platform.

With the recent practical emphasis on implementation, each year’s work also includes a review of progress on a previous theme (this year, Discrimination and Violence against the Girl Child) and a look ahead at an emerging issue. For 2011, that’s Gender Equality and sustainable Development.

You can see the current membership of the Commission here. Read Michele Bachelet’s action plan for the US Women’s first 100 Days at this link, and her opening statement here. Peace X Peace CEO Kimberly Weichel is at the UN this week, and found Bachelet very impressive.

People Power, Womanpower, and Work

Today, February 25, is also the 25th anniversary of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines. Although that successful uprising owed its theory and practice to Gandhi, it is generally acknowledged as a prototype for the nonviolent “Color Revolutions” of the 1980s, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and the popular uprisings in today’s news. It’s too soon to tell what will happen in Libya, but it was heartening to hear of Tunisians welcoming refugees.

Next, straight ahead on all our calendars, is March 8, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The UN has only observed the holiday since 1975, but organizers trace its history to observances in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland in 1911. In the US that was also the year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the beginning of the Bread & Roses campaign, named for the beautiful anthem that unified mass protests against women’s sweatshop working conditions. “The rising of the women is the rising of the world,” it proclaims. “Give us bread, but give us roses too.”

The full theme of this year’s CSW is “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.” The hundreds of events that crowd participants’ calendars range from official sessions of government ministers (like the two top-level Roundtables that were held on opening day) to gatherings of delegates from NGOS with UN consultative status and open, NGO-sponsored parallel sessions around the neighborhood and the city. I’m going to be there next week, attending as many of the parallel sessions as I can shoehorn into my calendar. (If you are too, please let me know so we can meet up!)

"Bread and Roses" Photo Courtesy: Kheel Center, Cornell University

Bread and Roses

NGOs like Peace X Peace have played a major role in the Commission since it began in 1947, soon after the birth of the United Nations in 1946. We’re delighted to have women in the board room drafting resolutions, arguing positions, weighing in on the top-tier deliberations we were excluded from for too long. The NGO meetings are a little more like the kitchen, or maybe the mosque/church/temple basement where the women swap recipes. NGOS are on the ground where the practice plays out. Workshop topics this year include the empowerment of women in rural Japan, good practices on protections for domestic workers, and successful strategies for engaging men and boys in Jamaica and Nepal to end violence against women.

The Commission does its work slowly and mostly unnoticed by the major media. This year, like other years, it will report progress in a few areas and stasis or regress in others. The New York Times and other giants are still uncritically promoting a study purporting to show there is no real discrimination against women in science careers, at least in the US. The women who are presenting evidence and discussing solutions on this year’s CSW theme beg to differ.

Still, there are places to see change on the ground, in the kitchen and in the classroom. City of Joy in Bakavu, DRC is one of them. Eve Ensler’s V-Day Foundation, UNIFEM, and the Stephen Lewis Foundation are partnering with Congolese women and men in this new venture. Together, they are educating women and girls and creating an environment where they can support each other in the country that has been called the rape capitol of the world and the worst place on earth to be a woman. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere!

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email maryl@peacexpeace.org.
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3 Comments to “Women in the Boardroom, Women in the Kitchen: CSW55”
  1. Bernie Uglow says:

    Thanks for providing such information.

  2. Dr. Leopold — What a brilliant article! Very well-written
    and makes the point for women’s equality strongly.
    Bravo Peace X Peace for your good work!!!

  3. Yasmeen I. Degenaar says:

    Powerful article! Not only makes a strong case for gender equality but leaves me empowered right now and ready to continue the work! Very positive!

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