What a privilege it was to join 10,000 women from all over the world at the United Nations in New York City for the Commission on the Status of Women. The Theme was Women’s Empowerment and the Link to Sustainable Development. Building on the Beijing declaration and platform, education on the huge inequalities for girls and women were presented along with strategies for working towards gender equality.
Hundreds of sessions were offered on violence against women and girls, human trafficking, different aspects of gender equality and empowerment.
A final document was forged after daily briefings, wordsmithing, and debates about what should be included. Emphasis was on women as agents of development; Let women be the solution, not the problem. We realize that each Sustainable Development Goal is integrally linked to gender equality.
There was an overwhelming amount of information but here are a few facts. I was shocked to discover that the number one killer for girls and women between the ages of 15 and 59 was HIV/AIDS. Young girl refugees fleeing into Europe via Greece would not eat or drink for 3 days at a time because there was no safe toilet for them to use. 2.5 billion people have no access to adequate sanitation. Widows are the poorest of the poor. When the husband dies, everything can be taken from them.
The Session called “When our Women and Girls are Taken” featured Nigerian speakers from Bring Back our Girls. We learned that 57 of the Chibok girls escaped on their own. Not one girl was “rescued” and that was emphasized! They ESCAPED. One girl still is unable to speak. Twenty of the parents of these girls have died from stress related diseases.
The issue of human trafficking was prevalent in many sessions. In 2014 when terrorists swept through communities in northern Iraq, they took women and children of the Yezidi. Older women were summarily executed, killed, and they were dumped in a mass grave. Women and girls were auctioned off, sold into slavery, and forced into sham “marriages,” including girls barely into adolescence. A Yezzidi woman, Nadia Murad Bassi Taha, who was abducted by ISIS spoke about being sold to 10 men the first night. She described public auctions in cities in which a girl could be sold as many as 6 times to different owners. Nadia said that in Europe many brothels are supplied by these girls. We were encouraged to think differently about ISIS and Boko Haram, not as terrorist organizations but as highly organized crime syndicates. She recalled an incident in which 100,000 Yessidi’s were stranded on a mountain with no water. 1,000 of those children were taken for training to be terrorists. The world saw them stranded and did nothing. You can listen to her testimony at the United Nations HERE.
The most moving talks for me were from the Girls; the youngest was 11 years of age, who have started movements, clubs and organizations like the Girl Child Advocacy clubs in Africa. Meila, age 14, from Mozambique is an environmental activist and a strong advocate for girls’ rights. One young Kenyan girl started a simple club where girls could anonymously ask questions. They addressed these to the point of confronting the headmaster as a small group about the biology teacher who was sleeping with a young student. The courage and determination of the young girls/women really inspired me. Click HERE for a video of one of the sessions called “Girls at the Table”
As one participant said, “I would like to see every home rejoice at the birth of a girl. When a boy is born, they kill a goat and eat! When it’s a girl baby they cut a pumpkin!”
The youngest girl I heard was Marley Diaz age 11 who loved to read but said all the stories were about white boys and their dogs. So she started a movement to collect books with Black girls as the main character with #1oooBlackGirlBooks as her hash tag. You can watch this delightful girl HERE.
Another 14 year old lobbied in the capitol, Washington DC, a few times to fight child marriage.
We have made a corporate commitment to welcome all to our table. How are we welcoming young girls to the table of decision-making, as we cultivate and encourage their opinions and leadership? The Girl Child Advocacy clubs and movement could be a real part of our own schools and communities. This is the future full of hope!