Bark Loudly at the Lion — U.N. Women Has Your BackFebruary 23, 2011
For many in the nongovernmental-organization community, the 55th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women began when more than 250 women of all ages from around the world gathered on Monday for NGO Consultation Day, an opportunity to set the stage for two weeks of workshops, panels, discussions, and interactions that will inform the final document — the agreed conclusions — on this year’s theme of access and full participation for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This document is designed to provide action-oriented recommendations for all countries, NGOs, and U.N. entities and to identify challenges and gaps in the implementation of previous plans.
We stood and welcomed Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and under-secretary-general and executive director of the newly minted entity U.N. Women. She delivered an inspiring opening message stressing the importance of U.N. Women linking with civil society. Bachelet noted that “civil society is the interlocutor that brings the voices of women and girls to the table.” It was the first time many had heard the vision of U.N. Women, which was created last year to bring together U.N. entities related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Although education is universally stressed as a major vehicle for empowering women and girls, Bachelet reminded us that “education alone is not enough for women to gain access to decent work.” She also spoke frankly of the need to fully fund the agency for it to be effective and of our roles as citizens in advocating for governmental support.
A remarkable group of women in STEM wowed us throughout the afternoon — Eleanor Nwadinobi of Nigeria spoke about women’s access to and use of technology and challenged us (based on an African proverb) to “bark more loudly at the lions — because our backs are covered by U.N. Women.” Shelley Canright of NASA spoke of the agency’s unique position to promote STEM; stressed that underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM is cultural, not innate; and announced the creation of a new NASA-STEM program for middle school teachers. Miriam Erez of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology spoke of Will.i.am’s appointment as the new director of creative innovation at Intel because companies “are not just selling technology — they are selling experiences.” Kaosar Afsana from Bangladesh shared the transformative effects of mobile technologies in helping poor urban and rural women. And Akanisi Kedrayate Tabualevu of the University of the South Pacific in Fiji spoke of efforts to reduce disparities in education and provide equally for all students.
We closed out the day with an awesome and dramatic performance by the Project Girl Performance Collective on the theme of violence against girls in the Congo.
And that was just the beginning.