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By Mary Martens, BVM Contact with Loretto Community NGO
Reflecting on my recent week in New York at the Commission on the Status of Women, I re-play a series of images and stories from my first experience as part of the Loretto Community NGO delegation. That first day–NGO Consultation Day– brought 1100 women and girls, and a smattering of men and boys into a setting where we listened and learned from first-hand sources what it means to be a “rural woman” in many parts of the world. At the same time, the focus on “The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges” brought forth women’s stories of creativity, courage and commitment in the world-wide move toward gender equality.
In the days that followed, as official government representatives met in formal sessions at the United Nations building, the NGO participants attended “parallel events” hosted in meeting rooms at the Church Center of the United Nations across the street. Among the almost 300 sessions from which to choose, I went with topics whose titles intrigued me. I encountered women from many countries and cultures whose stories broadened my knowledge about our global world and touched my heart.
A sampling of the presentations I attended—“Food Security in the Midst of Global Change: Empowering Rural Women Through Resource Efficiency”; “Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership”; “Economic Justice: A Prerequisite for Women’s Access to and Control over Resources”; “Ending the Silence: The Impact of Early and Forced Marriage on Rural Girls;” “Rural Women’s Concerns: What Do Gender, Race and Class Have to Do with It?” “Reconciliation through Empowerment of Rural Women”; “Women, Media, Revolution: Amplifying Voices of Women Living on and Reporting from the Frontlines”; “Follow That Money! Specific and Targeted Budgets for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women“; “Why Must Women Leave Home?” “Promoting Islamic Models that Help Women Fight Poverty and Hunger.”
“Women’s rights are human rights” was a frequent refrain during my days in New York. In brief, it is this statement that motivates the work of the NGOs and the Commission on the Status of Women. I heard from women whose impoverished lives and destinies are still in the hands of men, especially in areas governed by long-held cultural traditions. But as one speaker commented,“Women are not just sufferers; they are making their lives and they are doing social justice works.”
Indeed, women are leaders and activists for change, sometimes at great personal danger. I listened to women who were former presidents of their countries, namely, Chile and Liberia; to women members of parliament and women in decision-making roles at rural, urban, national and international levels. As gender-sensitive policies gradually become law, entire communities and not just women are the beneficiaries. As one woman put it, “Women are key change agents. Women with political power make a difference.” I felt privileged to be in the company of, and to learn from, these women as well as from those whose lives have yet to reach their potential.