Even before the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly had begun, August 2014 – July 2015 had established itself as being an eventful and exciting year. Check out some of the highlights from the past year, and thank you for coming along on the journey for global justice and peace with us!
The 65th UN DPI/NGO Conference: ’2015 and Beyond: Our Action Agenda,’ focused on the role of civil society in the post 2015 development agenda. The event provided an opportunity for civil society networks and activists to mobilize messaging, advocacy strategies, partnerships and accountability frameworks in the lead up to the start of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. The outcome document was adopted on the last day of the conference, and was shared with the UN system, governments and global civil society.
The Church Center for the United Nations (home of the Loretto at the UN office) hosted a dialogue concerning the “things that make for peace” at the 2014 International Day of Peace Symposium. Exploring the nexus between peace and development, powerful speakers and artists from around the world, and representatives from the UN and other organizations focused on how meeting the core human needs of food, water and health is affected by gender, climate insecurity and violent conflict.
On Sunday, September 21st, about 400,000 people, including Loretto sisters, co-members, volunteers and friends, gathered in New York City to demand climate justice at the People’s Climate March.
Following the march, more than a hundred heads of state and government at the UN Climate Summit on September 23rd. Tuesday’s summit was a special event convened by the Secretary-General to “raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.”
The same day Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work for girls’ education, Loretto and our colleagues in the Working Group on Girls co-organized the second-annual International Day of the Girl ‘SPEAK OUT’ at the United Nations with the governments of Canada, Turkey and Peru. UN ambassadors and officials from UN agencies joined hundreds of girl activists and advocates to experience the multimedia event featuring stories, poetry, songs and videos shared by girls from all over the world, and performed by girls from the New York area. The girls bravely shared emotional stories relating to family and relationships, education, sexual violence, confidence and body image, poverty, child marriage and empowerment.
Loretto at the UN invited sociologist Paula Palmer from the Boulder Friends Meeting to the Church Center for the United Nations to share her experiential workshop on the effects of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with America’s Native Peoples.” Workshop participants enacted a script and then shared their responses in a “talking circle,” in an effort to raise awareness of the historic and ongoing injustices committed against native peoples. The event urged participants to reflect on what more just relationship with Native Americans would look like, in accord with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
November 2014 marked 25 years since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – a treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated around the world. The convention, the fastest and most widely adopted human rights treaty in history, marked the first time children were recognized as rights holders in an international treaty. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the CRC, the UN invited children to send in short stories, poems, pictures, and videos, and conducted Google Hangouts with children from 14 countries around the world. They also invited children to come to address the General Assembly during the high-level dialogue on the CRC.
In late November, 9 Loretto Community members, 9 Loretto Volunteers and 30 Nerinx Hall students and teachers traveled to Fort Benning, GA, to join the annual protest against the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas. In its protests at WHINSEC and march to the Stewart Detention Center, the Loretto Community stood peacefully and non-violently in solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and hopes that the US will close the SOA/WHINSEC and change any oppressive foreign policies.
In anticipation of the United Nations Summit in September 2015, the UN has been in the process of defining a post-2015 development agenda. There has been numerous inputs to the agenda, notably a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by an open working group of the General Assembly, the report of an intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing, GA dialogues on technology facilitation and many others. The General Assembly called upon the Secretary-General to synthesize the full range of inputs and to present a synthesis report before the end of 2014 as a contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the Summit.
The Intergovernmental Negotiations for the Post-2015 Agenda began in January, and continued for one week each month until an agreement was made on August 2nd. While these negotiations were Member State-based, there was some participation from Major Groups and other civil society stakeholders, including Loretto at the UN. Loretto at the UN volunteer Cecilie Kern made an intervention during the May session, insisting that the review and follow-up framework for the Post-2015 Development Agenda must protect and promote human rights, including the human right to water and sanitation. She also spoke about accountability and monitoring in the private sector, particularly that a legally-binding treaty should obligate the private sector to uphold human rights, and that public-private partnerships (PPPs) should be excluded for the provision of essential public services, like health, education and water and sanitation. Read her entire statement here, or watch the delivery here.
In February, the Loretto at the UN team traveled to the Loretto communities in El Paso and Denver. In El Paso, they visited Loretto Academy, and made presentations to nearly the entire student body, describing the importance of the work Loretto does at the United Nations, highlighting Loretto’s work relating to the human rights of girls around the world, and engaging students in a discussion about what social justice issues they feel passionate about, and how the UN works on those issues. Later, Loretto sisters and co-members came together to discuss the role of faith-based organizations at the United Nations, and how the work that members are doing on the ground locally is important to the NGO’s global advocacy efforts. After visiting El Paso the next stop was Denver, where Loretto community members gathered to attend the LWN/LEN Winter Meeting, “Sacred Economics: Where Our Heart is, There is Our Treasure”, with insightful keynotes by Lisi Krall, Mary Hunt and Kim Klein.
Loretto Community members and students and teachers from Nerinx Hall High School in St. Louis, Missouri, St. Mary’s Academy in Denver, Colorado, Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, and members from our partner community, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and two of their students from Bishop Garcia Diego High School in Santa Barbara, California gathered in New York to advocate for and with women and girls around the world during the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year the CSW celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, considered by many to be one of the most progressive blueprints for advancing women’s rights. Delegates reflected on the progress that has been made since the Beijing Platform of Action was adopted, as well as the gaps and challenges that remain.
Highlights during the week included Teen Orientation, the International Women’s Day march, UN Women’s “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality” event, and celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Working Group on Girls and the 10th anniversary of the Feminist Task Force. Nerinx Hall student Megan was a member of the core group of girl delegates who wrote the Girls’ Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, delivered to the Commission during the second week. You can read the statement here, or watch it here.
Continuing in the long Loretto tradition of building peace and working toward the elimination of nuclear weapons and energy, the Loretto Peace Committee came to New York in April to attend the Peace and Planet Conference and the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference. The Peace and Planet Conference focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. A march followed the Peace and Planet Conference, and the UN NPT Review Conference began the following day and continued for over a month. Every five years, UN member states meet to evaluate the progress that has been made toward achieving nuclear disarmament. As this is the year of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the conference highlighted Hibakusha, the people who suffered the consequences of the nuclear blast, as well as the relationship between poverty, race, health care, schools, climate change and nuclear disarmament.
In anticipation of the zero-draft of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the NGO Mining Working Group (including the Loretto Community) launched an effort to stand in solidarity with people and planet and secure the recognition of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the political Declaration of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Loretto Community, Loretto Women’s Network, Loretto Earth Network and Latin America/Caribbean Committee of the Loretto Community were among the over 600 organizations that signed on to the letter to governments, urging them to include the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the Declaration of the Post-2015 Agenda, and many individuals and organizations engaged in the accompanying social media campaign aimed at UN missions, agencies, and specific ambassadors who have key influence in this process.
Loretto at the UN was a key contributor to this effort. Volunteer Cecilie Kern designed the logo, helped to develop and translate the campaign materials and letter to the governments, and created and managed the social media pages. She also helped to create the map which visually represents the global response to the campaign.
Ultimately, the hard work and dedication of the water justice movement were successful. On Sunday, 2 August, United Nations Member States unanimously agreed on the final text that will be adopted by Heads of State at the UN Summit to adopt the Post 2015 Development Agenda in late September. Within that text, states committed to “A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation [...].” The explicit naming of the human right to water and sanitation is critical to framing and interpreting Goal 6 on water and sanitation. Moreover, it is a vital step towards empowering peoples who have been denied their rightful access to essential services and freshwater supplies while providing a tool to challenge corporations that continue to abuse the planet’s dwindling water resources.
Cecilie Kern represented the Loretto Community at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) which took place July 13-16, 2015. Ahead of this conference, civil society held a Women’s Forum on July 10 and a Civil Society Forum on July 11-12.
Engaging with the Financing for Development process through the lens of gender equality, the Women’s Forum sought to address critical issues, including creating a rights-based multilateral economic and financial architecture to address structural imbalances in the current system, respecting, protecting and fulfilling women’s human rights rather than instrumentalizing women’s empowerment as “smart economic strategy”, creating investment frameworks that have binding norms consistent with human rights, including for transnational corporations, balancing global trade, and achieving progressive taxation and international tax cooperation. The Civil Society (CSO) Forum provided civil society groups an opportunity to narrow down priorities and zero in on a few key issues to press negotiators on during the official FfD conference.
Loretto and its partners in the NGO Committee on FfD, Women’s Working Group on FfD and other civil society organizations remained engaged during the entire conference, participating in the official conference and in side events throughout the week. While most people in civil society were quite disappointed with the outcome of the conference, they were proud of the impact NGOs had on the negotiations. The issues emphasized by civil society, particularly the global tax body and issues on gender equality became the red-line issues. By raising concerns, CSOs created strong tension which will carry over to the Summit in September, the COP in December and the newly established annual FfD Forum. At FfD3 civil society was focused and organized, and representatives looked forward maintaining the pressure and focus during the coming months.