By Ann Lehman
Ann Lehman, 20-year El Cerrito resident and neighborhood activist, just returned from a two-week trip to New York City to participate in the 57th United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women meetings and conference.
The overarching theme was violence against women. Around 6,000 women came from around the world to participate. Unfortunately due to politics, some governments used traditional patriarchal or religious objections to try to justify discrimination and violence against women and girls. Many of the 6,000 women who represented numerous NGOs (nonprofits) stood firmly against all such efforts. In the end, 130 countries adopted a strong statement condemning violence against women and girls.
Many of the 6,000 women who represented numerous NGOs (nonprofits) stood firmly against all such efforts. In the end, 130 countries adopted a strong statement condemning violence against women and girls.
“Violence against women is a universal problem that requires, and has now received, a universal response. Violence occurs in multiple forms in all countries and settings; it harms women and their families and communities, impedes development, and costs countries billions of dollars annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity. In 2003, when the Commission took up violence against women and human rights, Member States were unable to reach agreement…. The document adopted by the Commission condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response. By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century.” United Nations Women press release (March 15, 2013)
The real action did not take place in the bureaucratic halls of the UN, it happens in the over 100 workshops that were presented throughout two week period.
Put on by groups from around the world, often with lively and heated discussions, these workshops were both colorful (native clothes are worn and sold) and informative.
In particular this year featured work, often not noted in the press, about many NGOs working behind the official scene to ensure women are not subjected to violence, rape, mutilations, cuttings, stonings, and sexual abuse.
While much remains to be done it was amazing to hear the heroic stories of what is happening.
For example, in Kenya one woman, Lina Malova, explained how her mother started a domestic violence shelter, using a traditional support system, called a merry-go-round.
Lina created a merry-go-round that acted like a microfinance enterprise loaning women who had been abused money to start their own jewelry businesses so they could support themselves. These women were eventually able to use their resources to create a better water system for the community.
Another young women, Johanna Saenz, from Columbia described the innovative efforts that country is making to combat human trafficking.
In addition, Lehman, who works as a Policy Director for the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, presented on a novel workplace initiative that was featured at one of the workshops.
She discussed the initiative, known as the San Francisco Gender Equality Initiative (GEP) on a panel at the Bloomberg Corporation highlighting the rollout of NYC’s own GEP based initiative, called the Women’s Business Principles. The Gender Equality Principles Initiative helps companies benchmark best practices from the factory floor to the boardroom. She also traveled to Washington D.C. with a colleague Aimee Allison, to discuss the model with the White House Council on Women and Girls.
The Gender Equality Principles Initiative (GEP) helps companies benchmark best practices from the factory floor to the boardroom. The GEP is a public/private collaborative venture created by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women (DOSW) in partnership with the Calvert Group, Ltd., Verité, and a range of companies (such as Google, Gap, Symantec, McKesson, Levis, Deloitte), nonprofits (San Francisco Community Foundation, SF Chamber, Business for Social Responsibility), and experts in gender, human rights, labor, employment, and legal issues.
It gathers together business leaders at roundtables to create benchmarks, network, and share model practices and resources for creating gender equality in the workplace.
The GEP Initiative is part of a larger global effort to link women’s empowerment and equity to corporate policies and programs.
While geared to large companies, there is a GEP self-assessment website that any size company or government entity can use confidentially and for no fee (see http://genderprinciples.org). There individuals can also try their hands at the GEP (Cosmo-like) Quiz to measure their own knowledge of these issues.