Feb 28th, 2008
. . . set off with all speed to New York . . . and call with the loudest voice in the assemblies of the beloved ones and invite them to the Alliance of God . . . `Abdu’l-Bahá,Baha’i writings
I arrived in New York last Friday and have been busy ever since. I am here at the United Nations, participating in the 52nd meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), accredited as an EBBF member through the Bahá’í International Community.
If after these words you are no wiser than you were before, it is no surprise. Most people have probably heard about the UN but have very little knowledge about how it works. Suffice it to say here that the UN does a lot of its work through bodies that have a specific focus and mission. The CSW, established in 1946, is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focusing on gender equality and the advancement of women. It is the principal global policy-making body on this subject. Every year in late February and early March, representatives of governments gather at UN in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide. And along with the governments come the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are working on these same issues and trying to persuade the governments to make gender equity a reality much more quickly.
One of the important NGOs in this field is the Bahá’í International Community and its Office for the Advancement of Women.
The Bahá’í International Community (BIC) was established by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, in 1948 when the eight National Spiritual Assemblies then existing were registered with the United Nations Office of Public Information as an international NGO. In its early years the BIC presented statements to the UN on such subjects as human obligations and rights (1947), gave proposals for UN Charter revision (1955) and endorsed the Genocide Convention (1959).
In 1967 a permanent office was established in New York and the first full-time Bahá’í Representative to the UN. In 1970 the Bahá’í International Community was granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which allowed the Bahá’í International Community to offer its views, both orally and in writing, at sessions of ECOSOC’s various commissions, committees and working groups, such as the CSW.
As Bahá’ís see the emancipation and advancement of women as a prerequisite for world peace and social progress, the BIC has given a high priority to supporting UN efforts to improve the status of women worldwide. Thus in 1992 it opened in New York its Office for the Advancement of Women, which every year coordinates a team of volunteer women, girls and men from Bahá’í communities around the world who assist in representing the BIC at the CSW. Each year a statement is prepared on the theme of the Commission that outlines the Bahá’í principles that relate to it – equality of the sexes, ending all forms of violence against women, the role of women in social and economic development, the role of women in peace, the education of women, the status of the girl child, the role of men and boys in establishing the equality of women, etc.
The theme for this year is budgeting for gender equity – that is, trying to persuade governments to give money from their national budgets, for example to ensure that women and girls get equal access to services such as healthcare and education, are legally protected from violence, are consulted and collaborated with in the shaping and delivery of services and are empowered and facilitated to be part of all decision-making at all levels. And many other things.
The BIC statement, `Mobilizing Institutional, Legal and Cultural Resources to Achieve Gender Equality’, makes four key proposals to governments:
1) They should immediately bring national budgets into compliance with human rights standards.
2) They should adopt a long-term orientation to budgeting that transcends the crisis-driven, reactive mode and short-term focus of the national election cycle that results in minimum standards, narrow orientations and compromise positions.
3) They should immediately remove all obstacles and policies – political, cultural, social and religious – that impede or tend to impede full gender equity in all human activities, access to resources and the full enjoyment of human rights by all people.
4) They should engage religious leaders in discussion around this issue and work in collaboration with them.
The statement is not yet up on the BIC statement library but keep checking.
I am one the 44 volunteers this year – we also have one girl of 12 among us. The EBBF is hosting an important high level reception for government delegations and significant NGOs tomorrow night and is conducting two side events on empowering women by creating meaningful work and how business can engage women in designing work to be more female- (and therefore more business-) friendly. EBBS is also co-sponsoring a number of events conducted by UNIFEM-UK.
So I am helping to write the Bahá’í comments on the final document of the CSW, networking, going to lots of events and listening to the governments’ discussions. Every night the UK Mission to the UN briefs NGOs from the UK on the day’s developments – one of the few government delegations to do so. The day’s work begins at 7:00 and ends around 23:00. Tiring, but very important. And great fun.