Archive for February, 2008


New York, New York

. . . 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.

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Mrs Pack Packs

These two souls strode along on foot, ahead of the howdah in which Bahá’u’lláh was riding . . . Wayworn and faint, they would reach the halting-place; and yet, weary as they were, they would immediately set about preparing and cooking the food, and seeing to the comfort of the believers . . . once the friends had eaten their meal, these two would be busy collecting and washing up the dishes and cooking utensils; this would take them till midnight, and only then would they rest. At daybreak they would rise, pack everything, and set out again, in front of the howdah of Bahá’u’lláh. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

Last summer at the Irfan Colloquium in Acuto I met Jason Pack from New Jersey, who participated in the academic discussions about the Bahá’í Faith. We got to talking about this travel blog and I said one of my first blogs was about how to pack, using a standard list I keep on my computer. Jason told me about his mother, who for 40 years has packed from such lists and is the consummate packer – she even had the perfect surname for the task! I asked if she could share her story and here, at last, it is! I must say, I do keep a clear plastic bag (8 inches by 8 inches) of small-sized (no more than 100 ml each!) toiletries and liquids, toothbrush and small items always ready, always packed, so I can just pick it up and throw it into my carry-on luggage (which is so often the only luggage I am taking). So good to see that Jason’s mom approves! And I agree with her about black . . . And the shower cap tip for shoes is invaluable! Thanks Jason and thanks to your mother, Sandy Pack, for these packing tips!


My first foray into packing lists started with repeated ski trips almost 40 years ago. My list was a hand written piece of paper that I later made Xerox copies of. It contained all the items that would need to be brought on each trip in appropriate columns. Under the heading `Ski Clothes’ appeared jacket, pants, hat, mittens, long undies, etc. The changeable items would be the après clothes for the weekend and I would hand write them under their column. At that time I always travelled with my dog and his columns contained dog leash, dog bowls, dog food. When my son was born we left the dog at a kennel and took him instead. His column had diapers, baby bottles and powdered formula, which was easy to travel with. After a few years those items changed to Lego and other toys. The Lego lived all-year around in a large zippered bag, the kind that blankets come in. The Lego was accessible at home to be played with but could also be thrown in a suitcase with no extra preparation needed.

Then I discovered spreadsheets. This was the best thing that ever happened to packing. Lists could be saved and modified as needed. Each workbook would represent a particular trip. Each spreadsheet contained in it would represent a category of packing, e.g. carry-on items, toiletries, clothing, and a miscellaneous category for those items which didn’t belong elsewhere. Each spreadsheet contained a column for each family member. After the trip was over I might write notes in that spreadsheet to help me for the next trip. For example, I found that cotton clothing was necessary for the Middle East. Light weight synthetics, while they took up less space in a suitcase, were just too hot. One spreadsheet labeled Prep contains list of things needed to be done before the trip. The columns might be things to buy, things to cancel, i.e. mail and newspapers, things to do just before departing, e.g. lower the thermostat, take out the garbage, close all windows, turn off lights, and program the DVR or VCR for the mustn’t miss TV shows.

I read somewhere once that it was useful to keep a toiletry bagged packed and ready to go containing everything that might be needed. From then on, I collected small sizes of things to populate such a bag. If I was travelling to a place that didn’t require a given item, say sun screen, I would remove it for that trip but keep it in the drawer the always-ready-toiletry bag lived in so that I would remember to recombine it when the trip was over. I keep all my medications in their bottles in a clear zippered bag. This goes in my carry-on bag. I always travel with a small flashlight which I keep in that medication bag. Another zippered bag contains all I need for my glasses and contact lenses: small bottles of lens solutions, cases, a supply of disposable lenses, extra eyeglasses, a small bottle of eyeglass cleaner and a cloth.

For dress shoes, I purchased inexpensive plastic shoe trees because they are lightweight and keep the shoes from being crushed. To save space and preserve their shape, handbags can be stuffed with underwear and other small items. Hiking shoes and sneakers can be stuffed with socks. A friend recently taught me another valuable tip. Disposable shower caps are perfect for covering the soles of shoes in a suitcase. They are lightweight and take up no room.

I haven’t had the airlines lose my bags for many years now but I retained my old habit of packing defensively anyway. When travelling as a family, we try to have each bag contain some clothing of each family member so that if one bag gets lost no one is without clothing.

I find a black-based wardrobe works best for me when traveling to a city. A black suit can be dressed up or down and doesn’t show stains. Black does not work well however in the sun in a warm climate. Since I get cold easily I always pack a shawl, a scarf, and a hooded goretex (waterproof) jacket. These can be used to keep dry in the rain or for warmth. Although not appropriate in some cultures, leather is great for travelling because it doesn’t wrinkle. I have a black leather blazer which can be a lightweight layer but also is more dressy than a sweater or fleece.

Now that I have become dependent on a PDA I transferred the spreadsheets to my Palm so that I could modify them on the fly. A spreadsheet on the Palm screen is too small for my aging eyes so I transferred the list to Listpro, a list application. Regardless of the medium, I find preparing a list in advance essential. Items not written down mean last minute decisions, or worse – forgotten items. Last minute decisions for me result in my bringing everything I own (just in case), which results in too many overweight bags.

I’m not as good at making lists as I used to be. I’m more unsure of what minimum of items I need to make me comfortable but I have almost 40 years of old lists and notes to fall back on.

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Europe rises to the defence

Arise, O wayfarer in the path of the Love of God, and aid thou His Cause. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

On Friday I travelled up to Lancaster University to participate in a seminar sponsored by the Bahá’í society there on `The Bahá’í Community of Iran: A Case of Suspended Genocide’. There were four papers, one by Barney Leith giving an overview of the Bahá’í understanding of human rights and how this relates to what is happening to the Bahá’í community in Iran, a paper by Moojan Momen providing a historical overview of the persecution and putting the present situation in context; a third by Nazila Ghanea-Hercock outlining the response of the international community and the UN; and a fourth by me looking at the denial of higher education to Bahá’ís and their response by developing the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education. Chaired by Dominic Brookshaw, there was a good turnout and it was well supported by members of the university.

It’s not always easy to convince people, though, that the Bahá’ís in Iran are actually being persecuted and that they have been for quite some time. The persecution is sometimes subtle – denying human rights, denying access to education – not the drama of executions (although there have in the past been many of those) and imprisonment (although there are Bahá’ís who have recently been imprisoned for taking part, with Muslims, in a social and economic development project) but rather the slow strangulation of a religious minority by making it impossible for them to do normal things and for their children to excel and achieve. When the world turns its back on even the most dramatic of human rights abuses, as in Darfur, it is any wonder that it is so difficult to alert people to this sophisticated attempt at genocide?

Gratifying, then, to learn that someone out there is paying attention. In a statement released this week, the EU presidency expressed `its serious concern at the worsening situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, in particular, the plight of the Baha’i’. This following the jail sentences given to 54 Baha’is in Shiraz for `propaganda against the regime’. 51 of these were suspended but, as I noted in an earlier blog, three Baha’is were sentenced to four years in prison.

`The EU is concerned about the ongoing systematic discrimination and harassment of Baha’is in Iran,’ the presidency statement said. This includes `the expulsion of university and high school students, restrictions on employment and anti-Baha’i propaganda campaigns in the Iranian media’.

`The EU urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to release the Baha’i prisoners and stop prosecuting members of the Baha’i minority due to their belief and practice of the Baha’i faith,’ the statement concluded.

Thanks, EU, for being enlightened and rising to the defence of the Bahá’ís in Iran. And thanks, Lancaster University, for hosting a seminar that enabled so many others to understand what is happening to the Baha’is.

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