UN representative International Alliance of Women, Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women/NY and First Vice-President of the Conference of NGOs in consultative status with the UN (CoNGO)
In 1995, I was the UN Liaison for the NGO Forum on Women, the mammoth gathering of civil society during the Beijing women’s conference. How big was it? About 7,000 US citizens went to Beijing that fall. At the time, it was the largest “deployment” ever of American civilians to a single international destination.
I normally sleep 8 hours a night, but for two years, sleep came only between crises. Our computers crashed when the number of registrations reached 10,000. We couldn’t believe the numbers could go much higher. But they did—to 30,000. The yearning to be a part of this event spread across the globe and in every country. When Opening Day finally arrived and Supatra Masdit, said, “I declare the NGO Forum on Women Open!” I was amazed at the fever pitch of excitement in the stadium. I asked myself “Why are they here”? “Why am I here”? The answer: because 30,000 people—and the tens of millions they represent—were counting on us.
Twenty years later, as chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY, I see the same spirit drive thousands of women and men, boys and girls to the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. They come from nearly every country. As if on a pilgrimage, they are driven to connect with one another and drawn to what they perceive as the moral authority of the UN. (By the way, that event happens just across town so join us next March).
Will Beijing + 20 make a difference? The truth is we can’t be sure, but we often underestimate the power of what we accomplish at the UN. Let me tell you my favorite Beijing story. A few months after the conference, a group of Arab women travelled to a remote area to monitor an “honor killing” trial. Somehow, they got their story out in the face of dire threats that the killers of a young woman were about to be freed. Why did they risk their lives to tell the story? On a radio broadcast, they learned that hundreds of governments who had met in Beijing said such killings were against the law. They were inspired to act because they believed that the rest of the world was on their side.
So why am I still here? I am here to keep on earning their trust. The world’s women and girls are counting on us.