In March, Irene Amon (one of our fabulous Contextual Learning student staff members and an international student from Accra, Ghana) traveled to New York City to participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women! We asked Irene to share a few reflections about her experience of that trip.
My trip to the conference at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), was an eye opener and an avenue that provided me with the information about what the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was actually about and what the declaration and platform for action stands for. Based on this exposure, I understand this declaration to mean that it is time to stop dragging our feet and act according to our alliance for women. It is time to walk, run, and if possible fly as women across the globe. It is also time to speak out, and to break the silence! As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Sometimes silence is betrayal." It is a betrayal of what we can do as women and men, black and white, if we do not change the plight of the vulnerable in society and in the next generation -- especially for women and girls.
Lessons learned from participating in the ecumenical gathering of UNCSW were enormous. It was a great joy for me to know that there is an organization which has gathered NGOs and several religious bodies for the common good of addressing gender issues that has been a problem all around the globe for many years.
Another lesson learned is that women’s rights are human rights and must not be ignored; hence, I am grateful for the establishment of such an august organization to serves as an activist for the rights of all people, especially women and girls.
The highlight for me was the presence of the numerous men in attendance at the UNCSW. Before UNCSW, my understanding of the UN Women's Conference was that it would be solely women's affairs. However, that mindset was changed. I was struck when a young man addressed the gathering and said he was the CEO of an NGO working on gender issues and called on all men, young and old, to join the rally.
The events of UNCSW taught me that gender issues don’t affect only the personality of women, but the socioeconomic, health, environmental, and educational aspects of their lives. I also heard several things that helped me realize that gender discrimination is not only an issue for Africa but also a global phenomenon. Worldwide, I learned that it is time to implement the action plan from Beijing.
Two of the items in the action plan that stood out for me were (1) the right for education for the girl child, and (2) the need for women to be given power and opportunity to lead in decision-making. I heard numerous people from all over the world talking about what their countries and governments have been doing on these issues, but I think it is not enough.
Education for girls has been a controversial subject in my home country (Ghana) for decades. I thank God things are changing and I and other women who have been given the chance to excel are witnesses to that. One of the great professors in Ghana, Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey, once said “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you education a whole nation.” This assertion is very crucial in thinking about the need for women to be given the needed support and resources to go to school.
Meanwhile, when women are given the power and opportunity to make decisions, many things come to play. Women leaders know the future is full of possibilities and great things unknown, and so are unafraid to make decisions based on that. Women leaders understand that what we do today has a great impact on the next generation, and so are acutely aware of their influence on the future. These perspectives must be given a chance in decision-making and power, to see massive projects to a successful completion.
I will recommend educating people in our churches, schools, and friendships, so that all people know that everyone is called to defend the dignity of humanity (not just women and girls). The alliance of men will go a long way to give meaning and uplift to the Beijing declaration and broaden the platform for action.
For myself, I am also thinking of starting a section of education in my church when I go back to Ghana, to help change the mindset about who girls and women are and what their positions should be in the church. I think it is high time we practice what we preach and know that all humanity has special place in the plan of God. When all of us with this knowledge continue to educate people, attitudes will change for the better and the status of the next generation of girls and women will be a delight. Shalom!