This year I spent a full week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – CSW58.It was my most intense experience with this work, including many meetings and sessions to attend as well as parallel events and side events.
My goals at the Commission on the Status of Women are simple. I want to get to know and understand the work that the permanent representatives of Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) are doing so that MWIA can better facilitate that work. I also want to do what I can to raise awareness of the work conducted by MWIA and its National Associations and members worldwide and to promote partnerships with other organizations. My final goal is more personal. My daughter attended the Commission on the Status of Women this year as the Delegate of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and I wanted to better understand the work that she is doing on behalf of women and girls.
MWIA has two permanent representatives to the United Nations. The longest serving is Dr. Satty Keswani, an Obstetrician Gynecologist. Dr. Keswani has been a representative of MWIA at the United Nations for many years and she has faithfully represented the needs of women around the world as our members have determined, based on their clinical experience. The newest permanent representative is Dr. Padmini Murthy and I will speak more about the role she has developed later. The work of these two women, however, has been so inspiring that MWIA has begun to fill its delegation to the meeting and this has also been important in raising the profile of the organization.
My days at CSW all began the same way, with worship at the Church Centre for the United Nations. I found that these services, organized by a different denomination each day, helped me to focus on my goals for the day and my goals for girls and women in general. Two parts of these services stay with me. One was a responsory in which each prayer of a part of the service called “The Prayers of the People” was delivered by a different girl or woman. At the end of her intercession, she would knock on a door set up near the altar. To this action, the congregation prays, “Open the door!” Still, despite all our work, many doors are still closed to girls and women and this responsory illustrated this powerfully.
The second worship event that affected me was the instruction that, in our work, we must be like a river. Great rivers, for the most part, run their course gently flowing over and through the land where they exist. When barriers arise, the rivers flow over them or around them when they can. When a river cannot flow over or around barriers, a river becomes fierce and dangerous, with eddies and undertows and rapids. The river moves forward, eventually wearing down every obstacle. It may take many years but the river wears down every barrier in its path. This metaphor is another powerful image of how women will eventually progress, despite the odds.
Of the many side and parallel events I attended, I was most moved by the frustration expressed by the members of Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN). These are the women doctors of Nigeria and they presented data on infant and maternal mortality that clearly was worrying them. They want better results and were clearly seeking advice and support in their considerable efforts. To me, they were overlooking the progress they have already made. I was happy to be able to remind them of their progress because I admire so much their persistence in the face of formidable odds. The river of Nigerian women doctors is wearing down the barriers against maternal/child health in their country.
I also want to speak about Dr. Padmini Murthy and her work at the United Nations CSW – NonGovernmental Organization Committee. Through her work, Dr. Murthy also raises the profile of MWIA in her role as one of our two permanent representatives.I could not get to all of Dr. Murthy’s presentations during the week. That there were so many is an indicator of the breadth of her expertise. Dr. Murthy also serves as the Communications Secretary for the UNCSW NGO Committee, a role requiring considerable diplomacy and insight. All of her accomplishments demonstrate that it is possible through persistent efforts to develop influence among decision makers. For those days when we wonder if our efforts are having an impact, Dr. Murthy’s example serves as a reminder that we can.
The Commission on the Status of Women is populated by many dedicated women who have worked for years in the cause of equality. For those of us who are older, it is heartening to see so many young women and girls devoting to continuing this work. For me personally, I am inspired by my daughter’s courage and devotion to the cause of women’s and girl’s equality. Caitlin Reilley Beck’s commitment comes from a deep well within her heart and I am relieved to know that I did not dampen this enthusiasm. Supporting her work is one of the best ways for me to secure a better future for all women and girls.
“…no solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges can be achieved without the equal and full participation of women…” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, at the opening of CSW58