Table for 7 Billion, Please

An NGO Representative from New Zealand at the March for Gender Equality

I want to write about the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), but I am terribly under-qualified. (When friends ask what I do when I go to the United Nations each March, I say: I’m just a CSW groupie.)

10801818_10153197336543746_7724713443508530632_n-1Still, I get to wear one of those official badges with my photo, so I feel pretty cool.

I love the UN. The flags themselves thrill me.
My first visit was in the 7th grade. It was like a candy store of all things international–my version of Disney World.

A colleague of mine, who IS qualified to write about CSW, actually worked at the United Nations, said the flags always gave her chills. “I work here!” she’d say to herself, every day, for three years.

I wish I wanted to work there. It was my grandmother Lila’s dream. She studied French and Chinese at Rutgers in the early forties just before the UN was chartered; but motherhood and marriage interrupted her ambitions.

My colleague Jennifer IS a mother and a wife, and they even has a puppy. Times have changed. May they keep on changing!

WOMEN.

That’s what I love about CSW–thousands of WOMEN from every part of the globe.

This year, I found myself particularly wowed by women officials.

They’ve pursued years of education, contributed to hundreds of meetings, poured over thousands of documents…

I have so much gratitude.

Take the Minister for Gender Equality from Poland. (And note her awesome hair!)

H.E. Prof. Malgorzata Fuszara, Minister of Gender Equality of the Republic of Poland

I scribbled pages of notes from her presentation, but what I remember most is how she emphasized that there are three parts to ensuring gender equality:

  1. legal
  2. governmental
  3. consciousness

Suddenly, I understood where I fit in: Consciousness!
(I’m not just a groupie after all!)

Now is as good as a time as any to say that everyone at CSW is speaking ENGLISH:

-Professor Fusazara of Poland.
-All the members of the Permanent Mission of Japan–who co-hosted this side event.
-And all those women–from around the globe–who addressed this panel with probing questions–some of which I couldn’t follow–in my native tongue.

There are dozens of meetings, events, talks, briefings, presentations and panels happening at the same time–morning, noon & night–during the two week stretch of the Commission on the Status of Women–with representatives from Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs)–from all regions of the world.

There are men at CSW too, but they are a striking minority. My 19 year old was among them. Lloyd volunteered last fall with international NGO that I represent here (Federation EIL–the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living); and particularly given his studies in development, he was eager to accompany me.

We attended the NGO opening reception together–which is even more female-dominated than the CSW meetings at the UN.) Another man was quickly drawn to Lloyd’s side as we waited in line. Rana was from Bangladesh and he went out of his way to compliment me for something I hadn’t considered before:

Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.
Mother and son at the rally for gender equality.

“Business men bring their sons when they do business,” he said. “Those in development need to bring their sons too. Well done.”

Neither Rana or I had daughters, but we both had work that we referred to in the feminine. Rana came to CSW on behalf of his “daughter”–Udbastu–an NGO he formed to protect the environment of his homeland.

“Udbastu means refuge in Sanskrit,” he explained.

Rana’s passion helped bring mine into clearer focus: I came to CSW for my grandmother, Lila, and for her namesake, my work–the divine lila–the play of consciousness.

Play was a theme I heard echoed again and again at CSW, which was surprising, given the serious nature of activism and advocacy.

“Your commitment is sustained when it comes from the heart and when you make it fun,” said Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen at her side event: The Indomitable Spirit in Activists and the Archetype of Artemis.

My son teased me about the events I chose to attend during our time at the UN. My choices were based on “feel” and “sense”–a favorite country, a cool angle, a rare connection; while his were shaped around region, policy and planning.

10980741_794971027263036_8760038397497121086_nAnother event that caught my eye was: Cool Feminism–Exploring Ideas from the North, hosted by the country of Iceland.

The women of Iceland certainly know how to have fun with their activism. When their protest against the Champagne Clubs (that popped around Reykjavík  after the 2010 law prohibiting strip clubs) was met by silence from the media and city officials, they got creative.

“We didn’t just whine around the kitchen table,” said Guðrún Jónsdóttir, Founder of Stígamót, a woman’s right organization. “Stígamót opened its own Champagne Club, as a parody.”

They sent invitations to the mayor, to the police commissioner, the ministers, members of parliament, city counselors, and the media.

82 year old Jónsdóttir acted as the club owner and offered to dance. Others offered to sing, tell stories about rape, read the Declaration of Human Rights, and even teach customers how to knit.

Shortly afterward, the Champagne Clubs were shut down and criminal prosecutions ensued.

In her presentation, The Indomitable Spirit in Activists, Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen focused on this capacity that women have–how it grows–over time–and how women learn–from each other. She highlighted the difference between the male and female brain–how women have more connective fibers between the left (analytical) and the right (creative) hemispheres.

‘When the masculine is the only one holding power,” she said, “There can be a lack of empathy and imagination.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, spoke to this imbalance when she addressed the the rally at the March for Gender Equality at the opening of CSW on International Women’s Day:

Right now the world is functioning like a person trying to see the whole picture with one eye covered. That person is bound to miss some very important details.

Up until this time, I often viewed feminism through the lens of fairness and relational politics so I was a little taken aback when I heard Gertrud Åström, President of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, at the Cool Feminism event, say:

Sharing housework is a feminist issue.

But then I got it.

When women’s voices are kept from the conversation–political, corporate, cultural–there are serious human rights ramifications.

Suddenly, issues like equal pay, domestic violence and female leadership came into sharper focus for me–as global and moral imperatives.

Even in a place like Iceland, where gender equality tops the charts, there are outrageous gaps in rights that eclipse the voice of the feminine.

These gaps were brought into stark relief by the speakers at a CSW evening celebration at the Manhattan Center. The Hammerstein Ballroom was packed–floor to ceiling–with representatives, dignitaries and delegates from NGOS around the world.

The beloved UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed the audience of 2,000,  followed by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; and soon after, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson.

Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, then took the stage, crediting Johnson’s leadership for stemming the tide of the Ebola epidemic in her country, and then shared information from the Clinton Foundation initiative, Not There Yeta data driven analysis of gender equality.

Clinton was followed by actress Meghan Markel, the UN Women’s Advocate for Women’s Leadership & Political Participation.

The statistics Meghan shared silenced the room:

At the current rate, the elimination of gender INequality will not be possible until 2095. And when it comes to women’s political participation and leadership – the percentage of female parliamentarians globally has only increased by 11% since 1995. 11 percent in 20 years.

But it was Markel’s personal story of how she “accidentally” became a women’s advocate–at the age of 11–that revealed a deeper truth about gender inequality to me.

There in the balcony, I found myself inexplicably brought to tears when she shared a tagline from a nineties television commercial:

 Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.

Markel drove home a bias that was punctuated at CSW: Gender inequality is often dismissed as a cultural issue, while in fact it is form of deep discrimination.

“Women make up more than half of the world’s population and potential so it is neither just nor practical for their voices, for OUR voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making,” said Markel. “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table.”

1100 organizations and 11,000 individuals participated in the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations this month, on behalf of the 7+ billion women, men and children–around the world.

I was honored to take a seat among them.

(Click here for more on CSW59 from the UN Women.)

 

the apology

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Musuem

Today, I had to craft a paragraph about Hiroshima for an international meeting that will be held in Japan this spring. Though it will be my first time in this country, I’ve long felt a kinship for its people.

As I researched the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, I felt myself swallowing hard, despite the fact that I’d already apologized. Once. To Seiko.

In the spring of 2007, Seiko and I were among 25 students preparing for our Let Your Yoga Dance instructor certification in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

One steamy June afternoon, she and I strolled down the access road to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health underneath, beneath a canopy of leaves, each taking a turn talking and then listening.

On our way back, we paused at a resting spot beside a thickly-trunked tree. We took a seat on the bench, and Seiko turned toward me, saying, shyly:

“Kelly, can I ask you a favor?”

“What is it, Seiko?” I said.

“Will you sing for me?”

I laughed, and looked quizzically at my new friend, and she quickly explained that she wanted to practice her dance prayer but hadn’t been able to find a recording of the song she selected.

“Here?” I said, looking at the grass and the tree.

She nodded.

I wanted to decline, to say that I’d help her find it online, but how could I turn down this young, beautiful woman who was so earnest and kind?

Before I could meet her request, however, I felt something bubbling up inside. Something raw and painful and necessary.

“I need to say something to you, first.” I said.

“What is it, Kelly?”

My voice was trembling when I replied.

“I want to apologize for dropping the atom bomb…  on your country.”

“What?” Seiko said. “I don’t understand.”

Tears filled my eyes as I repeated those horrible words, and then Seiko took my hands in hers.

“Kelly. You don’t have to apologize for that. You and I weren’t even born.”

“I needed to speak those words to someone from your country,” I explained.

Her response was whispered through her own tears.

“No one has ever apologized to me for this before. Thank you.”

And there, under the arms of that magnificent tree in the soft grass of early June, I began to sing…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow…

and Seiko danced…

 

AWE

My intention this week is to be in awe.

This is a pretty lofty intention for a period where I’ve worked 68 hours instead of 40, and when I discovered, at the last minute, that my boss would be sending me alone…to Chile.

Yes, Chile, the country. Santiago, in fact. I leave–TODAY! (Gulp.) I’m in AWE that a humble little mom of two in rural Vermont is heading to South America–for work.

Not only that, but a car is picking me up and taking me to the airport, and when I arrive in Chile, someone will be standing there with a card that says my name…like you see in the movies.

Do you know the feeling of holding a newborn baby in your arms…

That’s where I’ve been this week.

But don’t forget that newborns are proceeded by pregnancy and indigestion and sleepless nights; and  followed by diapers and colic and many more sleepless nights.

Speaking of sleep, I am in AWE with how little I’ve slept this week.

In fact, I only found the time to write a blog post, because it’s three am.

The night before, I was packing toiletries at 2:30 am;

And the night before that… well, I can’t remember…

I’m also in AWE with just how many midwives fostered this dream–a dream to expand into a larger expression of myself–to travel–to experience culture–to find work that helped provide for all of this… From my fabulous Facebook friends, to my dear blog readers, to my gifted healers and treasured life companions, to my precious family–including siblings and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and sons and most significantly–husband. Then there’s the school will be looking out for my youngest, and the countless others who shed their light on a stranger’s path.

I am in AWE of how ANGELS abound–like the head nurse and the Episcopalian minister–who made a plan so that my boss could leave her husband’s side and come to work yesterday.

Then there was Elaine–who used to have my job (and did it much more efficiently.)  She tossed aside her life and showed up for two days straight so that everything might be ready for my solo departure.

The tech guy next door pitched in too, giving me an hour, instead of the moments he said he had, so that I’d have the technology I needed to pinch hit for my boss.

To say that this week has been grueling, does not do it justice. It has challenged me on every level, including my ability to develop a wardrobe. But I am in AWE, because at the end of all the preparations (whether or not they were done), I scheduled a massage. I made a plan to leave work at 4:45, the day before the trip, and I went and lied down for an hour, an entire hour, despite all that faced me.

I wanted to tell that massage therapist that she was contributing to world peace–not only inside of my body–but in the lives of the 40 others around the globe who would be meeting me for the first time: People whose line of work is to foster world peace by promoting “The Experiment”, a radical program which began in the 1930s develop understanding and peace through educational travel, cultural experiences and homestays.

Instead, I drooled on her table.

I’m in AWE that I set the intention to be in AWE this week; that I took the time (even after my boss called to tell me the news about her cancelled trip) to sit down with my husband among the suitcases and do our weekly page from the Life Organizer where we decide how the days will be shaped in our minds, and hearts, and souls.

What will I let go of: learning Spanish

What could I do: Yoga

What do I have to do: breathe deeply

There’s so much more to mine from the weekly planning page than this, but the intention setting is priceless to me. Each time I’m faced with a decision...Should I go to yoga when I have so much to do? I check it against the intention I have set.

Should I walk my son to the bus and take a stroll up the road when I have to get to the office? Yes. Can I appreciate all the people who are helping me when my to do list is still unbearably long? Yes. Will I allow myself to be in AWE when the work that lies ahead is unfathomable? Yes.

And so, I say goodbye dear friends, and head out into the worldin AWE.

(Gulp.)

Kelly Salasin, April 7, 2001; 4 am.

(Note: this post is part of my Life Purpose Path series, from the Chicken Wing collection, here at Two Owls Calling. To read the previous post in the series, click here: The Lollipop Tree or the follow up post: April 19th