From February 25 to March 7, women and men from around the world gathered at the United Nations for the 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. There were representatives from 100 countries and back-to-back workshops on issues as wide-ranging as funding for gender equity, Muslim and Jewish women building bridges, conflict resolution in East Asia, decent work for women, and economic literacy.
I was asked to be part of two panels on empowering women through meaningful work. For the first, the room was packed – women young and old eager to discuss what empowerment in the workplace would look like. Actions described ranged from union initiatives to increase the number of women in nontraditional careers, through equality at the C-level, to programs in India to move women from collectors of human waste to builders of public outhouses.
We discussed everything from having to be better than men in order to be equal to having to wait until after dark to relieve ones self because there were no facilities. We talked about how to promote community and mutual support. Young women asked how they could stop bullying, gossip, and meanness in their high school.
It was a heady, eye-opening and humbling experience. The stories were moving and the strength of the assembled women was inspiring. At the end of the workshop, the participants were still buzzing – making contact, making suggestions, making connections.
The second panel was smaller and more informal. It was equally moving. A group of about 20 generated ideas to create equity in the workplace. These will become a part of EBBF’s running list of 101 things you can do first thing Monday morning to create a better workplace.
Moving and painful stories were told. We were reminded, following a story about rescuing two enslaved children, that child trafficking is the third most profitable industry in the world – right behind drugs and guns. We were told how doctor’s salaries in Puerto Rico have decreased as the number of women physicians increased.
Yet, the event was hopeful. A small group of optimists generated wonderful ideas. And discussed how they would implement them. Friendships were cemented.
Imagine the energy all these women and men will take back out into the world. Imagine the possibilities for change. Imagine what can happen if every person there follows up on one action – and, perhaps, convinces one more person to take action. Now that’s a bunch of transformational girlfriends!