As a U.S. Delegate to the United Nation's 57th Convention on the Status of Women -- also affectionately known as #CSW57, it's apparent that women and girls and like-minded men have "had it up to here" with the violence that is perpetrated against women and girls every day. So we're gathered at the UN -- 159 countries and their delegations, literally thousands of us, to once again formalize our outrage, and consolidate ideas and best practices, with the hope of producing positive results. Emphasis on results.
One of the most impressive events I've attended thus far was The Girls Tribunal on Violence: Bearing Witness to Girls' Activism. It was as compelling as it was impactful. These young activists made me feel stronger just sitting in the room. The program was presented by high school girls from around the world, and was mediated by Jurists Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Abigail Disney, Dan Seymour, and Faith Nenkai Metiaki.
The girls shared stories under three specific themes: the first, was media-based violence. One of the young presenters discussed the sexualization of girls and women and her goal to put an end to it by starting the girl-fueled activist movement, www.sparksummit.com. Others in this theme were from Girls Learn International, Girl Scouts USA, and The Working Group on Girls. It was stunning to listen to high school girls talk about how much they're impacted by the thousands of media messages they receive every day -- more than 3000 -- and the message they receive is that they don't fit the standard of beauty that media implies they should fit -- or, alternatively, as many of the ads point out, that their bodies are only objects, and as such are meant for the sole pleasure of a man. Ha. So much for that! These girls aren't going to take it anymore. Objectifying and sexualizing girls and women basically desensitizes everyone to our humanity. They lobbied to get magazines to stop digitally altering their models, and to agree to hire all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. These girls mean business, too.
The next theme was violence in schools, where girls from PLAN in Finland and Norway spoke about bullying and sexual violence. Bullying is much worse than any of us imagined, and starts younger too. Bullying is abuse, and can be violent.
We also heard from a young lady from El Salvador, who spoke about violence in her community, where gang killings and sexual violence is common-place, so going to and from school, or anywhere outside of your own neighborhood can be dangerous, frightening -- even deadly. It was clear to all of us that standing up for herself in that environment requires great courage. This young lady spoke through an interpreter, and at the end of her remarks, she was speaking about what must be done for boys to learn to treat girls differently, and with respect. She ended her remarks by saying, "We are all brothers and sisters, so we must begin to act that way."
These young women were impressive. They have had enough! They know that laws and policies need to be enforced, but they also know that boys and men need to be part of the solution. They're working with boys and men's groups who advocate to end violence against women and girls, such as Whiteribbon.com, MenEngage Alliance, and others.
What will happen in the next week or so, is that more break-out sessions, more meetings, more programs and more talks will occur. Girls like those I listened to will have a chance to ask questions of some of the leading players of the women's movement, and also to deliver a statement of their own, which is a good thing, because they have some very good ideas.
Engaging men and boys is a must. Changing and challenging the language, the mindset, and the behaviors that have been encouraged for millennium is necessary in order to curb the harmful ideas of manhood that persist in many young men's minds today.
The end game for this conference will be a finalized, negotiated document -- which, fingers crossed, ECOSOC will be able to secure and announce, after years of hard work and much parsing of words.