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Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Blogs

Day 1 thru 9, 58thUNCSW blogs by Jennifer Elms

DAY NINE: 58TH SESSION ON THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 18, 2014

This morning it was up and at ‘em at our usual 7.30am morning briefing. Over bagels and coffee, we debriefed about the parallel event and reviewed our itinerary for the day which included a meeting with the Canadian Mission and a meeting with the Quakers at the Quaker UN Office.

After the meeting, we made our way to Quaker House. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, they were forced to reschedule it for later in the day. I came back to the hostel and prepared myself for the meeting with the Canadian Mission as I had been asked to be one of the spokespersons and to pose a question to the Deputy Ambassador.

Our meeting with the Canadian mission began at 12:15 and we had only 45 minutes to present our cases – we needed to be quick, concise and articulate. My inquiry was focused on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). I emphasized the importance of this particular treaty for the necessary onus it places on gender-based violence and it’s acknowledgement of the disproportionate negative affect it has on women and girls. I asked for the reasons why Canada had not signed the treaty at all despite there being 116 countries that have already signed it. I also asked for the steps or stages Canada plans to implement in reaching a decision to sign the ATT. The answer was less than satisfactory but at least the question was posed and the Deputy Ambassador will be obligated to include this in his report which will be presented to the UN and government. (My gratitude to the board for their preparation on this).

After this meeting, I headed to a scheduled session – development challenges for lesbian and bisexual, transgender and intersex.” We heard from several incredible individuals and heard about the different yet similar challenges for LGBTI in South Africa, Armenia, and Mexico. A powerful video was shown which showed conversations with individuals in South Africa after a trans person had been murdered (decapitated, castrated, and tongue cut out). It was shocking. The speakers were amazing speakers and spoke to the many issues members of the LGBTI community face. My favorite quote was: “there is no such thing as gay rights; it’s human rights and we are ALL human beings – we ALL have them.”

Next, it was back to Quaker House where we had a brief meeting with a representative of Quaker UN Office. What a fantastic organization. I definitely want to learn more about what they do. Rachel, the Quaker representative, described how Quaker House provides a safe, informal space for member states, members of civil society and other organizations or individuals come together on equal grounds to discuss issues as friends. This concept really intrigued me as I believe there is profound implications for this kind of approach – just imagine how breaking down the power dynamics, institutions and structures can allow us to return to our humanity and see the face of suffering or struggle – it would make for a more powerful interaction than behind desks or at a podium. Wow – I will definitely be looking deeper into this. Just fantastic. I’m so happy that VOW has organized these special briefings for our delegation – it is such an opportunity to make connections with leaders and for organizational exposure, which I have not had the opportunity to have before.

I ended the day with a return to the regional caucus for more negotiations over the agreed conclusions for North America and Europe. There was a great discussion and I have volunteered to be a part of the youth caucus for creating a shadow report for CSW 59. Wowee!! I’m very excited, especially for the learning opportunity this is in writing the report and compiling information. Plus, I am super thrilled to be making a commitment to returning to CSW next year and remaining involved in the planning and coordination of this incredible event.

After a nice dinner with my friend, Colleen, I arrived back at the hostel and set to work updating my blog. Unfortunately, the internet connection on my phone had been finicky these last few days and my posts had not been going up. I am really enjoying the blogging experience and it’s going to be nice to look back and see the record of this trip, especially since had I not been blogging, I would not have been able to remember any of the numerous, numerous things I’ve been doing.

I can’t believe this journey is coming to an end. It feels like I only just arrived and am very surprised by how much I have come to love New York. It will be sad to go but it means that the work will begin for the next adventure in my life!!

Peace and love,

J

DAY EIGHT: 58TH SESSION ON THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 17, 2014

Happy St Paddy’s day, y’all!!

Today was the BEST day at #CSW58!!

We had a quick morning meeting at 9.45am at Millennium Hotel. Having held a prominent position in events facilitation during my time in Australia, I am painfully aware of the reality that events more often than not do not go as planned. Our parallel event was no exception. Originally scheduled for 10.30am, we were notified that the room had been double-booked and our event had been shifted two hours later to 12:30pm. Not a big deal, right? Except that we had already advertised our event and handed our flyers which meant that we might lose our audience! Gasp!

Our emergency meeting involved re-distributing amended posters with the new times as frantically and fast as we could. We had only a couple hours before our event and we needed to get the word out FAST!

In my quest to notify as many people as I could of our event, I strutted around the United Nations striking up conversation with as many people as I could to tell them about what we were doing and giving directions. You’ll NEVER guess what happened next… I was almost kicked out of UN! A UN security guard approached me and I naively thought she was interested in the event so I innocently hold our a flyer. She looks at me with daggers in her eyes and tells me that if I am caught handing out flyers I will be – and I quote – “out on the street.” Gasp! What a story that would be – “well, I went to the UN CSW as a panelist and I got kicked out in my first week.” Well, needless to say, you never saw me move so fast! I couldn’t help but chuckle afterwards when I was telling the other delegates. Lesson: don’t hand out flyers in the UN. You don’t have to tell me again!! 😛

Our panel was a complete success. The room was packed; technology was a bit tricky but cooperated; speakers were AWESOME! (Seriously, you will not find a better, more intelligent group of women than these women). Plus, we had special guests Betty Reardon and Cora Weiss, both of whom are legends in the peace movement. In fact, Cora Weiss has been nominated THREE times for a Nobel Peace Prize! Positively inspiring!

My role in the panel was to speak about the strategies that are crucial to increasing access and participation of women and highlight the importance of Peacemakers Camps and Programs that have been facilitated across Canada by VOW. I highlighted the vitality of education, challenging social norms, collaboration, community engagement and empowerment. I spoke about my own experience at the camp and, to be honest, I was a little emotional. It is such an overwhelming feeling to know that you are part of a movement and, more than that, to feel the kindred spirits and connection with the people with whom you have been inextricably linked in this aim. To end my presentation, I shared a story from the camp: on my last day of the camp in Pugwash, Linda Christianson-Ruffman presented me with a seedling from a plant she owns. She told me how she had been given a seedling from a women’s activist many decades ago, who had instructed her to nurture the plant as if it were the women’s movement and share seedlings from the plant to spread the love, the mission and the boundaries of our cause. The plant, from which my seedling now came, was an effort to embody the metaphor of the connection and legacy we peace activists share and the ripple effect of our actions. As I told my story, I felt completely honoured to hear the audience applause. It was an invigorating moment and one I won’t soon forget. (For a sneak peak of our experiences in Pugwash, check out the YouTube videos that were made during the camp where we were interviewed about our experiences:http://m.youtube.com/channel/UCEJ2ZahgfjwWFpj6nLa5Naw )

The other panelists were exceptional and spoke to their own experiences and initiatives. I felt they shared incredible insights and exuded a wealth of knowledge about the strategic implementation of programming for empowering women and girls. Jazmin and Janna spoke about the programming they have initiated in Manitoba working with girls through the Girl Guides Movement. Yusur spoke about the importance of social media and shared photos of her experience in the Ontario camp. Thabi spoke about the Youth Exchange Project she initiated in Brazil and how she will be brining the peace camp initiatives to Brazil in the near future. These descriptions in no way do justice to the fantastic articulation and information they shared but it is just to give a basic sense of the talks. The session was filmed so I hope to have a link to share with you very soon if anyone would like to take a look.

The responses from Cora and Betty brought a unique and incredibly valuable intergenerational perspective. They offered observations and suggestions to us and dared to challenge us to think bigger, dream fearlessly and keep doing what we’re doing. It was just lovely!

It is such an honour to have been selected as a panelist for this event. If the comments and questions from the audience are any indication, I feel that those in attendance were engaged and excited about the initiatives. In fact, I had several people approach me after the event, including individuals from Africa, UK and US, to discuss the possibility of international collaboration to broaden the impact and to ask my thoughts about strategies for creating change. Just imagine that they are asking ME! It’s so incredible and so exciting! I am also absolutely thrilled to be planning a peacemakers camp in NL in the coming months so it will be a wonderful first step towards facilitating more events across borders in the future.

After the event, I was on cloud 9! All of the delegates in attendance (about a dozen or more of us) then went for a luncheon with our special guest, Cora Weiss, but not before I was able to get a photo with Betty Reardon (posted with this entry)! What an honour!

At the luncheon, we had the opportunity to listen to Cora speak a little bit about the peace movement. As I sat next to her, I also had the opportunity to ask her a few questions and pick her incredible mind throughout the luncheon. She has such keen observations, wisdom and experience. I can only hope to create such a legacy in decades to come!!

Following our late lunch, I joined Colleen and Sandra for some wine and great conversation. I am constantly in awe of the women around me and these are two more examples of strong and empowered women. We spoke for hours and I feel like I gained a whole education just in one night and I am so thankful to them for their insights.

What a simply gorgeous day! I wish I could live in this moment for a little while longer but time stops for no one; yet, I carry the feeling in my heart, a feeling that has lit a fire beneath me. I feel like there is something coming and, with each day that passes, I am feeling more and more confident and ready for what destiny has in store for me.

Peace and everlasting love,

J

DAY SEVEN: 58TH SESSION ON THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 16, 2014

I woke fairly early and met up with Alida and Colleen. We had great plans to go to a Harlem Gospel Show but when we arrived, the theatre informed us that the brunch would not begin until 1.30pm and since I had to reach Greenwich Village by 2pm for our delegate orientation meeting, it was too late to go. Alida was also catching her flight back home that afternoon so we had to abandon our plan in the interest of time for everyone.

We joined Colleen at her accommodation for a quick tea and, after bidding farewell to Alida, made my way to the subway and eventually to Greenwich Village.

For anyone who has been to Greenwich Village, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say it is the most confusing area to orientate yourself. After walking in circles a few times (even after asking for directions from three passers-by) I made it to my destination where almost all of our 23 delegates and visitors were collecting for an information session. The session was especially vital for me and the other panelists as it provided us the opportunity for some last minute prep time. Our three hour session flew by in an instant as we discussed the history of VOW and it’s goals; the implications of CSW and our role in it; as well as a chance to field some questions to the experienced leaders of the organizations, some of which were partly responsible for running the organization and its success. Of special acknowledgement is Sandra Ruch, VOWs Office Administrator and the heart of the organization. She is responsible especially for the success of the organization as she is responsible for the daily operations and vision of the work we do. In fact, she founded the peacemakers camps that has expanded to four provinces, one of which was responsible for bringing me to VOWs board and to this fabulous conference. I owe Sandra so much gratitude and I am SO excited to be working with her here on in.

After our session, the entire delegation went for dinner at a tiny nearby restaurant. It was a tight squeeze but we fit in and enjoyed a lovely meal. It was so excellent to have the opportunity to sit with, and learn about, each other. I hope that some great relationships will result from these connections and I have faith that they will.

I hopped in the train back to Times Square and took a nice leisurely stroll through the busy streets of Manhattan. Even at 9pm on a Sunday evening, there were people EVERYWHERE! I ran into a few shops to have a look around and every one was packed! Ah, New York! The city that never sleeps! Upon returning to the hostel, I did some more prep for the panel. The butterflies are beginning to come alive in my tummy but I take that as a positive sign – my dad, a prominent community activist and public speaker in his own right, always said that butterflies were a great sign, as it signalled your care and concern for doing a good job which would always mean you’d give it your all and invariably do well. Fingers crossed the theory holds for tomorrow! My debut at the UN CSW – what a feeling for a small town girl from Newfoundland and Labrador!

Peace and love,

J

DAY FIVE: 58TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 14, 2014

TGIF!!! And there is so much to be thankful for on this particular Friday.

In the morning, I visited the “Artisan Fair,” an event organized by the NGO CSW committee which featured international organizations that sell handcrafted goods, jewlery, clothing, pictures, everything! – with the aim of raising money to support initiatives in their respective countries.  For example, one booth was selling purses and pouches that were made out of recycled candy wrappers by local women in an empowerment project to promote financial independence.  I, of course, bought one to take home.  I also purchased a black onyx ring which reminded me very much of the black onyx ring that my grandfather always wore.  I love small signs from the universe that carry a message that you are exactly where you are meant to be.  The ring reminds me of my pop and, as I said before, I feel him here with me.

After my visit to the artisan fair, I decided to partake in a presentation called “Women’s Role in Post-Disaster Reconstruction and Recovery.”  It was very educational and I felt I learned so much about the urgency of developing gender-responsive strategies to reduce the negative impacts of natural disasters.  For example, after a natural disaster strikes, homes are lost and individuals may be placed in emergency shelters.  What we forget is the deplorable conditions that individuals may have to live in for the duration of the time that they are forced to wait until the city or town is rebuilt.  Those conditions may involve lack of privacy, lack of bathrooms, lack of consideration for women during menstruation, and, that is besides,the vast increase in the likelihood of being sexually harassed or abused during that time.  I was particularly disturbed by the desc ription of the fact that women and children are sleeping in the same room as men and that children may be at risk for being violated.  It is unacceptable to be placing individuals in these situations.  Increased consideration of the needs of women and children would greatly reduce these instances and must be included in all strategies for disaster response.  During this presentation, there was a panelist, Mirah (forget last name) from FEMA.  She was so powerful in the way she spoke – full of energy and positivity!  I loved how she framed disasters as an “opportunity to rebuild the life we want…that is better than before” and emphasized the power that women have by bonding together and using our voices in unison.  I was so inspired!

In the afternoon, I was SO excited to have an interview with Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AGFC) for a fellowship position I had applied for a couple of months ago.  (A HUGE thank you to my new friend, Lilla, who invited me to use her apartment and computer for the interview).  The placement would be an AMAZING opportunity to be placed overseas for 9 months in a field placement that would be aimed primarily at international development.  I’m not sure how I did in the interview – in fact, I feel like I missed the boat on a few questions that I just KNOW I could have answered better.  Unfortunately, the excitement and eagerness for the position (I want it so so SO much – it’s so suited to ME!) made me a little bit tongue tied but I can only hope for the best.  I just pray that they saw my passion and enthusiasm for the position but I realize that if it is meant to be, it will be.  Fingers and toes (and eyes) are crossed!!!  After the interview, Lila and I had a nice chat over coffee.  She is such a phenomenal woman – she is a lawyer and is currently finishing her PHD and she’s only a couple years older than me – incredible!!   She showed me a trailer for the film “The Whistle Blower” which looks just phenomenal and also depicts Madeleine Rees who I was honored to see the evening before at an awards reception in honor of her.  I urge everyone to check out this film, as well as, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  I have not seen either yet but it’s first on my list of things to do when I get back to Canada.

Lila and I made our way to another session: “Institutionalized Torture.”  It was very difficult to hear as the microphones were not loud but the panel basically outlined various examples, through their work, of instances of violence and, specifically, violence against women, that demonstrated the institutionalization of torture.  I am very proud to say that during the Question and Answer session, I proudly stood and voiced my opinions about some of what they said.  The jist of the panel’s comments was that if we change how people view violence, if they could just see it as wrong and hurtful, it would stop.  Although I agree with the premise that we, as a society, need to change our perspectives in the way that we accept violence, I feel it goes deeper than just viewing it as wrong.  I think the majority of society already recognizes that violence is wrong.  However, I feel that we do not have the structures, the motivation, or the mindset to challenge the norm that violence is acceptable.  Furthermore, the way we perceive the world, through a gendered lens and a power imbalance, we need legislation in place that enforces a new way of thinking and motivate us to action (and change our behavior to stop using violence to assert power over another human being).  I stood and challenged the notion that telling people violence is wrong is enough.  I used the example of how individuals who are charged and sentenced for using domestic (or gender-based) violence may get a slap on the wrist or a short stint in jail that will most likely be reduced to probation in a matter of months (case and point: Matthew O’Quinn who continues to be sentenced for extremely short time periods and is released only to be re-arrested on similar and escalating counts of violence against his partners).  I explained that poaching a fish or killing a moose without a license would induce major sentencing including losing posessions and years in jail.  I posed the question, rather passionately: how can we being to address the social acceptability of violence when we place more value on the life of a moose than the life of a woman or child?  I received a beautiful applause and even though I was so nervous, I felt so empowered.  It’s true what they say:  “Speak – even if your voice shakes.”

Following this session, was the regional caucus for North America and Europe.  During this and other sessions scheduled throughout the week, NGOs come together to draft the Agreed Conclusions to be submitted for consideration by the member states at the United Nations.  Here is where we hold governments to task about its obligations and inadequacies.  It was quite a lively debate!

We had begun the proceedings.  The room was PACKED.  One woman approached the facilitator and, in french, described her frustration over the fact that none of the sessions were being translated and that it was excluding her from these proceedings to which she, of course, wanted to have input (I am slightly out of practice with my french but that was the jist of it).

Now, I realize that there is a time limit and that translating would take some time; but feminist principles calls for inclusivity and I feel that there could be better ways to accommodate someone to ensure everyone is included and active in the discussion.

It did not sit well with me that I did not voice this in the meeting.  Too often we feel that we cannot or should not stand and speak to an issue, even if it seems tiny or unimportant. Lesson: don’t hesitate when you feel that you need to speak up.  Speak.  Even if people don’t listen, you’ve done what you felt in your heart was right.  That’s powerful.  That’s the type of person I want to be.  It was a moment of reflection.  I’m sad I didn’t speak up for this woman – but I’m thankful for the lesson.

The session continued and there was a lively debate about the inclusion of the section about women in prostitution/sex work.  I use both terms here because, depending on which side you stand, one is correct and the other isn’t.  There was some argument about whether consensus had been met (any inclusions/omissions must be agreed upon using consensus, otherwise the action cannot be completed and it must be omitted).  Since consensus was not reached over what to include, it was omitted.  I’m interested to attend the next session on Monday to see how the discussion will go.  I’m intrigued with the process and feel terribly excited to be present and participating in the creation of this document.

After the regional caucus, myself and two of my new friends went for a nice meal and some socializing.  It was a lovely evening and a bit of a late night but it was such great conversation that the night passed swiftly and it was after midnight before we knew it.

A truly great day and night.  I can’t believe the first week of this wonderful adventure has come to a close.  It’s silly but every night I go to bed so full of excitement for the next day to begin.  I  am truly in my element.  So happy, so proud!

Peace and Love,

J

DAY SIX: 58TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 15, 2014

Today was a day for some much needed rest! I had a nice sleep-in until about lunchtime. Grabbed some food, had a nice long leisurely shower and took the opportunity to tidy up and re-organize my newly attained resources and papers. I was able to go through the business cards I had collected from networks and make initial contact with some of them.

Later in the day, I took a nice walk to a Thai restaurant where I joined Alida and Colleen, who are fast becoming great new friends. After a nice chat and some delicious (and I mean DELICIOUS!) food we said good night and I connected with one of my fellow delegates, Shelley Hannah, and inspirational and motivational life coach and mentor. I met Shelley at a local tea room and we enjoyed some warm tea and great conversation. Shelley tells it like it is, something I admire greatly about her, and we shared stories of our journeys. I really felt like my soul was fed during those minutes which turned into hours. In fact, the tea room closed and they asked to leave and we still continued gabbing away on our walk back to the hostel.

I hit the hay around midnight and had a nice long snooze. A nice quiet Saturday to re-energize and connect with new friends.

Peace and love,

J

DAY FOUR: 58TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 13, 2014

Whew! Just made it “home” after a long and busy day.

Our morning briefing was extra sweet as more of our delegates have arrived! I had a great discussion with one delegate, Marla, who is beginning a journey with her 15 year old daughter as they create a documentary together in a number of different countries (http://www.goodlifeproject.com/kasha-slavner/. Check out her story – It’s super amazing and she’s just 15 years old! I’m so excited to talk more with them and watch their journey unfold!

I was also able to meet the fabulous Sandra Ruch the Administrator for our Voice of Women for Peace office in Toronto with whom I’ve had the absolute pleasure of connecting with and collaborating with over the last few months. Like many of the woman involved in VOW, Sandra is amazing but, more than that, she has such an energy and glow about her! I find myself energetic and glowing just being around her! I’m so glad to have the opportunity to spend some time with her over the next few days.

After our morning briefing, I took a quick walk up to Times Square and wandered among the busy crowds. I needed to take a moment to relish in the experience and reflect on what I’ve been learning over the past few days. I quickly booted back to the UN and took in more sessions.

Of particular note was the session: “discriminatory social norms: the missing link to the MDGs.” My thesis examined the ramifications of discriminatory social norms and how, for example, the conceptualization of masculinities can contribute to prevalence of violence, specifically in the context of patriarchal societies. Hence, I was interested in being at the table for this discussion. It was quite interesting – specifically in relation to the conundrum of how to measure social norms quantitatively to provide the necessary “proof” to policy- and decision-makers to encourage change. It was an interesting argument and there was a good dialogue. It’s frustrating to think that we need to “prove” to policy makers that social norms are numerically measurable in order to convince them what they already know is true: that social norms are a crucial link to preventing gender inequality. However, I can understand how academics and researchers are investigating these tools so that essentially we will be able to affect change through them. I just don’t agree that we have to work within a rigid box that has been created by the “powers that be” that demands quantitative analysis to make it valid before it can be considered. I’m intrigued to find out more about the research being done and what is coming out of it.

I also attended a session about the slave trade and was deeply moved by a documentary that depicted the story of one Burundi woman’s journey to the UK as a domestic slave. I was shocked. The idea that a family could keep a child under house arrest; forced to clean the house, care for children, and tend to all their needs from washing the car to pouring the tea; and all with complete denial of, and no access to, the outside world – appalled me. I actually felt sick. How is it possible 1) that one person can enslave another to tend to their every desire? 2) that one person could deny another person all of their human rights including the very dignity bestowed upon them by simply being born? 3) that we as a society are encouraging the kidnapping and selling of children by creating an industry merely by the act of being an active consumer of children and women? I could go on but the number of questions that this issue raises would be multitudinous. Of all the sessions so far, this session really disturbed me. Though I believe deeply in the good of people, I was somewhat disheartened. I am thankful for the opportunity to have my eyes widened to an issue with which I am admittedly unfamiliar and I vow to educate myself on this serious issue.

Next, it was on to the CUNY School of Law in Long Island City. We grabbed a cab (and yes, everything they say about the challenges in hailing a cab in NYC are very true) and entered the hall where a beautiful stage was set up for an event to honour Ms Madeleine Rees the Secretary General of WILPF who would be presented with the CUNY School of Law Dean Award for Social Justice. After hearing Ms Rees speak and hearing the testimonies of her colleagues about her work ethic and accomplishments in addressing international conflict in Nicaragua, Bosnia and Syria, I felt so much admiration. I ache to be just like her. She spoke so humbly about her involvement in resolving the conflict and attested to the power in women working together to assert their role and to realize the vast value that they, women, have in these matters. For example, WILPF is responsible for spear-heading the movement for women from Syria to go to Bosnia to collaborate with Bosnian women so that they may share their lived experiences of war. This opportunity would (and has) allowed Syrian women to learn the lessons of Bosnian women so that they can actively address war and prevent similar outcomes in war. Not only is there a unique bond that is cemented, but they are mentoring each other to transform their world. This is incredible! Ms Rees pointed out that women who have lived experiences of war are the best to deal with the issues they are facing. She pointed out that, despite her knowledge and education, she could never be a substitute for that kind of mentoring; it is only through living through war that one can truly understand its impacts and degradation.

When asked why the role of women in peacemaking is so important, Ms Rees explained that when there are two parties entrenched in the conflict, it is impossible to resolve if they do not have a vested interest in finding a solution. Therefore, it is necessary to bring in the people who have not created the conflict to provide solutions. Furthermore, she said, women keep communities together. They are often stamped with the label of victims and are not seen as anything more than that after; but, in fact, they are the ones who are left to hold families together, deal with the degradation and fear and the destructed local contexts. “Women are the architects of peace,” she said. She hopes that there will be a social movement of women opposing war and working together to end it based on their lived, shared experiences. I was so touched by all she had to say. It’s really lit a fire in my heart (or perhaps just made it bigger)!!;)

A reception followed the panel and question and answer session. I indulged in some hors d’oeuvres and mingled. I’m “home” safe and sound and am eager for sleep. All this learning sure does beat you out! And you know what..

It’s the best feeling in the whole world. 🙂

Peace and love,

J

DAY THREE: 58TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

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March 12, 2014

Another jam-packed day at CSW!

The day began with our VOW early morning briefing at 7.30am, followed by the NGO CSW morning briefing and a brief meeting with Ray Acheson. What an amazing young woman doing amazing things in the nuclear disarmament movement.

Next, a few of us made our way to the meeting of the Ministers of the Atlantic Provinces for their presentation about a new project they spear-headed, called “Cybersafe Girl” a website for young girls, parents and educators, to learn how to address the growing issue of cyber violence. It was an excellent opportunity for discussion and to hear from the Ministers (minus Newfoundland who was to my disappointment unable to attend) and have discussion. After brief remarks and a description of the project, the Ministers opened the floor to the audience. I proudly stood and voiced my views about the hypersexualization of girls that was the main theme of the meeting as well as voiced my beliefs about the importance of working with both girls and boys and to challenge the social norms, like masculinity, that perpetuates power imbalances that causes violence. It was a wonderful session and I was so thankful for receiving an invitation.

After this meeting, it was back to the cafeteria for a quick bite and then on to the next session: “Engaging Men and boys to achieve MDGs for women and girls.” The Director of UN Women gave a powerful address about the importance and implications of having men as social justice allies and referenced the “He for She” campaign just launched by the UN. We then heard from various male leaders in the field. I was most intrigued by Oswaldo Montoya of Nicaragua who enthusiastically described some of the initiatives he leads through MenEngage including The Brave Men Campaign, MenCare and a radio social marketing program.

Immediately following this session, I met with the Special Rapporteur on VAW. Here is a woman who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to violence. I have to admit that she challenged some of my beliefs about violence and the movement to end VAW. For example, she spoke about the dangers of gender mainstreaming and the need for substantiative equality, not formative equality (I.e. men and women do not require everything to be the same or have the same standards to have equality. Rather, that they are granted the same opportunities that are achieved through their own ways of expression, communication style, etc. She also spoke of the complexities of the movement towards engaging men and boys in ending violence against women due to the fact that there is a lack of discussion surrounding what that should look like. If men and boys are joining in the movement as true social justice allies and are genuinely rooted in the aim of women’s equality, then they theoretically would be inclined to preserve the focus on women’s roles rather than forming their own movements which would detract from the movement by placing power for determining women’s futures in the hands of men, thus moving backwards rather than forward. It was quite an interesting debate and one that I admittedly had not pondered. There are a number of other observations that the Special Rapporteur reflected upon and I soaked up the information like a sponge. It is not every day one is able to be party to a discussion with an individual with such experience, wisdom, and expertise. The session even ran over time and still we had only touched the tip of the iceberg.

After this event, I felt a bit dizzy! The level of my concentration in each session is quite intense as I am so eager to soak in the knowledge and take notes that two hours literally feels like minutes and it is only when I stopped then that I felt the rush of the previous 8 hours. I decided it might be best to take a little walk and pick up a few groceries to keep me fuelled up and take some time to relax. The rain was just what I needed to refresh, though I looked like a drowned rat by the time I walked two blocks! One lovely man must have took pity on me and asked me if I wanted to share his umbrella but at that point I figured I’d just embrace the moment and the refreshing feeling of the rain on my face!

I ran back to the hostel and asked the wonderfully friendly security guards to point me in the direction of the grocery store and subsequently stocked up my tiny fridge. I am so impressed with my little hostel room! I even have a little tv which is on in the background as I write. The news station is giving a report about the explosion in West Harlem this afternoon: two dead. It only takes hearing stories like that to remind you to appreciate these moments. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected.

I feel quite exhausted this evening so I’m going to relax and get a good night’s sleep. I am excited for tomorrow as more of our delegates will be arriving and we will be attending a special VOW event. I am also growing in excitement for the event on Monday that I will be presenting in and sitting on the panel. As I lie here organizing the bUsiness cards I’ve collected from the individuals I’ve connected with so far, I am filled with wonder at how my path is intersecting with the paths of all of these other activists. It is a wonderful feeling and I can’t wait to see where my path is leading me.

More fun to come!

Peace and love,

Jennifer

DAY TWO: 58TH SESSION OF THE COMMISSION OF THE STATUS OF WOMEN (CSW)

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March 11, 2014

Where do I even begin? This day has been a sweet moment in time filled with many emotions:

Anticipation: The day began with an early rise (in fact, I almost injured myself in my scrabble to get to my phone across the room when the alarm woke me out of a dead sleep at 6.00am!! I swear a sock flew off my foot and I did a backflip ninja pose to turn off the blaring sound! I headed to the YMCA Conference Room to meet the other VOW delegates who have already made it to New York. Most will arrive at the end of the week but it was nice to have a small group this morning to have a fine chat over a coffee and a bagel (thank you, Janis for the fine breakfast!)

Excitement: I made my way to the UN with a bounce in my step and proudly showed my passport and grounds pass document to the guard. After going through security, my companions and I made our way to the registration room to have our pictures taken for our fancy shmancy identification cards. The whole process took about 20 minutes, start to finish, which was pretty lucky considering others had spent hours in the lineup only days before. I think we beat the rush, which was complete luck on our parts.

Martina and I wandered from room to room looking at the session topics on the screens outside each conference room and it is here I learned my first lesson. CSW survival tip #1: it is important to plan your days to avoid wasting precious time trying to choose from the eternal list of incredible sessions!

Martina and I opted for MenCare+: UN Women: Men Caring for Gender Equality. As most of you know, my interests lie deeply in the quest to build social justice allies among all genders to address power imbalances that contribute to prevalence of violence. Recognizing that the vast majority of acts of violence occurs against women arguably by men, it is crucial to explore the role of men as activists and to acknowledge the detrimental impact that gender-based violence also has on men. The session was an excellent start to CSW and I heard the voices and perspectives of representatives from Brazil, Rwanda, South Africa, and the Netherlands.

Next, Martina and I decided to strategize so we headed to the UN Cafeteria, grabbed some healthy eats to refuel and keep up our stamina, and whipped out our events handbooks to choose the sessions for the rest of the day.

My next session was a topic I am deeply motivated to learn more about: Gender Responsive Disaster Response. Without going into too much detail, the session provided an overview of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines and discussed the specific challenges that women face in the aftermath of a natural disaster i.e. Ensuring there are women and child friendly police offices to assist during an evacuation; providing protection for women from discrimination and violence; and offering psychosocial support to assist in dealing with trauma or the devastating loss of loved ones or property. The session also described ways of addressing issues with special consideration of gender needs and differences and provided some perspective on how to utilize inclusive approaches for people with disabilities. It was quite an interesting session and it really opened my mind to the considerations that are vital to ensuring all individuals are protected during a natural disaster and to ensure resiliency from such events.

After this session, Martina and I went for a quick walk to get some fresh air. CSW Survival Tip 2: it is important to take frequent breaks to refresh and reflect to ensure your mind stays alert and to avoid becoming overwhelmed. (Keep in mind there are around 5-6000 participants so it is a steady stream of people!

After a quick stop back at the hostel, I made my way back to the UN after contemplating whether I should grab a quick nap. Of course, the nap was hardly considered! I know I need to pace myself , but c’mon! It’s my first day at the UN! You’d literally have to tie me down to stop me from going at this point! 😀 And I am so glad I did.

This session moved me to tears. It was entitled: “Ending Violence against Women and Girls: the missing MDG.” I arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled start and every chair was filled. I managed to squeeze into a spot on the floor next to a lovely woman from New Zealand who works for the HRC. The session was insightful and all of the panelists (Australia, UK, Tonga and the US) were engaging and evidently knowledgeable. However, it was ‘Oka-ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likilili who stole the show for me. She spoke of her work at the Women and Children Crisis Centre in Tonga and emphasized the need to use the voices of women and the stories of the survivors in all of the work we do to end violence. She told one story of a child “Anna” who was raped by her father for ten years and it was only when she failed her grade six twice and the teacher saw pictures she was drawing of her father, pictures in which she labeled her father “tevolo” (translation: devil) that it was realized there needed to be an intervention. It was not only the stories this woman told but the way in which she told them that moved me, and many others in the room including herself, to tears. She skillfully articulated and called us to action to use the voices of our survivors to make change.

The session ended and I chatted with some of the other delegates and the lovely speaker from Tonga for some time. As I walked through the now emptied halls of the UN, it suddenly hit me: here I was among the leaders of nations, the pioneers of movements, the activists for human rights, engaging in the work of the UN. I walked through the security gate with the widest grin on my face and tears streaming down my face (no lie). For a split second when the security guard saw my face and asked if I was ok, I felt a bit embarrassed but then I looked up at him and choked out, “I’m just so happy!!” He smiled. I’m sure I’m not the first one to feel this way. One of my dreams has just come true – I have the right to be a bit emotional!

I walked out into the garden and overlooked the water and did the first thing I always do when I have my happiest moments (and my saddest moments and my confused moments and my life changing moments and my decisive moments..) : I call my two best friends, confidantes and cheerleaders: my mom and dad.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much my family means to me. My mom and dad have been there for me through every step of my journey and, believe me, when you’ve undertaken some of the work and travels I have in the countries I have, that’s not an easy task for a parent. But they never question it despite the fact that it’s incredibly difficult for them. Rather, they encourage me every step of the way and just pray I’ll get home safe. That’s love. And I’m beyond blessed for having these two people as my parents, not only for the sacrifices they make for me and the love they exude for all people, but because they are simply the kindest, most loving and best people I’ve ever met.

After a quick chat with my parents, I took a minute to pause and reflect on the other person whose been with me through my journey: my poppy elms who passed away in November at the age of 94. My poppy watched me grow and become the determined woman I am. He always encouraged my dreams and couldn’t wait to hear my stories or see the photos from my latest adventure. I really wish pop could have been there to see me off at the airport one last time to wish me luck and share this huge milestone with me. But I felt him with me today. I can see his jovial face looking down on me giving me that nod of his head and a matching grin telling me to keep pushing ahead and it fills me with a warm peace.

The day finished with a delightful meal with Alida and her good friend Colleen who is another remarkable and inspiring woman. I was so encapsulated by her stories of years spent in Yemen and Ethiopia that I almost forgot to eat! I’m looking forward to spending more time with her for sure! 🙂

I took a nice stroll back to the hostel and planned out my sessions for tomorrow. It’s going to be good and I can’t wait! I have a feeling I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight. Until tomorrow!

Peace and love,

Jennifer

DAY ONE: 58TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION OF THE STATUS OF WOMEN (CSW)

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March 10, 2014

I made it! After a stop-over in Toronto, I’ve reached my destination and I’m all settled into my new humble abode in the Big Apple. I’m feeling pretty content in my new hostel digs, especially since I am literally minutes away from United Nations Headquarters (insert excited squeal here).

My glorious adventure began before I even boarded the plane, when, as an unexpected and amazing gift, three organizations in my hometown offered to support me financially in this endeavour. I can’t do justice to describing the feeling I felt when Committee on Family Violence told me they were giving me $500 to support my mission – but it was enough to make me burst into tears in overwhelming gratitude. The feeling was multiplied even further when Western Regional Coalition to End Violence (my former employer) also gave an additional $500 toward this aim. All this in addition to the $200 Corner Brook Status of Women granted me. I have always felt so lucky to be from my hometown because of the unity and support Newfoundlander and Labradorians generally give each other; but when your community believes in you enough to invest in you with this kind of money, it’s beyond luck – it’s a true blessing. I send so much thanks to the individuals on the boards of these organizations and I will keep thanking you because I don’t think I will ever be able to thank you enough!

It’s so surreal to be walking through the streets of this renowned city. I feel oddly at home among the busy streets and chaotic traffic, despite having grown up in a city (technically a town) of less than 25,000 people. The hustle and bustle and the diversity of people makes me feel more connected to the world somehow; I suppose because there are people from every walk of life in this one city.

The city is so alive! And I feel more alive because of it. I feed off the energy and it motivates me to think and to do and to see more. I suppose that is the way of any big city when you are new in it but it stirs something in me and I love it.

After a mad dash to collect my luggage at the airport and and make my way to the hostel, I quickly changed and headed to my first engagement of what will be many over the next two weeks at the Canadian Mission to the United Nations where Status of Women Canada was hosting a reception for all Canadian NGOs for the Canadian Delegation at CSW. Two representatives from each delegation were invited to attend a lovely gathering of food and refreshments hosted by Status of Women Canada. Myself and another delegate were selected to represent our NGO: Voice of Women for Peace (VOW). First shameless plug: for more information about VOW and the work we are doing, check out vowpeace.org! 😉

I entered the offices and maneuvered the security doors that had everyone chuckling. The process: a number of people entered through a first set of doors which had to close, essentially holding us all in a glass room, before a second door could open, finally permitting us to enter into the main room. It was kind of comical to watch as the hosts tried to coordinate the closing of one door and the opening of the other (imagine trying to unlock the car door when the person getting in keeps pulling the handle) but surely these precautions are very necessary when working in this field.

As more and more delegates arrived, the mingling and conversation went into full force; the sound of the room steadily increased as representatives of every province of our lovely country, women committed to the empowerment of all women, found their voices in a place of unity and togetherness. I won’t lie, it was overwhelming. I couldn’t help but pause in reflection in a fleeting moment to look around me and feel the incredible energy. I feel so empowered. I feel so focused. I feel so MOTIVATED. And I haven’t even started into the sessions yet. Just imagine.

My feeling of elation was certainly influenced by my companions. I met my fellow representative of VOW, the lovely and intelligent Martina Buchal (Ottawa) who inspires me beyond explanation. She described the adventure she is embarking on, which, in fact, began today with the first day of CSW. Martina was selected out of 60,000 people to be the World Merit Ambassador. In her role, she will travel throughout the world on a mission for positive transformation. I was so intrigued and so impressed! In fact, I may have interrogated her a bit with my incessant questions but I wanted to know all about it! What an amazing women and a perfect example of the incredible leaders who are in attendance for CSW.

I was also thrilled when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my former VOW PeacemakeHers Camp companion Alida C! Alida was my roommate during our stay at Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, NS last August, an event that had lead me down this brilliant path to a position on the Board of Directors for VOW and now the UN. Another VOW delegate, Alida had received an invitation to attend tonight’s event while participating in one of the sessions earlier today. I had no idea she would be there so it was a wonderful surprise and we quickly caught each other up on what’s been happening. In addition to Alida’s warm energy and comical sense of humour (which I love so so much!), Alida has a passion for investigating the social determinants of health. It’s fascinating to hear her take on things. She’s analytical and has a fresh perspective that describes potential for TRUE sustainable change, which is exactly what the world needs. I’m so happy Alida is here and that we will share this wonderful experience!

I was also reunited with another inspiring woman, Linda, who I also met at the Pugwash PeacemakeHers Camp in August. Linda’s career in women’s rights and peacemaking is profound: she is a professor, a member of VOW and a peace activist. Have you ever met someone and just thought, “Oh goodness, if I could have half the drive, ability, and intelligence of this person, I would be SET!”? She is my equivalent to that. I admire her so much and so enjoy our conversations. In fact, in Pugwash, Linda gave each camper a small seedling to take home with us. Each plant represented the movement for peace and women’s rights which began from a seed decades ago. The seedlings have been growing and passed along for decades. Well, I took that plant home and guess what, my plant is almost big enough to start sharing seedlings! It’s a beautiful metaphor and it takes only one look at my plant to remember my mission and the connection I have to all my foremothers before me as we continue our quest for equality and peace.

At the reception, I also finally met another inspirational woman and an individual who has become a strong mentor to me: Janis Alton. Janis is the Co-Chair for VOW and has been involved in peace advocacy and the UN CSW for decades. I have had the honour and privilege to work closely with Janis over the last couple of months in the planning for CSW. I can’t say enough good about Janis and I’m so happy to have finally met after our numerous phone conversations. I am so grateful for the fact that she had really taken me under her wing and I know I have so much to learn from her. I feel so blessed!

After the reception, Martina, Alida and I went for a quick walk and a drink and shared stories and aspirations from our lives. It’s been a tiring day so we called it an early night.

As the honks and horns of the traffic below my sixth floor window serenade me, I can’t help but thank the Universe for what it has given me. I am so so thankful for this opportunity. I am so grateful for the women in my hometown who supported me financially to be here. I’m snuggling up in bed as if I were a child on Christmas Eve – the excitement, the anticipation for what is to come. Only a few blocks beyond my window, the United Nations awaits me. Tomorrow, I will join thousands of other women from around the world in the sessions of the UN CSW… Excuse me while I do my happy dance. 🙂

Good night everyone!

Peace and love,

Jennifer

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When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

I’ve finally made the leap into the online world of social media.  That’s right!  Two sentences in and already I feel incredibly satisfied with my new hobby!  Plus, I even kick-started a new twitter account @JenniferYElms.  Come on over and follow me.  I’ll be a tweetin’ twitterin’ tweeter and I’d love y’all to be my twitter friend.

I hope to use blogging as a means to record and share my past, present and future travels; my dreams, and my salient hopes; to seek and find inspiration and to leave a trail of memories and observations that I can keep and reflect upon in future.  I am a private person but I feel that we all have a story to share and I want to create my story now – to entertain, to amuse, or in my relentless optimism, to inspire, and to have some good ol’ fashioned FUN.

I will from time to time type excerpts from handwritten journals of my travels overseas.  I also hope to record observations, random thoughts, or emotional soliloquies (joking, sort of, not really).  I won’t seek to have perfect grammar or perfect ideas.  Rather, I hope to leave a history of genuine thoughts and feelings on-the-go about issues that move and compel me to find change; a reflection of my experiences to help me gain fresh perspectives.  I might only have time to write one sentence or I might write a novelette during a particularly long stop-over in an airport – but I want to share.

So who am I?  Aha.  The question with which we all struggle. Of course, I cannot capture all of who I am in one blog post.  But I can tell you what I do and what I love.

I am currently Executive Director of a nonprofit organization that seeks to address and prevent all forms of violence (until next week when my contract ends after an amazing18 months).  As a humanitarian and human rights activist , I have an incredible passion for social justice that has motivated me to travel all over the globe.  In fact, my international experience spans over 20 countries, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.  I love trottin’ all over this incredible globe and I am certain that my thirst to travel will never be quenched.

I currently serve as Director of International Service for the Rotary Club of Corner Brook; Executive Secretary for the Committee on Family Violence; and active member of the Corner Brook Status of Women Council.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland and was awarded a Master of Human Rights and Democratization from University of Sydney (Australia).

My focus lies in eradicating the use of violence on a global scale through the application of innovative, multi-sectoral approaches that promote nonviolent conflict resolution and peace-building.  As a strong feminist and advocate for women’s rights, I am constantly seeking to learn and develop new strategies for the protection and promotion of human rights.

So that’ll about do it for my very first post in my introduction to the blog world.  I look forward to making this blog my own little journey of self-discovery and growth and would love y’all to join me!

Peace and love,

J