The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) Virtual Conference—March 15-26, 2021
Notes from the Pre-Conference Zoom Discussion (March 14)
Zoom Participants: Twenty Servas Canada households and four Mt. Royal University (Calgary) students and faculty
- Servas at the UN
- As a peace organization, Servas has “consultative status” at the UN. Servas International’s 15 reps to the UN can attend certain meetings and conferences, and can submit position statements on current issues.
- In return, the UN expects Servas and other non-government organizations with consultative status to promote the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among their memberships and beyond. Visit un.org/goals for more info on the goals.
- The CSW65 Conference
- The conference will focus on gender equality both through women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, and through the elimination of violence against women and girls.
- Servas International has 28 delegates (24 women and 4 men) to this virtual conference. Three delegates are Servas Canada members—Barbara Mitchell-Pollock; Julie Cormack; Kent Macaulay.
- Servas has begun to participate in UN conferences only recently, and we are exploring the best ways to have our voice heard. Servas has co-signed one of the written statements submitted to the conference. During the conference, the three of us from Servas Canada will also be looking for which other Canadian organizations are participating in the conference, for possible follow-up with them in the future.
- Next year’s conference will have a theme of gender equality and climate.
- Gender Equality and Racism (a key focus for Barbara at the conference):
Discussion Question: How does systemic racism affect gender equality, and how can we work individually and collectively to overcome it?
- Indigenous communities in Canada face horrific problems (e.g. unsafe drinking water) that stem from colonization and persist in a society that can be either apathetic or openly hostile. Indigenous women, like other women of colour, face added challenges (e.g. missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls). As well, Indigenous women are often not recognized for their contributions in such issues as saving the salmon and increasingly speaking out against violence.
- White men continue to hold most of the power, and act to maintain the status quo. Despite doing “men’s work” of operating machinery during wartime, women still had to fight for the vote afterward, and Indigenous women had to wait decades after that.
- Governments often don’t walk the talk (e.g. supporting UNDRIP in words but not in their actions). However, concerted citizen action (meeting with MPs and MLAs; using demonstrations, theatre, and music to convey messaging; attending the UN) can pressure government to change policy, if the action is assertive and persistent.
- Many people don’t feel self-confident enough to meet with politicians or write individual letters. Amnesty International now uses short films or videos to help its members first understand an issue better, and then facilitates group letters to be composed and sent. It is also essential to use the Internet to reach young people, to get them working as a group.
- Gender equality and racism is a huge, complex topic, in which trauma is often heaped on top of other trauma. The lack of action to overcome racism hinders healing (e.g. the persistent secrecy around residential schools). We need to hear the stories—the truth—of Indigenous women through dialogue including social media, and recognize that their pain is valid.
- People of colour can more easily approach and work with other people of colour, because they are viewed as having similar life experiences. We need to walk in the shoes of our neighbours.
- The mentorship of women of colour is best provided by other women of colour. A white woman as mentor can’t count on fully recognizing and understanding the level of aggression and micro-aggression that women of colour constantly face.
- For white persons, it is important to listen, to look at ourselves to see if we are merely reinforcing discrimination and to decide what we could be doing differently.
- School curricula must be part of the truth-telling. Citizens could join school boards or speak out in other ways.
- The underfunding of education on reserves is also an issue – not just for women and girls but education is important for girls.
From the Chat:
- On what needs to change to address the structural issues, our group discussed education of youth to increase both practical skills and to address attitudes – because it is easier to change youth than to change older people. We also discussed that women of colour/Indigenous are below men of colour/Indigenous in the hierarchy of power and they face double discrimination, especially marginalized women but even women who are not marginalized. A young woman of colour in our group spoke of ignorant assumptions being made by people of all ages and the need to educate all age groups.
- Our group spoke of “making space” for these types of conversations….make it a natural part of the chat. Our group also talked about broad educational opportunities – courses outside of the box, and especially a guaranteed income would help turn the conversation to productive change instead of just “survival”.
- Students and young people have a very important voice in current issues, through volunteering, speaking with peers, and bringing up issues on social media.
- There are many Servas members across the world who are involved in political action and conversations with the government. This is how the dialogue towards change starts. Some younger Servas members actually intern at the United Nations and the Human Rights Council (in Geneva, New York, and Vienna)….so neighbourhood conversation is the start.
- I was part of a meeting that talked about racism, and a white woman spoke about being hired to work with a Black community in California. She talked about learning a very hard lesson initially when she spoke up about how things should work; she did not listen to the people and community who hired her. She changed her attitude through this hard lesson.
- I feel that it is important for SERVAS to engage younger generations. I believe that getting the word out about the SERVAS organization to the general populace is vital. I believe it is shared experience that allows us to gain insight. I tell everyone about SERVAS and nobody I have encountered knows anything about the organization. I feel that that is a powerful way to change peoples’ views, by having them engaged in learning others’ points of view, and through those experiences, being awakened to others’ experiences.
- Would it be possible for the Servas reps. to contact the Native Women’s Association of Canada to see what we as a group can support? That way, First Nations women define the issues in their own voice and we take a supportive role? And of course, there would be other national or provincial/ territorial groups of women of colour, black women, etc. that could be replicated with?
- For self-education, I recommend Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy.
- Women’s Leadership and Empowerment (Julie’s main conference focus):
Discussion Question: How can we personally and collectively support women’s empowerment and participation in leadership roles?
- Julie offered five examples of women in leadership roles for us to reflect on:
- Julia Gillard (former Prime Minister of Australia), who spoke about the ongoing misogyny she faced
- Ngosi Okonjo-Iweala (Director-General of the World Trade Organization), who called for people to focus on her competence to deliver results rather than her gender or race
- Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand) who has intuitively balanced compassion and efficiency in government
- Kim Campbell (former Canadian Prime Minister), whose tenure as PM was short and who reduced the size of the federal Cabinet by one-third, but who was asked about who she dated
- Mary Wollstonecraft (UK advocate for women’s rights as early as 1792), who faced criticism for her “unconventional relationships”.
- At the same time, we need to remember that not all women leaders speak for all women; some address only narrow interests and not, for instance, racial justice.
- Whenever we witness discrimination or even an unintended failure to walk the talk about gender equality, we all need to speak up, write a letter, or use other means to speak up, regardless of whether it embarrasses the person.
- There are many organizations to ally with in collective solidarity. Among pacifist organizations, for example, there is World Beyond War, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Project Ploughshares, Alliance for Global Justice, Voice of Women, the Raging Grannies.
From the Chat
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vUxHLtYgbw Prime Minister Julia Gillard discusses her famous misogyny speech; Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia, video on misogyny https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNuPcf8L00; Matt Galloway (CBC’s The Current) March 8 interview with Julia Gillard
- https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-63-the-current/clip/15829216-former-australian-prime-minister-julia-gillard-tackle-gender; Women in politics map
- https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/03/women-in-politics-map-2020; I LOVE this video The Women are Coming https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUujjBqpxOg&t=3s
- Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College https://www.kcl.ac.uk/giwl
- Kim Campbell, Prime Minister of Canada http://www.kimcampbell.com/node/26
- Women and Leadership by Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala
- How Men and Boys Can Help Advance Gender Equality (Kent’s main conference focus):
Discussion Question: In what ways can we encourage and support men and boys to strive for gender equality?
- Sadly, many men view gender equality as “a women’s issue” and walk away from it. But men must play a central role and be allies with women in fostering gender equality. Throughout history, men been the custodians of a culture that has kept them as dominant, and they continue to hold most of the power. For gender equality to become a reality, men must give up some of that power. Men also create most of the violence against women (and other men). Men are part of the problem and they need to be part of the solution.
- It is easy to slip into the traditional gender roles when interacting with such family members as grandchildren. If we take care not to let that happen, we can set a good example for that family member to emulate, as well as being a person supportive of gender equality through our actions.
- Some men and boys hear only individual women speak about such experiences as bumping into glass ceilings or being whistled at, without realizing that these issues affect all women. Men and boys need to hear the amplified, reinforced voice of many women, in order to understand that these issues are huge, are rooted in patriarchy, and extend across generations.
- There is an excellent, must-see 20-minute Ted Talks video by Jackson Katz, which underlines that gender equality is not a “women’s issue” but is, in fact, an issue of leadership in which men must play a crucial role to advance gender equality for everyone’s benefit. You can find the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8.
From the Chat:
- With respect I would suggest that men look carefully at the work they are doing at home, as parents, as loved ones, as caregivers, as community members, etc. and look for opportunities to guide and reinforce their sons, nephews, brothers, male friends, uncles, etc. to do the same. For example, looking at who does the household work and what kinds of household work is done (e.g., the more unpleasant tasks such as cleaning, etc.). Teaching boys to be able to care in the home and take care of the household would make a monumental shift in how men share caregiving, power and equality.
- Education, education, education – I agree boys need to learn by example, they also need to be educated in equality for all.
- I would like to suggest you watch the documentary Tough Guise by Jackson Katz that I have shown for many years in my social construction of gender courses.
- I will also recommend boys involvement in every area of life starting home, try to let the boys understand that there are no gendered roles.
 A few days after the March 14 Zoom, the number of Servas delegates increased from 22 to 28.