Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Women must dare

Since my last post I have attended some truly amazing events and meetings here at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). As I write, I am sitting in on a panel organized by iKNOW Politics entitled "Getting Ahead: Testimonials of Women in Politics".

The current speaker is Tezira Jamwa, a former member of the Ugandan Parliament. She is speaking of how her government has increased women's visibility in politics and helped to foster their entry into politics through affirmative action. However, she says patriarchy is still strong and women only make up 30% of Parliament, and often face hostility and other challenges. She stressed the value of electronic networking for support and education to change historical gender inequalities. Because gender equality cuts across all eight MDGs, she reasserts its importance and timeliness.

Ruby Dhalla, a member of the Canadian Parliament, is speaking next. She is also the youngest member of Parliament in Canada. Her mother, as she said, made her watch the nightly news every day, and remembers the riots she witnessed that were happening in India. At ten years old, she wrote (then-prime minister of India) Indira Gandhi, and received a handwritten response. This experience convinced her that whoever you are, no matter your age, you can be heard. Echoing a previous speaker, she reiterated that the real power and knowledge is at the grassroots, "with the cleaners." As a teen, she volunteered in her parliamentarian's office, and from there rose to the point where she was asked by the Prime Minister to run for the seat she now holds. When she hesitated, a mentor told her that she had been talking the talk, and it was time to walk the walk. Her message was that if you have a dream, go out with confidence and do it. She says women have so much to contribute to the political dynamic. Women have been strong advocates for progressive social policies, and foreign policy and the economy are just as important to women in this world as to men. She advocates mentoring programs, international connections and cooperation, and a focus on women's policies instead of their hair.

The other panelists were Jan Grauls, Ambassador to the Permanent Representationj to the United Nations; Fredrik Arthur, Norwegian Ambassador for Women and Gender Equality; Dominique Tilmans, Member of Parliament in Belgium; Geraldine Fraser-Mileketi, Demoratic Governance Practice Director in the Bureau for Development Policy (BDP/UNDP); Geraline A. Ferraro, former US Congresswoman; Syada Greiss, Member of Parliament in Egypt; and Margaret Mensah Williams, Deputy Speaker of the Namibian Upper House.

These women and men have the clout to make a real impact on their national politics. It is wonderful and inspiring to see how hard they are using their power at those upper levels to promote gender-sensitive and woman-empowering policies.


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