NEW YORK, March 5, 2007 – In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, a number of American Jewish World Service grantees from around the world are in New York City to speak on women’s issues at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). Representing a diverse spectrum of approaches and ideas, AJWS partners offer important perspectives on this year’s theme – the elimination of all forms of discrimination against girls.
International Women’s Day is a day to both celebrate the achievements of women as well as raise political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide. The annual UNCSW, which this year is running from February 26 to March 9, is an opportunity for the international community to identify challenges, set global standards and formulate policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.
As an organization supporting grassroots development in the Global South, AJWS partners with numerous community-based groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America to address and promote women’s empowerment. “Women’s empowerment is integral to AJWS’ grantmaking,” says Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “Given how intimately connected gender is with all aspects of development, we believe it is critical to promote the well-being of girls and women around the world.”
One AJWS partner participating in the UNCSW is Zipporah Sein, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Executive Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization. Based in both Burma and Thailand, KWO promotes women’s participation in the struggle for freedom, democracy and equality in Burma. Last week, Sein spoke at a panel discussion at the UNCSW on state-sanctioned rape against females in Burma and Sudan.
“This panel will give me an opportunity to promote awareness of what is still happening in Burma,” said Sein, speaking at the AJWS office in New York. “Women still suffer from human rights violations. We really need support from the international community to help women in Burma. There needs to be much more pressure on the Burmese government and on the UN Security Council to address this issue.”
Another AJWS grantee speaking at the UNCSW is Betty Makoni, the founder and director of Girl Child Network, which supports more than 300 “girls’ clubs” around Zimbabwe that help girls to understand their rights and freedoms. Makoni just won the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child 2007 and in 2006 the Girl Child Network was awarded the UNDP Red Ribbon Award for its outstanding contribution to HIV/AIDS awareness. She is speaking at several panels at the UNCSW, including panels on women decision-makers and the grassroots response to raising girls’ awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Regarding International Women’s Day, Makoni says: “Young girls are women in the making. I think we need to focus on the girl child, reaching them while they’re young. Girl Child Network gives girls a culture of empowerment, the opportunity to empower themselves. We’ve changed mindsets. I want the international community to hear this and promote it.”
Other AJWS partners speaking at the UNCSW include:
Bukeni Beck, executive director of AJEDI-Ka/Child Soldiers Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The AJEDI-Ka/Child Soldiers Project works with female and male children affected by armed conflict, especially child soldiers. He will participate in the UNCSW with a former girl soldier who is now 15 years old. This is the first time a Congolese girl soldier is invited to the UNCSW.
Caroline Sakwa, program manager at the Binti Pamoja Center, located in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. The Binti Pamoja Center is a program for adolescent girls that provides reproductive health education, life skills training, and financial literacy classes. AJWS has been supporting the Binti Pamoja Center since 2002. Sakwa will be speaking on a panel on how to reach the most marginalized and invisible girls.
This year’s UNCSW is an opportunity for people, institutions, and governments to address important themes and take next steps towards action. “I urge not only the government, but also civil society – non-governmental organizations, women’s groups, students, citizens – to be aware of how women suffer,” says Zipporah Sein. “When one woman suffers, we all suffer.”
For a full list of events, please visit the UNCSW Web site.
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