Commission on the Status of Women, gender, girls rights, human rights, United Nations, Women's rights

How social media changed the women’s movement

Read my speech from last week’s panel discussion at the Commission on the Status of Women:

Dear colleagues, and feminist sisters and brothers – good morning!

We are here today to undertake an important task – bridging the gap between online and offline activism.

The Commission on the Status of Women has always been a place where these two tracks meet to galvanize action and translate policy into practice. It’s the two weeks of the year when the twittersphere is as full of gender discussions as the UN is full of feminists.

As someone who has been an activist for over 10 years, essentially ‘coming of age’ during the reign of the MDG framework, and in the shadow of the Beijing platform – which has taken on an almost mystic legendary quality for many of my generation – I would like to take a moment to reflect on the ways in which I believe social media has changed the face of the women’s movement.

When I first attended the CSW in 2009, my biggest concern was finding an electric socket. The conference rooms, including the General Assembly hall, were relics from a bygone era, and the most exciting event took place when I was forced to unplug a lamp in the hallway to charge my laptop – instantly plunging the entire area into complete darkness.

For me this experience really sums up the distance we have come in the way the UN views the importance of using technology to increase transparency, accountability and participation.

The MDG’s were decided in a small room filled UN technocrats. The Sustainable Development Goals on the other hand are the product of probably the widest consultation the United Nations has ever led. This could not have happened without social media platforms and forums for online discussion.

The Beijing platform Section J calls for the use of new forms of media to bridge gaps and ensure women’s voices are included in decisions that affect their lives.

We all know the challenges we face in making this a reality: the digital divide which prevents women and girls from accessing, using, controlling and designing tech tools; discrimination in all its forms which means women’s engagement with technology is often fraught with violence and abuse; girls shying away from studying computers or science, leaving this sector to be driven by a male-centred user experience.

But we must also consider the ways in which social media has allowed young feminists and gender equality activists to make their voices heard, where once only the ‘specialist’ was allowed to speak.

I am part of a millennial generation that uses blogs to share our innermost thoughts; that relies on Facebook for breaking news; a generation that can say a lot in 120 characters; who views distances and borders as an insignificant detail.

The exchange of views, the proliferation of opinions, and what I believe to be the consciousness raising process that takes place any time there is a feminist debate online – is invaluable to the women’s movement.

Forums like the OECD’s Wikigender have opened up a new space where vital gender and development issues can be widely discussed, and more importantly, where these discussions can impact influencers including donors, the media and multilateral institutions.

In bridging online and offline activism, I have had the privilege of working directly with girls from all over the world.  As an expert with Plan International, my work involves training girls to be advocates and use social media tools to engage with decision makers both locally and globally.

Our focus on including girls in the post 2015 agenda has translated into real accomplishments in terms of policy outcomes, and it has, I believe, also fostered a new generation of girl-advocates and empowered citizens.

The goals on eliminating child marriage and FGM, on increasing educational achievements for girls with a focus on quality and safety, have all been hard fought for by many, including girls.

We have used social media as a tool for extending the reach of girl-led campaigns through youtube where they uploaded videos and vlogs; through Facebook, where girls shared inforgraphics, stories and links; through twitter, where their voices were heard by those in charge; through SMS messaging campaigns, online forums and digital news magazines.

Through offline advocacy, ensuring girls meet and talk directly with their own governments at capitol and mission level. And most importantly, capturing these meetings through video, photos and blogs, and using them to hold decision makers to account for the promises they make to girls behind closed doors.

In 2014, one girl advocate who stood up for her right to an education was awarded the Nobel peace prize. Malala Yousafzai remains an inspiration to every girl in the world who has been denied her rights, for her bravery in overcoming extreme violence to make her voice heard.

I believe that social media is and will continue to be an instrument and a platform for women and girls who will not be silent in face of discrimination and exclusion. My experience, and those of my fellow panellists, shows there is still a gap between online and offline activism, but it is narrowing rapidly.

It is now up to us to keep the decision making doors wide open so women and girls from all across the globe can use social media platforms to enter into these spaces, influence the powers that be, and in so doing become the next generation of feminists and activists.

Thank you.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

watch this speech online here: http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/Side_event:_Making_women%27s_voices_heard_from_Beijing_to_Post-2015_in_social_media

Standard
Commission on the Status of Women, gender, girls rights, United Nations, violence

57th Commission on the Status of Women – should we care?

Since joining the women’s empowerment sector, i have had the opportunity to attend and lead delegations to a couple CSW meetings in NY. I was initially quite excited by the idea of a high level summit of women’s organizations all committed to feminist ideals coming together at the United Nations to establish new policies, present innovative ideas and breath new life into stagnant discussions around age old problems. Although the side panels are always interesting, and a great place to network and meet like minded dedicated individuals, I have always felt that the CSW was more style than substance.

From an advocacy perspective these meetings are a dud. The ‘Agreed Conclusions‘ document that is adopted at the end of the two week meetings have no teeth, no accountability mechanisms and rarely (if ever) get translated into government level policies. In fact  the few General Assembly discussions i have had the misfortune to attend were dull affairs where countries of the world, in alphabetical order, regaled a dozing audience with stories of what they do to help/protect/promote/mention women. At certain points this becomes an almost comic affair as countries who are well known for their complete disregard to women’s rights and countries that have been chosen multiple times as ‘the worst place to be a woman’ or some such, stand up and give a 10 minute brief on their dedication to the issue.

So why do third sector organizations with stretched budgets keep spending good money to attend these meetings? granted, there is some press and media attention to be had. But it’s rather marginal, and I wonder who besides those that are already interested (you policy wonks know who you are!) actually follow things like #CSW57 and other hashtags?

During the two week meeting the big INGO’s get together with the UN agencies who bring an OECD mission along so they can all hug each other on a panel discussion. So the well known allies of women’s groups get together and celebrate themselves, while certain governments work in advance to create a blocking vote that derails any attempt at passing more action oriented conclusions.

the best example of CSW impotence is the fact that in my many travels to ‘the field’, no one has ever heard of this meeting. sorry, but its true. the only interested folks, are those who are attending, have attended, or might attend one of the meetings in future.

seriously though, wouldn’t it be great if women’s organizations got together (what a pipe dream huh?) and boycotted the whole thing? or held an alternative CSW, like the World Social Forum, but for women and girls? then we would spend two weeks naming and shaming governments, creating real alliances based on a feminist political consciousness that didn’t shy away from challenging the old power bases and spoke about girls rights in terms other than ‘what a great investment’ (read – more consumers for our free market systems).

I guess we’ll call that radical idea ‘Plan B’.

In the meantime, I’m taking this CSW with a grain of salt. With the lofty intention of ‘eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls’ there is more riding on the outcomes of these meetings than ever before.  Women and girls are suffering from violence and abuse right now. there has never been a more urgent call to action, nor is there a more pervasive widespread issue that touches every women and every girl in the world. So what will the CSW actually manage to achieve  Will we see a limp set of innocuous ‘agreed conclusions’ that will have no impact what so ever? or will we see funding allocations and policy changes?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But I’m not holding my breath.

Keshet

Standard