Written by Alexa Russo (Research Assistant)
Photographed by Sarah Ragsdale (Communications Intern)
On April 2nd, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) had the opportunity to host Dr. Natalia Kanem, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), at Rutgers University. After engaging conversations with CWGL and Rutgers Global Health, Dr. Kanem was graciously hosted by Rutgers President Barchi and Mrs. Francis Barchi at a reception with professors and students across Gender Studies, Global Health, and various other disciplines. Dr. Kanem drew many distinguished guests including Abena Busia, Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil.
Pictured left to right: Krishanti Dharmaraj, Dawn Minott, Melissa Upreti, Soeurette Germain, Yakin Erturk, Dr. Kanem, President Barch, Radhika Balakrishnan, Aretha Oliver Crayton
At the keynote event, Rutgers Chancellor Dutta began with introductions, followed by CWGL’s showcasing of its project on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A panel discussion moderated by Radhika Balakrishnan (CWGL Faculty Director) allowed for a conversation among Krishanti Dharmaraj (Executive Director of CWGL), Yakin Ertürk (former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and CWGL Visiting Global Associate), and Alexa Russo (CWGL Research Assistant) on the project’s aim to bring together an analysis of economic structures, underlying gender-based violence, as well as a human rights framework into the implementation of the SDGs. As the panel noted, the SDG’s aim to transform society can only be achieved by confronting the many gendered systems of power that run through the economy, and by utilizing human rights as an evaluative framework and as a set of mechanisms for social change.
Pictured above: Rutgers Chancellor Dutta and Dr. Natalia Kanem
Following the panel, Dr. Kanem’s keynote address discussed how human rights, equality, and peace provide the foundation for UNFPA’s work. While considerable improvements have been made in the realm of sexual and reproductive health, UNFPA’s area of focus, there is still considerable work to be done. For example, globally more than 300,000 women die each year from often preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, adolescent girls continue to lack sexual education, and women and girls’ vulnerability to sexual abuse and assault leads to, among other issues, an increased risk to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. There are also inequalities within countries that perpetuate these issues among those who are more vulnerable—such as in the United States where African-American women in New York are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than while women.
Pictured left to right: CWGL staff Rasha Moumneh and Michelle Sucameli, Dr. Kanem, CWGL staff MaryBeth Bognar and Magali Brosio
Pictured: CWGL opening panel, left to right: Radhika Balakrishnan, Alexa Russo, Yakin Erturk, Krishanti Dharmaraj
Dr. Kanem outlined UNFPA’s plan to promote and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly for those most marginalized, by 1) making concerted and collaborative efforts to collect data from marginalized populations 2) addressing the social, cultural, policy, and legal barriers to sexual and reproductive health, and 3) empowering marginalized groups to claim their rights.
As it is for many of our friends in the women's rights community, this year's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was a whirlwind of feminist energy. With a growing team and program initiatives, the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) had the opportunity to hold and take part in important conversations, insightful strategy building, and celebrations of progress. Here's a peak into some of our spaces and what we've been up to.
“A VOICE UNSILENCED: SAUDI WOMEN ADVOCATING THEIR RIGHTS, 1990-2017” PUBLICATION AND LAUNCH
For the past year, CWGL has had the privilege of working with two Saudi activists, Monera Al Nahedh and Hessah Al Sheikh, who authored a report that details and assesses Saudi women’s advocacy. As CSW opened, CWGL published this report, “A Voice Unsilenced: Saudi Women Advocating Their Rights, 1990-2017” and hosted its authors, as well as other Saudi women activists. During their visit, CWGL coordinated a human rights training and meetings with NGOs and the press. “A Voice Unsilenced” was formally launched on March 13th at a panel event that was moderated by CWGL Executive Director Krishanti Dharmaraj, and included the report’s authors, Saudi activists, and Yakin Erturk, former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and current CWGL Visiting Global Associate. More about this project and the launch event can be found here. A digital version of the report is available online. It was also reported on in the media by The Guardian and Arab News.
MEET & GREET: FEMINIST ALLIANCE FOR RIGHTS & UN WORKING GROUP ON THE DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN IN LAW AND PRACTICE (WGDAW)
CWGL and its Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR) hosted a Meet & Greet for the WGDAW, of which Melissa Upreti, CWGL Senior Director of Program and Global Advocacy, is a member. The event provided the opportunity to hear about the work, forthcoming priorities, and engagement opportunities of the working group.
16 DAYS STRATEGY MEETING
On March 15, CWGL held a strategic planning meeting with key partners to discuss the future direction of the 16 Days Campaign. For the past two years, the 16 Days theme has focused on ending gender-based violence in education. While that theme has resonated very strongly with partner organizations, it was agreed that the 16 Days theme ought to be responsive to movement trends. Taking inspiration from the international campaign to push the ILO to adopt a convention against gender-based violence, the 16 Days theme for the next two years will focus on GBV in the world of work.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ENGAGEMENTS
CWGL Executive Director, Krishanti Dharmaraj addressed both the US Caucus and the NGO CSW Orientation. Her opening of the US Caucus framed the role of US women at CSW, specifically regarding what this means in the Trump Era. At the NGO CSW Orientation, Dharmaraj gave a tribute to the late San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. She also presented at the annual Cities for CEDAW strategy session.
STRATEGY MEETING PARTICIPATION
CWGL recently welcomed Magali Brosio to our staff as Senior Program Coordinator, Economic Policy. As a Feminist Economist, Magali attended the ESCR-Net strategy meeting on behalf of CWGL to discuss the intersection between land and women’s economic, social, and cultural rights.
OTHER CWGL SPACES
Written and photographed by MaryBeth Bognar, Program Coordinator
The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) hosted the launch of its newly published report, “A Voice Unsilenced: Saudi Women Advocating Their Rights, 1990-2017” (A Voice Unsilenced), authored by Saudi women’s rights activists Monera Al Nahedh and Hessah Al Sheikh. The report is the first of its kind where Saudi women speak for and about themselves to a global audience. It exposes the oppressive laws that position them as second-class citizens and assesses their advocacy initiatives toward gender equality. CWGL launched “A Voice Unsilenced” during the 62nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to amplify Saudi women’s voices and provide an opportunity for engagement. Through this global space and network, the story of Saudi women’s advocacy and struggles could reach beyond Saudi Arabia and to a world that stands to support them.
As panelists, CWGL welcomed the report’s authors, as well as Saudi activists and special guest speaker Yakin Ertürk, former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and current CWGL Visiting Global Associate.
The Saudi activists spoke on the situation of Saudi women in the context of international laws and overall legal obligations and realities. They emphasized that the roles imposed on Saudi women that result in their lack of freedom are claimed to be for their protection. Saudi Arabia has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but most changes in its national laws and practices thus far are largely cosmetic. The activists gave examples such as women participating in the Olympics, but not in sports at school; or easing some restrictions for women at the surface, but still requiring them to have a male guardian. They also provided insight to what this reality meant for Saudi women in their daily lives, particularly young women. Light was also shed on young Saudi women’s resistance including their activism and sharing of personal stories through the use of social media.
Al Nahedh and Al Sheikh, as the report’s authors, provided background on “A Voice Unsilenced” before connecting it to recent changes. In a joint statement on their work, they had said, “we endeavor to be part of the process for positive change and effective advocacy for the equality of all, expressed in “Vision 2030” for Saudi Arabia. Our work is in the spirit of keeping the promise and realizing the hope for young women and men of our country.”
Al Sheikh detailed the contents of “A Voice Unsilenced” which, in its assessment of Saudi women’s activism, lifts up the extraordinary circumstances in which this advocacy occurs as well as the resulting backlash. It tells this story through information collected from stakeholders, including women activist leaders, as well as through a detailed look into 20 campaigns and demands since 1990 carried out in public spaces and online. By acknowledging a shift in activism with the rise of social media, a detailed Twitter analysis demonstrates how the platform has been used to both organize and share struggles internationally. By lifting up what has worked well and critiquing areas that require further examination, the report offers a reflection of Saudi women’s voices.
Al Nahedh tied the activism from “A Voice Unsilenced” to current realities in Saudi Arabia, emphasizing that it is a period of change and with change brings opportunities. She shared that Saudi women have the ability to push their agenda during this time, but changes must go beyond the surface. Shifts such as the end of the driving ban won’t make a difference in regards to patriarchy or realizing true gender equality. Saudi women must continue to advocate for their full rights for true and substantial change. In doing so, Al Nahedh concludes that their outreach must be inclusive, representative, and be conducted with a united vision and agenda.
Ertürk provided insight from her 2008 visit to Saudi Arabia as the then Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Cynicism often exists around Saudi Arabia ratifying CEDAW with the entire convention under reservation. However, Ertürk lifts up that even by ratifying CEDAW at all, as well as being a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia has committed itself to engagement on human rights issues. “Engagement is key,” said Ertürk. They can no longer fully control the situation as they once could.
The launch was moderated by Krishanti Dharmaraj, Executive Director of CWGL, who provided background on the Center’s partnership with Al Nahedh and Al Sheikh. It is with feminist values that CWGL strengthens and bridges voices for human rights. To this end, one of the Center’s programmatic goals is for feminist standards to become the norm. Towards this, CWGL aims to amplify feminist thought, standards and leadership to influence civil society and its institutions and structures, thereby addressing inequality, discrimination and violence. This includes amplifying women’s voices of the Global South in how they are defining and demanding their rights by connecting them to global spaces.
With recent policy shifts, it is time for the voices of Saudi women, who have been the driving force for substantive change, to be heard. “A Voice Unsilenced” serves as an invaluable avenue to connect Saudi women with a world that stands to support them. “We are confident that this report is the beginning of a reflection of Saudi women’s voices in what promises to be a long, powerful, and courageous journey,” said Dharmaraj.
This project was funded by Channel Foundation, Rutgers Global, and Center for Women's Global Leadership.
Written by Melanie Hung, Program Intern
The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) had the pleasure of hosting the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (UN SRVAW), Dubravka Šimonović, to discuss her individual mandate under the Human Rights Council, the relevance to the lives of women in the US and future opportunities for engagement. This gathering also provided us the opportunity to introduce two new members of the CWGL team. We are thrilled to have Yakin Ertürk join us this year as our Visiting Global Associate. As a gender expert and former UN SRVAW, Yakin will help shape and inform our emerging body of work on women and peace, safety and security. We also recently welcomed Melissa Upreti as our Senior Director of Programs and Global Advocacy. Melissa is a member of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (WG DAW). As a human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate, she has spent nearly two decades advocating for the recognition and fulfillment of women’s rights through the use of national, regional and international law and mechanisms. Together, the panel discussed the history and influential work of the UN SRVAW mandate and provided the unique experience of having Šimonović and Ertürk together in conversation to share their experiences and discuss trends in global advocacy aimed at eliminating gender-based violence.
Ertürk highlighted that progress has been made. For example, violence against women was once perceived as a private matter but has now become a household phrase. However, this is often at the expense of emptying it of its content. The violence against women agenda has succeeded in mobilizing women across the globe more than other UN gender equality agendas before it and the work of the SRVAW contributed to a focus that included structural, material and ideological underpinnings of a patriarchal gender order that privileges male domination over women, including through violence. This resulted in an important shift from a victimization approach to one of empowerment/human rights.
Moving forward, specifically in addressing the gap between law and practice, Šimonović shared her thoughts on the need for a new global implementation plan that includes a legally-binding definition of “violence against women.” She also spoke specifically about her upcoming thematic reports on shelters and online violence toward women as well as her upcoming country visits to the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Egypt and Nepal. Finally, Upreti talked about the WG DAW’s report on the United States, which highlights key advancements in women’s rights as well as areas where the government has fallen short of ensuring adequate legal protection and remedies against discrimination and violence.
The discussion emphasized the fragmentation in the work between global and regional levels, within the United Nations framework and among civil society actors. Especially as the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group lack the resources to oversee the implementation of their recommendations, they require collaboration and support to hold state actors accountable for the human rights of women and of all peoples. “We need a movement again,” said Šimonović.
In April, CWGL Faculty Director, Radhika Balakrishnan brought together Margaret Huang (Executive Director, Amnesty USA), Anthony Romero (Executive Director, ACLU) and Vince Warren (Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights) to engage in the conversation: Moving Forward: Defending Civil Liberties and Human Rights.
This summer, we had two dynamic and inspiring women join us as Mandela Fellows. We welcomed Josephine Nkrurunziza (Rwanda), a gender and accountability specialist with experience in program management of girls' and women's issues, and Ayanda Simangele (Swaziland), a champion of equal rights in community development. The two brought their unique backgrounds to work with us on the 16 Days Campaign.
CWGL had the pleasure of hosting former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff for a luncheon in April to discuss feminist political leadership during a rising conservative climate. The dialogue took place among an audience of feminist human rights leaders who engaged with Ms. Rousseff on issues crucial to their work and constituencies.