Posts from March, 2014

CSW58: Trafficking and Technology

by Taysha Milagros Clark 

During this year’s 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58), I attended several events with similar themes. Slavery, which was abolished in the United States 149 years ago, was a central issue emerging from this year’s Commission. More specifically, the discussion focused on the idea that human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery, and one that needs to be addressed strategically.

Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion industry, seriously impacting the lives of at least 2.6 million people worldwide.

Despite that violence against women and girls was the theme of last year’s CSW, gender-based violence has been missing in the Millennium Development Goals, as Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons stated during a side event last week at CSW. At this side event, panelists raised awareness on the gravity of the issue and focused on addressing the root causes of human trafficking.  

On March 18th, 2014 the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) hosted an event on trafficking, also focusing on root causes. Some of the identified reasons that trafficking continues despite a global movement working to eradicate it include poverty, unemployment, inequality, humanitarian issues, gender discrimination, and a culture of tolerance towards violence against women and girls. Jayne Huckerby, Associate Professor of Clinical Law, Duke University School of Law made an interesting note at the event, stating: “As we know, poverty, inequality, and lack of development are highly gendered phenomena.”

The obstacles hindering the eradication of human trafficking are numerous. Lack of political will, hesitance because of the “cost” associated with prevention and accountability, inadequate consideration of victims, and insufficient data are just a few.  Simone Monasebian, Director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s New York Office, spoke eloquently and persuasively about these obstacles at the event, though I would like to add that another problem is terminology. Language is one of the most powerful tools in the human rights arsenal. Therefore, if available terminology is weak or highly contested, as it is with the issue of human trafficking, advocacy and activism becomes much more difficult.

With a situation as expansive and egregious as human trafficking, it can be overwhelming to decide how best to get involved with efforts to eradicate it. In an increasingly technological world, technology, an inherently neutral tool, can be a powerful force for dealing with this issue.  ECPAT-USA hosted a parallel event on the “Use and Misuse of Technology: Protecting Girls from Internet Exploitation.”  At this event, they discussed how predators are taking advantage of technology. While a lot of time can be spent discussing the misuse of technology, it is also important to note how technology has been used for good.  The “Be Free” text short code was launched March of last year. The text short code allows people to make contact with anti-trafficking hotlines who then can help locate them.  Many trafficked children have access to a mobile device, as this allows them to communicate with their “pimps” and “johns.” In such a dangerous situation, texting can be a safer means of getting help.  Since the “Be Free” launch, there have been several successful efforts to locate and rescue trafficked children from their abusers.

Human trafficking is a serious issue and the Commission on the Status of Women was an enriching experience, helping to disseminate information on dealing with issues such as this, while also showing how much work we all have left to do.  

Bringing Women's Voices from Nepal to New York

Aruna Thapa is the Project Director of Namlo Nepal, a grassroots organization working with rural women in Nepal. In 2012-2013, VGIF funded Namlo’s “Dhaka Weaving Project,” which helped rural women empower themselves through technical and business skills trainings.

Written by Aruna Thapa

As my first experience traveling alone, and my first time leaving Nepal, the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) at the United Nations was a great experience for me. It gave me the opportunity to meet with women who came from all over the world to share their issues and the challenges they are working to overcome, as well as the strategies they are using. I found the side events and parallel events very informative. Each meeting presented different ideas and each panel had its own strengths, showing a lot of creative and practical approaches to solving global problems. It was so inspiring to see that each meeting was unique.

Most importantly, I learned so much at CSW that I can share with the women I work with in Nepal. I have learned the importance of being united and raising our voices together. I also learned how important it is to share information and utilize social media to raise the voices of women. CSW gave me a great platform to share about Nepalese women among other women leaders. I was able to share how grassroots level organizations are working to uplift women’s conditions and show that even one small step can help to change peoples’ lives. I met with many men and women, made good friends, and established new contacts with other organizations. I have learned about social media, leadership, and innovative skills and techniques, which I plan to share with my co-workers and other women’s groups in Nepal.

One thing I realized was that women’s issues all over the world are the same in some way. Though the status of women in each country may be different, women are deprived, marginalized and exploited everywhere.

While in New York City, I was also able to meet the VGIF team and attend UN Women meetings. Another great experience I had was visiting the garment district in New York, since Namlo Nepal works with a cooperative of women weavers called the Dkaha Weaving Group. In the garment district, I was able to see different kinds of fabric and threads and I even bought some of them to share with the women’s weaving cooperative. A visit to Ground Zero made me emotional, but I admired the way that new things are being constructed.

All in all, my journey to New York was very inspiring. At CSW, I was able to share the voices and experiences of Nepalese women at a global level.


by: Michaela Walsh

Throughout the years, I have attended the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) many times. Each year, there are wonderful panels, inspiring speakers, old challenges discussed and new solutions shared. There are also exceptional opportunities for networking, as CSW provides a space for leaders and activists to combine their efforts and collectively change our world. This March, CSW58 meetings have been especially interesting because the international community is now at a crossroads, with the deadline for the new development agenda fast approaching as well as the conclusion of the Beijing +20 Platform for Action. As a longtime VGIF member and current VGIF United Nations Internship Program Mentor, I was asked to provide some reflections on my experience at CSW this year.

 One of the first meetings I attended was an event focused on an Alliance Francaise film, with a female French director that was composed of selected interviews of other female directors in France. I noticed that the American film directors on the panel, both female, were less confident than their French counterparts – the American women seemed more occupied with being similar or different than male directors. With such a strong media presence in the United States, it will be important going forward to ensure that women in media roles are presented with opportunities to build their confidence, rather than consistently feeling pressure to compare themselves to men in the field.

At the National Council of Women (NCW) of the United States’ event, I was reminded how important it is to support the NCW March 28th Conference, which will be a historical discussion focusing on the long history of US women’s participation in policy changes to help women around the world, and the ways in which American women have worked so hard to have equal voices at the table. As we look forward towards a more equitable future, we must also learn from those who have come before us.

Later in the first week of CSW58, I attended a meeting on The Status of Women Working Group. The speakers were mostly academics, who have the opportunity now to provide necessary data and information to help move along sustainable development processes in a way that reflects the real needs of women all over the world. It was inspiring to hear that women are learning, experiencing new things, and gaining the confidence they need in order to act and speak professionally, to be strong managers, and most importantly, to be real leaders. After all, women cannot earn power without possessing these important skills. What was quite impressive and different in this meeting was hearing the interventions from the government representatives who were recognized from the floor. Speakers wasted no time, and spoke eloquently with specific outcomes in mind. Brava! This skill is something that I think about often. It is so important that young people are encouraged to speak. Without their opinions and experiences, we will not have enough diversity at the table, but the younger generation often lacks that willingness to raise their voices.

Lastly, I attended VGIF’s parallel event on Thursday, and found the speakers to be impressive and inspirational, and many of the questions to be thought-provoking. I think VGIF has an opportunity to begin networking in a larger capacity, and to partner with other groups to put together a meeting for the next CSW that will provide far more visibility and connectivity so crucial to NGO work. This will take time, but collaboration, cooperation and building strong networks is the name of the game going forward. Let’s continue to work together, and increase our efforts to combine our skills, resources, and ideas for a better future. 

Snapshots from CSW58

Rising above the cosmopolitan grandeur of New York City’s East Side, the United Nations headquarters is certainly a sight to behold. Of course, this week, the thousands of women wearing blue ID cards and carrying binders full of flyers, notes, draft documents, complex schedules, and fact sheets aren’t visiting the UN for fancy photographs. These women are part of CSW58 delegations, representing countries from Barbados to Bahrain and everywhere in between. Their accents are as numerous as the issues they bring to the table, and their intent to influence the CSW outcome document and impact the Post-2015 Development Agenda is unwavering. 

VGIF’s CSW delegation, consisting of staff, interns, volunteers, board members and even one of our previous grantees from Nepal, has several tasks to complete as they rush from meeting to meeting. Not only do the members of this diverse cohort take notes at the many events they attend, but they report back to VGIF, tweet interesting quotes, and record relevant statistics.

In order to avoid burying you in a pile of reports and email chains, we have compiled some snapshots of the interesting topics we’re learning at CSW. These do not represent all of the issues discussed at the conference, but provide a brief overview of our participation.


Side Event, “Indigenous Women and the MDGs – Challenges and Lessons:”

Indigenous women from Latin America expressed their frustration that the MDGs did not incorporate indigenous women’s perspectives or challenges, but they remain dedicated to continue their advocacy for inclusion in the Post-2015 framework. “We have so much knowledge to share,” one panelist reminded the audience, and stressed that indigenous systems for sustainable development have existed long before contemporary strategies that often exclude and marginalize certain groups.– Jenna Wallace, VGIF Communications and Development Associate               

Presentation “International Police Executive Symposium, Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology:”

Michael M. Berlin, J.D., Ph.D. explained the need for more women in police forces throughout the world. Studies show that male police often disempower women, while female police tend to show more sensitivity and respect for minorities/diversity and are better at forming alliances with service agencies. Women currently make up less than 30% of the police force in the US and less in other countries.”– Fay Weber, VGIF Board Member and Convener of the VGIF UN Committee

 “Roles of Religious Communities in the MDGs for Women and Girls & Post-2015”

Shamsi Ali, an Imam, advocate and activist in New York City, stressed that more women scholars are needed to interpret religious texts. He also maintains that it is important for religion to: give people the freedom to say no, maintain human dignity, and expound human equality between men and women. Shamsi Ali stated powerfully that “religions without human rights are dead religions.”– Fay Weber, VGIF Board Member and Convener of the VGIF UN Committee

Side Event, “Engaging Men and Boys to Achieve MDGs for Women and Girls:”

A panelist from MenEngage explained that male activists tell other men: “We are not here to take away your masculinity, we want you to change it. A real man means to be assertive and resourceful, not to be aggressive and dominant. There are positive aspects in masculinity, and being a man is being responsible. You can embrace humanity by loving femininity.”– Meryl Roux, VGIF UN Intern

“Solar Cooking for Sustainable Development”

Solar cooking saves time for women to do other income producing projects, gives time back to girls for studies, improves respiratory health of women and families inhaling soot from wood fire, provides a safe method to pasteurize drinking water and provides a means to sterilize medical instruments at remote medical facilities. – Carla, Julia and Sydney Weber, VGIF volunteers

North America/Europe Caucus Meeting on Friday, March 14:

“An attendee who is on the Swedish delegation indicated that there is a great deal of contention regarding sexual and reproductive rights in the formulation of the CSW outcome document, with the Islamic group saying that if there is any language included regarding sexual and reproductive rights, there will be no agreed-upon conclusion. More disconcerting was that the Islamic group, along with the Nigerian group, in particular, but the African group in general, are pushing for a clause in the section on violence against women that would excluding any practices that are national law or a traditional, cultural or religious tradition.” – Staci Alziebler-Perkins, VGIF Program Director

The Story of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund of Liberia

by Meryl Roux

The Permanent Mission of Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (SMWF) organized a wonderful film screening followed by a high level discussion on the Sirleaf Market and the market women of Africa at CSW58 last week. The documentary, “God First, Second the Market: The Story of the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund of Liberia” revealed the many aspects of market women’s work and demonstrated how these women sustain the economy of their local communities and ultimately, of their nation. It also outlined SMWF’s efforts to assist women working in the market system, and their families. The organization does so by renovating existing market infrastructure, building new markets, providing women with clean water and sanitary facilities, safe storage, helping women access credit, and creating space for schools and health facilities for the children of women who work in the markets. Through its work, SMWF invests in Liberian market women, and therefore, invests in Liberia’s future.

SMWF provides direct services to approximately 13,000 women traders, which impacts 39,000 families, and hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the market for food and other vital goods and services. After fourteen years of devastating civil war, Liberia is seeking reconstruction and reconciliation, socially, economically, and politically. During the conflict, market women were the backbone of the nation’s economy, as well as the primary providers of nutrition for the population, as they kept food on the table despite the precarious circumstances in which they lived. Women remained strong when their nation was weak, and they demanded the peace that was eventually reached. Their participation in ongoing post-conflict rebuilding, and other aspects of transitional justice is necessary for sustained peace and security in Liberia.

While community markets and the women who maintain them are critical to Liberia’s continuing transition to an economically and politically stable state, many community markets were physically destroyed by the civil war. SMWF members recognized that these markets were important spaces for families and initiated the rehabilitation of 21 markets, creating a safe and healthy environment for women, and providing them with clean water and other sanitary facilities that are so necessary for women’s health. SMWF’s program also educated over 900 women from 14 markets through adult literacy and entrepreneurial training programs.

Due to the violence of the civil war, the number of households headed by women has increased tremendously, and women needed to rely on their own income to support their children. Of the 500,000 women working in Liberia’s informal economic sector, 450,000 are self-employed in the markets. SMWF’s next goal is to build at least 30 new markets by 2020 in order to continue to address increased women’s participation in the markets. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said, “Not only will many women benefit from this investment but the entire country will.”  By selling their produce for a profit, market women gain economic independence, and consequently are less vulnerable to physical violence and sexual harassment. They are more likely to ensure that their children have access to education and sanitary facilities. In doing so, they empower themselves and their communities.

For more information, check out SMWF’s website