Friday, February 29, 2008

Mira Hall's Reports from the UNCSW! Part 2

2nd Day at the UN!

As someone who is the end product of being “the eldest sibling” in my family, combined with a long time in restaurant management who has done facilitation in groups, I find it very hard to refrain from intervening when something obviously needs help. This brings me to the poor male who was designated to facilitate a working group to come up with a recommendation for government action.

First of all, a major bone of contention throughout the workshops was the number of men who were designated as facilitators. In any other circumstance, I wouldn’t have notice, and perhaps thought that the more hard-line feminists were being petty. *HOWEVER* the status of women, internationally, is dedicated to achieving women’s equality in a male dominated world. The whole thing is an act of women’s empowerment, to encourage women to achieve equality in all aspects of life, particularly in full economic participation and in political leadership. Facilitation is a very good way for a woman to practice empowerment. At any rate, I’m getting off track, so back to the story, there was this poor man facing a room full of UNCSW delegates who clearly felt that he had no business being there to facilitate a conversation about violence against women.

Beyond the obvious challenges, the man was fairly good natured and wanted to direct the conversation in productive ways, but he unfortunately didn’t guide the conversation in a way that made it clear to the participants what we were supposed to be doing, or what aspects we were supposed to be talking about, or what end result we were looking for.

Dangerously late into the workshop, we finally got to the point of democratically trying to construct the language of the recommendation. The guy was just repeating our suggestions back to us and pointing out when he thought we were being irrelevant. So I threw up my hand and suggested (innocently enough) that he should maybe write the draft phrase on the gigantic blackboard behind him, at which point he invited me to come up and do just that, and then the former facilitator/manager/big sister came out and *I CO-FACILITATED FOR THE UN NGO ORIENTATION WORKSHOP!!!!*

I totally commandeered the facilitation. It was innocent enough in its formation, however I just couldn’t help myself and I’m so happy that I couldn’t. A lot of participants came up to me after and thanked me, and praised the job that I did. The other FAFIA delegates even heard positive buzz about the incident. So what happened to the poor guy set up for failure? We sat together during the group presentations of the recommendations, and he also thanked me for my help.

So my second day has been elating. Beyond my shining moment in the workshops, the orientation for NGOs was full of great speakers with incredible observations about the roles of academia, governments, and people embroiled on the battle grounds. There has also been great discussions surrounding the role of education in ensuring that children grow up embracing the charter of human rights. (that subject could spin me off onto a long and probably boring ramble about my favorite philosopher, Antonio Gramsci) and to finish off the day I had a final orientation meeting with FAFIA to talk about my obligations beyond being here.

All the delegates have to have submitted a draft community action plan to be reported in final form by June 20th, and at that point we can submit the action plans to apply for funding of full implementation of the plans. I’m hoping to base my action plan on addressing the structural barriers that prevent women from full integration and participation in economic life. The Status of Women is already doing a great practical job of this in their Women’s training in Oil and Gas program. I will make a 2nd draft version after I return to Yellowknife and have time to consult with the wonderful people who have acted in a mentorship capacity for me (whether they be aware of it or not.) but in essence I would like to model a micro/macro basic understanding of economics workshops for women and girls based on the Health children, Healthy Communities manual developed by the United Nations Association of Canada.

A woman that is also with the FAFIA delegation has already done such a thing and has tools that I can use. She has already used a version in Northern Manitoba with the aboriginal populations there, and has had tremendous success.

I’m very excited because I believe that the structure of work in the Territories is a large component of our exceptionally high rates of violence against women. I know that I myself have had to seriously weigh the pros of being homeless with two children, against the cons of remaining in an abusive relationship. Thankfully I had great support to come out of that situation and am thriving now, however, for many women in the north (especially if they have children) are economically dependant on romantic partners. Our income support really does not provide enough to recipients in order to maintain their basic needs.

Again, my head is spinning with information and personal stories from well established activists from all over the world, so I’m sure that my writing is going off in a million directions with every train of thought that is currently cruising through my synapses!

Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my previous note. I am hoping to update daily, and when I return there will be pictures available. I am hoping to meet with anyone who is interested to talk about what I’ve learned here and how I envision the economic awareness workshops with full and welcoming hopes that anyone who is interested helps me to shape how these workshops will play out.

In closing, I have been actively networking and talking about the socio-economic impacts of the Diamond Mines on the population that I work with, I have spoken about the lack of infrastructure in the Territory, and how it prevents our own mobility, as well as other peoples investments. I’ve talked about our challenges around University participation of residents from outlying communities. And I have talked a lot about my view of the barriers to the participation of women in meaningful employment at livable wages. I’ve also gotten into heated debates about the importance of “cultural relevance” being included in recommendations (ie: We believe that governments, national and local, should teach people in a culturally relevant way, from the earliest stages in life onward, that violence against women is unacceptable.) The debate mainly happened between me, CANADAIAN! And a woman from Jordan, and another woman from Halifax against an American woman and an English woman. They argued that some governments could use “cultural relevance” to excuse violence, while we were arguing that as the statement was written it couldn’t, that cultural relevance was in the way that the unacceptability was taught.

In the end it was a great exercise in how difficult it is for government to come to agreements on legislation, let alone draft them in a democratic and inclusive way.

Good Night!

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