It all began in January, when some eager students gathered in a room at the City College of New York that felt too cramped for our own good to dive into the world of the United Nations.
Under the guidance of Professor Patricia Ackerman, the director of the women’s studies program at City College, which offers the class on the United Nations and Gender Mechanisms, we began to learn about the different tools, organs and bodies of the world’s largest international organization.
For the first five weeks, we read documents upon documents, took notes, wrote papers and became fully engrossed in the life of the UN. Soon after, we received notice of two meetings with representatives from high-level UN bodies, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women. We went into the meetings as individual classmates and came out as a unit. Listening, speaking and absorbing the knowledge that these representatives imparted to us helped us grasp the work being done to support the lives of women and girls everywhere.
We were given the chance to get further involved in the UN by presenting a panel, “Beijing +20,” at the annual Commission on the Status of Women in March. The title refers to the 20-year anniversary of the momentous Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in China. This was especially relevant to many of us who are 20 years old. At 8 in the morning on March 9, coffee in tow, a dozen sleep-deprived students and Professor Ackerman walked into the Armenian Convention Center, not far from the UN, and nervously began to finalize our preparations for the panel.
We were welcomed by a diverse group of 22 women, our supportive audience. As we sat in a horseshoe shape around a table, one by one, we took apart the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, each of us speaking about aspects of its 12 thematic areas, then compared the Beijing +20 reviews of two countries, mostly that of the United States with another nation, such as the Philippines, Croatia, Sweden or Germany.
Su Choe, one student, compared South Korea’s 20-year review to that of the Philippines. “Korea has a long way to go in implementing women’s participation in political leadership,” she said. “I would like to see South Korea focus on minority and lower class participation in political leadership and for it to be more self-critical like the Philippines.”
For Julia Suklevski, who compared the US to the Beijing Platform to that of the Philippines, the latter “had a much stronger analysis of how their policies made meaningful impacts,” whereas the US response “highlighted policies that sound good, but might take more action and dedication to be implemented nationwide.”
We students also spoke on such Beijing themes as women and the economy, human rights of women, institutional mechanisms for advancing women, women in decision-making situations and women and the media.
We were, needless to say, pleased with our hard work.
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Arlene Verapen is a senior at the City College of New York, majoring in business administration and management. She is also the program assistant for the Women’s Studies Program.