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Status of women addressed at UN, and in Canada

Adopting a long-term perspective instead of being merely reactive, aligning national budgets with particular sensitivity to women and girls, and engaging religion and religious leaders in the work of changing long-held practices and attitudes towards women were among the key points1 raised this year by the Baha’i International Community’s Office for the Advancement of Women during the course of the 52nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (the CSW), held at the UN in New York from 25 February to 7 March.

Ms. Elizabeth Wright, the Baha’i Community of Canada’s Director for the Advancement of Women, and Dr. Gerald Filson, Director of External Affairs, attended the CSW, joining some 20 other Baha’i delegates from more than 15 countries. They were also able to attend the Reception held at the UN Permanent Mission of Canada, and had substantial exchanges with many of the more than 50 Canadian NGO and Government representatives attending the CSW this year.

During the CSW, Professor Augusto Lopez-Claros spoke on a panel co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Canada and Paraguay to the United Nations, the Baha’i International Community, and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). Drawing on his former experience as Chief Economist of the World Economic Forum from 2004-2007, Dr. Lopez-Claros addressed the importance of doing all we can to see that women have a full and equal place in a country’s economic and political life. His presentation and that of Ms. June Zeitlin, Executive Director of WEDO, attracted an overflow audience.

Since their return from the CSW, Ms. Wright and Dr. Filson are speaking to groups of Baha’is and the public about the challenges of eliminating discrimination, violence, and inequity faced by women and girls in the family, in the workplace, and in the key decision-making positions of society. Elizabeth Wright spoke at the University of Ottawa 8 March and at a public meeting in Montreal 9 March, while Gerald Filson was scheduled to speak at an Oakville, Ontario meeting the same weekend before the harsh winter storm upset plans. They will speak together at a meeting in Richmond Hill, Ontario on 15 March.

The Ottawa event, themed: “Without Women, No Lasting Peace”, was held in commemoration of International Women’s Day on 8 March and organized by the Gatineau Baha’i community’s Committee on the Equality of Women and Men. The talk drew an audience of different races and both genders for a total of 25 people, impressive considering the snowstorm that same day. Speakers included Marie Claude Picard, a lawyer, and Diane Mainville, a mediator with the federal government, who each spoke of the important role women have to play in conflict resolution. Ms. Wright’s talk helped expand the dialogue about women to the international level.

“This year, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon launched a world campaign which calls for an end to all forms of violence against women and girls” said Ms. Wright in her introductory remarks. “If we want to answer this call, we have to look at the financing of equality and make use of statistics which track women at all ages. And because gender equality is not a women’s issue, men and women have to work in unity to achieve equality, a prerequisite to the political, social and economical progress of all humanity.”

At the Montreal event, held the next day, Ms. Wright further expanded on themes of the CSW and engaged in a lively question and answer session with the 50 attendees. Ms. Wright has already been asked to return to Montreal by a number of young women anxious to open a dialogue about the struggles of women against inequality and violence with their male friends.

Next year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women will address the theme: “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.”

The Baha’i International Community’s statement addressed to the 52nd session of the CSW, titled “Mobilizing Institutional, Legal and Cultural Resources to Achieve Gender Equality,” can be viewed at: