There is only one word to describe Wednesday the 15th of March at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York, and that word is faith. Faith comes in all sorts of forms and shapes. Today quite a number of different forms of faith passed by. From true heartfelt religion to preaching to the converted to keeping faith in good results. Let me take you through some of these forms of faith I experienced.
Early that morning I went, as a real early bird, to an official meeting organised by the Belgian government and the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) about the Nordic Model. Those of you who have followed Atria at CSW over the last years know by now the Dutch (and the British and Germans for that matter) have a different stand point on prostitution/sex work compared a lot of other countries. Discussion about this is not so much based on facts and figures but loaded with morality and emotion.
The EWL is a passionate promotor and heavy pusher of the so-called Nordic Model, in which the buyer of sexual pleasure is criminalized and the sex worker marginalized. Every year they organize and participate in several meetings on this issue pushing the advantages of this model and condemning the way the Dutch organize sex work. This time around they had speakers from Iceland, Ireland and Belgium, all in favour of the Nordic Model. And of course a survivor or victim of sex trafficking was present to give a testimony. The blessings of this model were strongly promoted. All very familiar ingredients. Remarkably enough it lasted until the very end of the meeting before the Dutch system was criticised. I have seen differently during my years here at CSW.
European Union briefing
Another good tradition of CSW is the weekly European Union briefings at the permanent mission of the EU at the United Nations. All European Union based NGO’s are welcome. The first part of those meetings, when the formal introductions and presentations are given, is normally not very interesting. It becomes interesting when critical questions by critical women are asked about the negotiations. Yesterday these questions ranged from financing, ILO conventions and decent work to questions about human rights, the use of the word family (instead of diverse forms of family) and everything in between. Sometimes the negotiators answer very openly and directly, much most times they beat around the bush. Like when it came to family or the issue of sexual and reproductive health rights, they honestly acknowledged the huge differences among member states within the EU on these issues and the difficulties they internally experience. But overall they were quite optimistic about the process so far and the draft text on the table. To stay with the metaphor of faith: they keep the faith.
Going to the chapel
After lunch I wanted to attend a meeting, in preparation of my presentation of Thursday on land and property rights in Nigeria, about the economic empowerment of women in that same country. So I walked to the Chapel of the building called Church Center. As I entered a lady was playing the piano, it was nice and warm and slowly the benches filled up. The atmosphere was lively and friendly. Much to my surprise I happened to find myself in an oecumenical female leaders event with sermon type presentations and singing of songs. It took me off guard and I have to admit I was not prepared for this. But it was really nice to feel the faith and the heartfelt warmth of the women even though I am not a religious person (anymore, I was brought up one). I did feel the connection the room had through their shared faith in their different Gods. So the thought occurred to me, this is what religion should look like. It should unite people of different strands and walks of life instead of the wars and atrocities that are committed in the name of religion on a daily basis.
Group of Friends of the Family
After this warm encounter I walked back in the sub-zero temperatures of wintery New York to go to the United Nations premises. In the EcoSoc room on the 3rd floor the American right-wing ‘family friendly NGO’ C-Fam had organized an event on the role of the family in preventing human trafficking. The EcoSoc room is a huge room, my estimate is it can hold a couple of hundred people and it was packed. The Group of Friends of the Family is a group of 25 countries, led by Belarus, Egypt and Qatar (the founders). They are active in Geneva as well as in New York and they are strongly aligned with several American right-wing NGO’s. The central role of family should be acknowledged and protected within official UN documents because the family unit is the key in ensuring the well-being of its members. ‘To protect girls and women, who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation we must protect the family’ according to the president of EcoSoc who was the first prominent panelist. The CEO of C-Fam thanked the group of friends for their effort to counter the extremely damaging sexual revolution of the last century. ‘Because it damaged families, societies, countries around the world. Our aim is to stop harmful social policies, not in theory but also in fact.’ This meeting lasted for almost three hours but I have to admit, I walked out halfway. After hearing the umpteenth testimony by a young women who had been pimped by her neighbour I could not take it anymore.
March 15 was also the day the Dutch were voting for a new parliament and government. Far away in the United States I had to have faith my fellow countrymen were going to do the right thing. Meaning they would vote with their heads and not so much with their guts. Hoping the sensible and rational politicians would gain the majority of the votes and not the populists who have been screaming and yelling about the losses of our culture and our values over the last months. Pretty soon word came the turn out rate had not been so high in many years (82%) and by the end of our working day when the voting stations closed it looked like the polls were right this time around. So my day ended at the Netherlands Club, just off 5th Avenue, where an election party was held and at that party my faith in my fellow countrymen was a little bit restored.
Antia Wiersma. She was manager Collections, Research and Advice at Atria until 1 October 2017.