The Words of the Kagawa Family

MDGs and the Role of Women

Genie Kagawa
March 12, 2009
Deputy Director, UPF Office of UN Relations, New York

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are “a blueprint for international cooperation” and “a worldwide mandate for change,” according to H.E. Hamid Al Bayati, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations and member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. However, there is a distressing lack of progress towards such goals as reducing women’s illiteracy, HIV infection, and death in childbirth.

Ambassador Bayati spoke at a Women for Peace gathering in New York City on March 12, one of a number of NGO meetings in conjunction with the 53rd Session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Words of welcome were offered by H.E. Mr. Abdul Wahab, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the UN.

The panel discussion on MDGs and the Role of Women was held at the Church Center for the United Nations, a building across from the UN Secretariat that provides office and meeting space for religious and other non-governmental organizations concerned with UN issues

“Education brings many positive benefits to women and their children, not only economically but also regarding their health and well-being,” Ambassador Bayati said. “Without lifting up the status and dignity of women, the MDGs cannot be accomplished.” He offered recommendations including assigning a female UN Under-Secretary-General to monitor women’s issues. He reported improved status for women in Iraq, where the new constitution requires 25 percent of the members of parliament to be women.

“Women have a way of supporting each other that can contribute a lot to peace-building,” said Dr. Bobbi Nassar, chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights at the UN. The United Nations system is heavy on the male side and light on the female side, she explained. Its focus and budget are heavy on the security side and light on the human rights side (barely one percent of the budget). “Women need a voice in how resources are allocated,” she stated.

The audience of about 100 people included women from Africa, Latin America, and Asia who had come to the UN for meetings related to the Commission on the Status of Women. Nassar described useful advocacy tools, such as the opportunity citizens have to report violations of rights in their countries during the periodic reviews of human rights.

“I’m glad I’m still alive and can be here with you,” said Ms. Marie Claudine Mukamabano. A survivor of the Rwanda genocide, she founded the Kuki Ndiho Rwanda Orphans Support Project.

“I want to talk about what every woman can do to make a difference,” the vivacious young woman said. “They killed a million people in 100 days, including my parents and family. I was 14 years old when I survived. Remember, what does not kill you makes you strong. My focus was to go back to school, get my degree, and then figure out what to do with my life.” She talked about how she found guidance from reading her mother’s Bible: “I am here today in the strength of my mother’s love and God.”

Youth organizer Angelika Peacock presented to Mukamabano a donation of notebooks and care packages that young people in Queens, New York, prepared for children in the orphanage in Rwanda.

Mrs. Lynn Walsh, head of Women for Peace, said that the challenges facing women are rooted in the human heart. “We can only resolve problems through universal principles, based on an awareness that we are one human family under God.”

“Women and men have equal value, but there are different characteristics,” the marriage and family educator explained, describing some typical family interactions, drawing laughter from even the men in the mostly female audience.

On a serious note, Walsh asked, “As we look around the world, do you think we need more of the masculine fight-or-flight reactions, or do we need more connectedness and nurturing?” She recommended balanced and egalitarian relationships because “mutually respecting marriage partners enhance emotional and spiritual growth, creating intimacy and the greatest sense of fulfillment.”

Women for Peace, a project of the Universal Peace Federation, promotes peace not just as the absence of war between nations but interpersonal relationships characterized by mutual respect and cooperation. It emphasizes natural abilities of women in care giving and empathy. Its meetings bring together women from all walks of life to build alliances working for stable marriages and families, a culture of service, and inter-religious cooperation. 

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