BY JOCELYN TRAINER
In early March, my fellow Loretto Volunteers and myself were afforded the invaluable experience of attending the first few days of the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW). Full disclosure - I am a huge international relations nerd, and going to the United Nations was a dream come true. There were hundreds of panels to attend regarding a wide breadth of topics, such as the disproportionate effects of climate change on women to modern slavery’s impact on women and girls.
The panel that spoke to me most was titled Closing the Gender Gap: Achieving Gender Parity in the UN Human Rights Bodies. Upon entering the conference room where the panel was held, there was one glaringly obvious fact: there are only about 12 men of the 70 plus people in attendance. Furthermore, the panel was composed of six female speakers and one male speaker, a fact all the speakers quickly pointed out.
As the panel commenced the speakers passionately spoke of their human rights work within various facets of the UN. Most notable were the stark statistics the each of the speakers seemed to open with as well as the anecdotal examples the female speakers shared to illustrate their experience with sexual harassment and oppression within their work at the UN. This shocked me at first. How could the men who dedicated their lives to upholding human rights blatantly objectify their female counterparts?
As the panel continued a few of the female panelists spoke of the need to bring the #MeToo movement to the UN. This statement made it clear to me - it seems that every industry globally is in need of the #MeToo movement, no matter how morally sound the workplace seems. However, part of the problem with the #MeToo movement is that it works to gain justice for the women already sexually assaulted. In an ideal world, the movement would deter or stop future sexual harassment, but maybe this effect will come. One way of ensuring female protection in the workplace is hiring more females. This can be seen in the case of UN human rights bodies, as it would alter the dynamic and norms of the male dominated field.
An additional component of male education is needed to end workplace sexual harassment. Initially, I was in a blissful bubble, all of my previous bosses were females and the majority of my coworkers were females as well. This lead me to believe that the #MeToo movement only applied to traditionally male dominated fields. However, I soon learned my lesson. My first male employer asked me within my first hour of work if I was planning on becoming pregnant while working there. It seemed to come from a place of ignorance as opposed to harassment, but I assure you a male employee would not have been asked the same question, and I soon learned that I would be viewed as a woman in the workplace above all.
This simple question highlighted the glaring need for males to be adequately educated about females in order for them to view women as equal human beings, as did the lack of male attendees at the CSW. How are males ever going to treat women equally if women continue to be excluded from male dominated fields? How will the intergovernmental body entrusted in protecting our human rights be capable of doing so if it does not accurately reflect humanity?
The Permanent Representative of the Gambia to the United Nations, Mamadou Tangara, and the only male panelist, spoke of the need to educate boys at a young age about gender equality in order to view females as equal human beings. This simple act would have amplified effects throughout society - reforming traditional gender norms, ending gender-based violence, providing women with economic empowerments, and so much more.
Though my time at CSW further opened my eyes to objectification and discrimination of females, it left me with an overwhelming sense of empowerment and hope. I have now replaced my male diplomat role models with the fearless and powerful female human rights defenders I met, and now hope that one day, I, too, can be like them.
Jocelyn Trainer recently graduated from Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, CA, with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish. Jocelyn is a travel enthusiast and enjoys reading about current affairs and animals. This year Jocelyn is working as the International Project Coordinator at The Quixote Center, a multi-issue social justice organization that currently focuses on promoting peace and justice in Haiti and Nicaragua.
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