The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) Virtual Conference—March 15-26, 2021
Notes from Servas Canada’s Post-Conference Zoom Discussion on March 28
(Prepared by Servas Canada Members Barbara-Mitchell Pollock, Julie Cormack and Kent Macaulay)
Zoom Participants: Twenty-nine Servas Canada members (in 25 households), and five Mt. Royal University (Calgary) students and faculty
CSW65 had the themes of women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, and the elimination of violence against women and girls. Held virtually this year, the conference had over 25,000 participants globally, with Servas International having 28 women and 4 men as delegates. Julie Cormack, Kent Macaulay, and Barbara Mitchell-Pollock were the delegates from Servas Canada, and each of them focussed on a particular aspect of gender equality.
Women’s Leadership and Empowerment
- The “power cube” is a way of understanding how power operates in society. Details are at https://www.powercube.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/finding_spaces_for_change.pdf
- Traditional models of leadership based on hierarchy need to change to embody compassion, listening, respect, and, if possible, decision-making through consensus.
- More women need to get involved in leadership roles. “No decisions about me, without me!”
- The CSW65 conference’s Agreed Conclusions among UN member countries, while reflecting some progress toward gender equality and conveying general commitment to continue on this path, fell short in a number of ways, including no obligation to include women formally in peace negotiations and no clear commitment to make decisions in a more consensual, inclusive way. The two-hour final session of CSW65, including UN member countries’ discussion on the Agreed Conclusions, is at: http://webtv.un.org/watch/commission-on-the-status-of-women-sixty-fifth-session-csw65-introduction-action-conclusion-and-opening-of-the-66th session/6244754654001/
- As women’s rights are a component of global peace, Servas should consider asking itself what role our community could have in improving and expanding the contributions of women (and therefore peace initiatives) in society.
Total group discussion:
- Our patriarchal society continues to reinforce male dominance and has to be challenged by both women and men.
- In thinking about power, we should consider how groups with little voice (such as Indigenous persons, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, and persons with disabilities) are particularly disadvantaged.
- Women must not be token placeholders, but rather in positions of significant power and voice (e.g., within political parties and at the UN).
- Speaking out in support of women’s leadership is key to expanding their ongoing societal contributions. At the same time, the actions we take in our daily lives can in themselves demonstrate leadership—whether it be women upholding themselves as capable leaders and being seen as strong role-models, or whether it be men expressing support for women’s leadership and doing tasks that women traditionally have done (e.g., in the home). The latter usually takes very conscious, concerted effort–well beyond mere awareness.
- Servas was formed as a peace organization, and should address the relationship between women’s leadership and peace.
- Servas works on a model of enabling connections among individuals. As Servas members, we each take individual action to promote equality as and when we feel appropriate to do so. While we cannot take on the entire world, we can speak out and act locally in support of equality.
How Men and Boys Can Help Promote Gender Equality
- In most societies, ideas of what it means to be “male” and “female” are ingrained in us at a very early age through clothes, toys, books, and movies. In adulthood, the male-female dichotomy gets perpetuated through such things as hiring practices that favour men, and advertising targeted specifically at men or at women according to gender stereotypes. This undervalues women.
- With COVID-19, gender-based violence has skyrocketed globally (the “shadow pandemic”), at least partly because men feel they are asserting their “manliness” through that action.
- Gender is not only male and female. Gender is what a person feels inside as to who they are. This feeling may not necessarily match their anatomy or genitalia.
- For men and boys to boost gender equality, they must not dismiss it as a “women’s issue” or see it as a zero-sum game threatening their power, but rather as a human issue of fairness and justice. Both women and men achieve a net benefit within a more inclusive and collaborative world in which power is shared across genders.
- Men and boys must both “see the light and feel the heat.” In other words, both persuasion and pressure are important in changing the mindset of men and boys. They must reflect on their power and privilege, and then take action.
Total group discussion:
- In instances of gender-based violence, a man’s actions are his own responsibility. For him to say he was simply reacting to a woman’s provocation is merely ducking that responsibility.
- A Servas traveller may potentially witness gender-based discrimination by a host in their home (or vice versa). If this should occur, the traveller could try to find a diplomatic, non-confrontational way to mention the matter—persuasion rather than pressure.
- Jokes about women or minorities should be called out. In some cases, the joke teller may not be fully aware that their joke may be offensive and perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Men need to speak out among each other and to the “powers that be” rather than stay silent about demeaning jokes or put-downs.
- Women and men in non-traditional roles should be highlighted as role models, and supported as such in the Servas community.
- Schools (and the home) have a crucial role in breaking gender stereotypes and providing sex education, which should begin for very young students and continue over several years in order to get on top of harmful attitudes toward sex and gender diversity. Boys who have experienced trauma first-hand may require additional help to form positive attitudes.
- It is highly important to model equality in our daily lives, including being conscious about ensuring that, in discussions, we are giving as much space to women as to men.
For further information:
- MenEngage Alliance (menengage.org) — a global network of individuals and hundreds of organizations working on how men and boys can help promote gender equality.
- “Violence Against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue”
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8&ab_channel=TEDxTalks)– 20-minute Ted Talk by Jackson Katz who shows how men need to share power and be allies with women and girls.
Gender Equality, Racism and Colonialism
- The Canadian Government has a long history of racist policy and practices, including tattooing identification numbers on Inuit and Dene persons in past decades.
- Systemic racism permeates all aspects of our society. There is almost nothing that is not colonialized.
- In Canada, white colonial settlers are highly privileged but can use that privilege to help create a more just and equal society, through individual and collective activity.
- We need to think globally but act locally. We can take such actions as talking with our local MP, MLA, and municipal councillors. We can write letters and join organizations that promote equality.
- There are many excellent books and resources that chronicle the history of racism and offer strategies to overcome it. (See the list below.)
Total group discussion:
- White privilege means not experiencing discrimination, so we must ensure we don’t underestimate such lived realities for those that do experience discrimination (such as police brutality).
- A person may be unaware that their words can be offensive in many situations, and that certain things which years ago were acceptable to say are no longer appropriate. In some instances, Servas hosts have expressed unintentionally harmful comments to persons of colour who they are hosting. We need to become more aware of the vocabulary we use and conversations we engage in.
- We should not ask Indigenous persons or people of colour to explain themselves or tell them what they should do, but rather we should listen to them.
- We should look at ourselves to examine our own racial biases.
- We should educate ourselves so that we are more conscious of bias, stereotyping, and racism in our own voice and community. We should take note who is missing from being included in societal activities and decision-making–typically those who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised, or vulnerable.
- Servas Canada is a predominantly white organization. To be more inclusive, Servas members should seek to connect with diverse populations in our own neighbourhoods or in other parts of Canada rather than only travelling internationally.
For further information:
Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla F. Saad. A look at our own biases and racist tendencies
The Skin We’re In, by Desmond Cole
Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights 1944-1955, by Carol Anderson
“STAMPED” Racism, Antiracism, and YOU: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning”, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph
We Were Not the Savages, by Daniel Paul
Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting (http://www.challengeracistbc.ca)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (http://www.trc.ca)