By Barbara Belknap
Gather the Women was well represented at the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) last week in New York City. It was a thrill to listen to them share their experiences on a recorded conference call. I felt proud to know them and to be a part of their circle even though I wasn’t there physically.
Many years ago, at the Gather the Women Congress in Victoria, British Columbia, Jeannie DeRousseau talked about Indra’s Net and the multiplier effect of one woman connected to another and another and another. I have thought of that so often over the years, but listening to all those familiar voices on the teleconference brought it home to me again.
When people ask me, “What does GTW do?”, I say, “Gather the Women supports women so they can go out in the world and do what they are called to do.” Of course, women can choose to meditate, pray, or work silently, but knowing that your sisters are behind you matters. At the UNCSW, women were meeting to push for the rights of women and for a fifth United Nations Conference on Women. The last one was held in 1995 and the premise was that there would be one every five years. It hasn’t happened.
Here in Alaska, the Alaska Women’s Network was founded by women who were in Beijing and the organization was based on the Platform for Action. I was President of AWN for many years and it was the excitement and passion that those women felt from Beijing in 1995 that birthed the Alaska Women’s Network. Fast forward to 2013 and women are still advocating for a sixth United Nations Conference on Women. As Ann Smith said on the teleconference, the document that came out of the 1995 conference “is a perfect document!” (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/) What needs to happen is that it becomes reality.
Suzan Nolan, GTW Convener and Regional Coordinator from South Dakota, said being at the United Nations was a life-changing experience for her. She and her good friend Rowdy Brewick were there for the first time. Barb Thorngren from New Hampshire said that 6,000 women registered, but only 700 women could fit in the space allowed them in the basement of a church. I think it was Rowdy who said, “Next time we will ask Donald Trump to share Trump Towers or Yankee Stadium!”
Kathe Schaaf, one of the Founding Mothers of Gather the Women, was there, as was Anne Fitzgerald, another founder of GTW. This was Kathe’s fifth CSW event. There was much discussion this year about violence against women. Kathe said that after hearing all the ways that women are terrorized around the world, she felt battered by the words and felt this year was particularly challenging.
Kathe also noted there is such a big difference between sitting right next to a woman in rows of chairs and sitting with women in circle “where you can harvest the wisdom, instead of not hearing their stories.” So many of us have been in circle so long that it is foreign now to sit auditorium-style, facing the back of the person in front of you.
There wasn’t much optimism about a 6th UN Conference on Women any time soon, but there was energy for a United States women’s conference that could lead to an international women’s conference. Meredith Tenney of New Hampshire, who was with us at our annual gathering in Peterborough this year, spoke up and said, “Women should put one (conference) together!” There was some discussion of “Standing Women”, a now dormant movement that urged women to stand together on Mother’s Day every year. Rowdy suggested that perhaps GTW could promote some kind of Mother’s Day event with a compelling tagline. She said that Mother’s Day Central (an all-inclusive website about Mother’s Day) would list the event on their website, adding that Mother’s Day is a day of peace.
Throughout the recording, I kept wanting to say, “Yes!”, or, “That’s a great idea!” They couldn’t hear me when I laughed, sighed, or commiserated. But I was so proud to know these women. I felt connected to them just as I did when I first joined Gather the Women and became a part of Indra’s Net.