When the WomanStats Project first started to plan the CSW59/Beijing +20, I will admit that I was the most skeptical about our participation. We had never participated in something of this magnitude before, and I did not know how we were going to be able to pull it off. In my mind, our plan was outrageous and complicated! We were going to send a team of 22 students, two senior associates, and one professor to the United Nations to gather data on issues such as patrilocality, bride price/dowry, forced marriage, and polygyny. Not only were we planning on attending some of the events planned by participating NGOs, but we were going to try to schedule interviews with delegates, heads of permanent missions, and country representatives. And we did not stop there. We planned on training people to use the database when possible, giving data to those headed into important discussions, and passing out every piece of promotional material we had in our arsenal!
Were we out of our minds? Did we really think that people were going to talk to us? We were small fish compared to some of the other NGOs involved in the conference. As soon as they saw us passing out brochures or bugging delegates, we were going to get escorted out of the building. I just knew it! Imagine my surprise when I stepped off the train in New York and I received an email that stated, “The Princess of the Netherlands would like to exchange information with us.” Excuse me…what?!
By the time I pinned my new chic “Need Data?” button to my suit and received my official badge at the front desk, the BYU coders had already accomplished more than I thought possible. Former President Bill Clinton, the President of Croatia, and Chelsea Clinton had directly received copies of our promotional materials. Some of the coders had already met several country representatives, even royalty, who were willing and eager to speak with us and provide us with the data that we needed for our research. One of our coders had even made friendly with an Ambassador and was able to sit on the floor during one of the meetings in the General Assembly conference room. As I started attending some of the parallel events, I began to realize that WomanStats was at the right place, at the right time.
“We need data!”
“We could do more if we had the appropriate data.”
“See this is why it’s important to collect data on these issues!”
“Data sharing is necessary. We have to learn from each other’s experiences.”
“We’ve completed the study, we have the data, and we want others to use it.”
I heard any of the above listed statements in some shape, form, or fashion in all of the events or General Assembly meeting I participated in while at Beijing +20. Each time, I wanted to fist pump and shout, “We have it! We’re right here!” Instead, I kept my composure and waited until the end of the meeting to introduce myself and tell others about the work we do at WomanStats.
For those who needed data, it was as if they saw the light at the end of a dark tunnel. We have the data that they need? We were willing to share it with them? FOR FREE?!
For those who had data but struggled to get to a wider audience, it was as if their day was just a little brighter. We would be willing to take their data and upload it our database? With full attribution? FOR FREE?!
And the most touching of all, those who had tragic stories of violence against women within their country and simply felt that nobody was listening. This happened while attending an event entitled, “Leading Peaceful Revolution: Indigenous Women at Beijing +20”. Indigenous and Aboriginal women from Canada and Australia told stories about the thousands of missing and murdered women within their countries. As they spoke about the constant fights with their own governments for attention and help with this phenomenon, I could not believe my ears. How could no one be listening to these women? Did no one care? After the event, I introduced myself to several of the women on the panel. WomanStats does care and that is why we were there.
Attending CSW59/Beijing +20 taught me several life lessons that I think will be important in all of my future endeavors. First, closed mouths do NOT get fed. Yes, this is an old country saying, but it still rings true today! If I had let my own fears hinder our efforts to participate in this conference, we would have not gained such a wealth of information and contacts. Furthermore, if I had chosen to remain silent and not shed the coat of doubt I had tightly around my shoulders when I first arrived, I would have missed the opportunity to speak with heads of international global organizations, high ranking country representatives, and living legends in the feminist movement! Confidence is critical; even in the most intimidating of situations.
Second, every person or organization, no matter how small, deserves a place at the table. Yes, we were one of the lesser known organizations at the conference, but I bet you cannot find one person in attendance who does not know about the WomanStats Project now. We provided a unique opportunity to give voice via data and graphic representation to those who needed it. Furthermore, we provided a way for people and organizations to gain the data necessary to make positive strides within their own countries. There was not another organization at CSW59/Beijing +20 like the WomanStats Project. Trust me, I checked.
Third and finally, we can all learn from shared experiences. One of the ways that we were able to be so successful at the United Nations was that our coders willingly shared with each other what worked and what did not at the end of every day. This allowed us to make adjustments in our strategy and operate more effectively throughout our time in New York. It is important to note that the implications of learning from others go beyond this one trip. We must not allow cultural and language barriers to keep us from reaching out to our brothers and sisters in other countries. Their fight is our fight, and our fight is their fight. We must compare notes and adjust our thinking and actions accordingly if we want to make any real progress in our universal fight for gender equality. Most importantly, we must reach out to our elders for advice. We can never truly know where we are going until we understand where we have been.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to attending CSW59/Beijing +20. It truly was the reminder I needed about why I joined the WomanStats Project. After a long day of research full of disparaging or discouraging statistics on women in a conflict torn country, I can reflect on this conference for strength. It recharged my batteries and refueled my passion to continue to work hard for the advancement, empowerment, and encouragement of women across the world.