“Wow, New York is amazing!” said a lady from Mali in a beautiful bogolan dress.
I nodded in agreement and asked her what she loved most. New York is a beautiful city. There was so much to do here – places to eat, museums to visit, the statue of liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the list goes on and on…
“Oh I love the roads here. They are so well paved and smooth to drive on.”
She went on to compliment how clean the streets are and how impressed she is with the way everyone follows the traffic signals. She raved about how reliable the electricity is.
At that moment, my visit to New York took on a whole new meaning.
The highlight of my time at the Commission on the Status of Women was the International Women’s Day March. As women and men from all around the world we united ourselves together in our desire for equality, peace, and justice. Together, we marched to Time Square. For a while, I walked with an NGO from Nigeria who held up signs and shouted, “Bring Back Our Girls!” Later, I walked with a New York senator. I ended up with a group of international women who all worked for UN Women and together we shouted, “Women’s rights are human rights, this is why we fight!” Marching together was so equalizing. I didn’t know if anyone was rich or poor or famous or not, but none of that mattered because we were part of something bigger than ourselves.
Our march ended in Times Square to hear a series of speakers. Next to me there was an adorable woman from Afghanistan. She didn’t speak English but we smiled at each other and became friends. As one of the speakers went to the stage, she started crying and whispered to me “my son.” The speaker was Mohammad Nassem and he spoke of his mother and how hard it was growing up to watch her suffer. He wanted to make the world a better place for his mother and his sister. Not just his mother and sister, but every mother and sister in the world. In the audience, I held his mother’s hand as she tears streamed down her cheeks. Even though she could not understand the words that were being said, she could hear with her heart. And she was so proud.
I was impressed that someone my age could speak so boldly and powerfully to thousands of people. At the end of the speeches, I wanted to meet this young man and figure out how I could become like him, but many other people had crowded around him. I was about to give up and leave, certain that he would not have time for a nobody like me, when he pointed at me and said “You! I need to talk to you!” He came and gave me a big hug and thanked me for comforting his mother. I spoke to him about the WomanStats project and he connected me to experts from Afghanistan to fill in our missing variables.
I realized then that we each have a unique role to play. I may not be giving a speech to thousands of people, but in that moment, I played an important role because I was able to comfort a woman during an emotional moment. Currently, my role is to be a coder. This role may seem small and unimportant as I am sitting alone on my computer in Provo, Utah coding an article about marital rape in Cameroon. However, accurate data on variables determining the status of women in countries throughout the world is of vital importance.
At the International Women’s Day March, I encountered the founder of Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD) he gave me tickets to the CSW Plant 50-50 event. There, I had the privilege of listen to keynote speeches from President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton spoke about the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project and its part in the Not There campaign. She was hopefully about the possibility of Plant 50-50, saying, “we know there are still too many women and girls deprived of opportunity and freedom, … tonight, let’s celebrate. We’ve proven that progress is possible and that is reason to face the future full of hope and confidence.”
During the event I sat next to the UN Women partnership director who was interested in learning more and helping promote our database throughout UN Women. Because of the location of our seats, I was able to speak with a number of celebrities and spokeswomen about the WomanStats Project including Sade Baderinwa, WABC-TV 5:00 Eyewitness News anchor. Due to the volume of the music, I can’t promise that the people I spoke to understood everything, but I did my best and I gave them my card. Everyone was thrilled to learn about our database and excited to use this valuable resource.
I took away from this experience a deepened gratitude for my own life and all of the progress that has been made in previous generations to bring about gender equality. In addition, I gained the knowledge that we are not alone in this fight. There are men and women from around the world who are devoting all their time and energy into this cause.
It can be discouraging when I find myself surrounded people who see the world differently than I do. When this happens, I think back to the International Women’s Day March. I remember the feeling I had when I was walking to Time Square surround by a crowd of African women and singing at the top of our lungs, “No longer men in front and the women in the back. Together we shall walk side by side.” And I know that even though we are thousands of miles apart, we are walking side by side.