On March 14, 2018, during the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62), the UN Office for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and WFWP International (WFWPI) co-sponsored the side event, "Fostering Hope for Rural Women and Girls Through Integration and Education: Challenges and Impact." The event took place in the Auditorium of the Japan Society, across from the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The building's incredible architecture of wooden ceiling panels to the serene water fountain in the foyer seemed a fitting metaphor of the hope at the center of the event's theme.
Ms. Maryam Farooq, a pre-med student at SUNY Westbury in New York, served as emcee and welcomed the audience, promising an informative session on the scientific and educational approach of human rights for rural women and girls. She invited two guest speakers to give the opening remarks: Mr. Ashraf El Nour, Director of the UN Office for IOM; and Professor Yeon Ah Moon, President of WFWPI.
In Mr. El Nour's statement, he acknowledged the instrumental role of CSW in the protection of women's rights, which documents women's lives and uses those resources as tools for advocacy. Despite the vulnerable position that women are put in, Mr. El Nour is hopeful that women are capable to resist and remain resilient to the shocks that come with survival in migration. He adamantly shared that people need to take more initiative to plan effective programs benefiting rural women.
Prof. Yeon Ah Moon thanked Mr. El Nour for his statement and shared how humbled she felt to be in the presence of such esteemed guest speakers. She expressed how fitting it was that this event coincided with the UN debates on the Global Compact for Migration, expressing her belief that partnerships with like-minded people and organizations could make the impact migration needs. According to Prof. Moon, by working together in harmony, through love and shared responsibilities, hope can be returned to those vulnerable in displaced communities.
After a resounding applause from the audience, the emcee invited the panelists up to the stage one by one to give their different perspectives and methods for instilling hope in rural women and girls.
The first panelist, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who greeted the audience with a few words in Arabic, emphasized how vital education was in giving hope to young women. As the founder and CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), she stressed the importance of giving young women more opportunities for training to showcase and hone their skills. She insisted that the support for women's rights must come not only from government or men, but also from the community. Dr. Yacoobi emphasized that breaking away from old traditions that undermine women's rights is necessary. In her closing statement, she said, "Women of Afghanistan are really progressing...They will take on whatever challenges come their way!"
Professor Catherine Panter-Brick, Professor of Anthropology and Global Health at Yale University, whose research specializes in human resilience and health impacted by conflict, shared her realization that programs relating to child education and development have to be unpacked and examined to bring long-lasting results. She described a method of tracking which programs were most effective in easing stress by analyzing a single strand of hair. She has successfully tracked stress levels affecting human behavior, social relationships, experiential learning and decision-making. The hope of this revolutionary discovery for Professor Panter-Brick is to establish a system of effective programs that will guarantee proper access to child education. "There is no life without hope," she concluded. "Children can fly if we give them wings."
As the final panelist, Ms. Moriko Hori, President of WFWP Japan, gave a presentation about the organization's project with the Karen Tribes in Thailand. The project assists young girls of the tribe by giving them easier access to education. Ms. Hori detailed how WFWP Japan assists in school management, building facilities and providing temporary foster parents for young girls who live too far from school. "Twice a year, I take young Japanese girls to these villages so they can see these young girls from the Karen Tribe," shared Ms. Hori. "In CSW, rural women are said to have many bad experiences, but to see that these girls in Thailand have more energy than the young Japanese girls offers a moving perspective on education," eliciting a light chuckle from the audience.
After a rich question and answer session with the panelists, the event came to a close with a loud round of applause from the audience. Elisabeth Giuliano, a member of WFWPI, reflected, "For me, in order to achieve women's equality, it is necessary to have them assured of the basic services, such as security, access to technology and education. The only way to achieve that is by involving not only the women themselves, but also their families and their communities."
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