My First Visit to the UN
By Regina O’Connor, Social Concerns Office – Sisters of St. Anne, St. Marie Province
I am new to my position as Coordinator for Social Concerns for the St. Marie Province of the Sisters of St. Anne. I have had to learn about many new areas in this position or at least to look at areas from a new perspective. At the end of January I spent a week at the United Nations as a representative for UNANIMA International during the 55th Session of the Commission for Social Development. Attending the two-day Civil Society Forum with the emphasis on Social Protection, Including Floors: A preeminent strategy to eradicate poverty and achieve social development for all, followed by three days of General Assembly and Side Events was energizing, overwhelming, and eye opening all at once. I had the good fortune to have several representatives of UNANIMA to guide me through the experience, beginning with Renaude Grégoire, the Coordinator of the SSA Social Justice Network. Monday began with very helpful introduction by the Forum coordinators and then we were off and running.
The past six months I have been learning about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but the experience at the UN gave me a much more in-depth understanding of their importance to our work on the social development front. Slowly throughout the week I began to grasp the magnitude and significance the SDGs have, beginning from the top down and from the bottom up. The work of the policy makers in the Member States directly impacts the work done by the NGOs on the ground with the people and the experiences of those in the NGOs must give guidance to those setting policies in our villages, towns, cities and national government agencies. The forum and commission works to create a space for dialogue and cooperation between Civil Society, Member States and the United Nations. While this discourse is not perfect it was remarkable to see it in action. There was a silent protest of the NGOs during the first General Assembly because they felt they were not being given enough space to share their opinions and questions. The General Assembly responded by trying to carve out more space for such dialogue. This give and take continues to develop.
The Civil Society forum presented policy recommendations to be included in a Declaration that would be clear and strong in presenting their voice to the General Assembly for next year’s Commission. The Commission this year looked at Resolutions moving toward the eradication of poverty for African Development, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. There were lively and informative high level panel discussions on the work by Member States in each of these areas. Probably for me however, the most meaningful part of the week beyond the Civil Society Forum were the Side Events. These are workshops sponsored by various NGOs and Member States on very specific areas for eradicating poverty. In these meetings, we heard directly from experts in the area being discussed, for example Promoting Equal Access to Mental Health Resources for All Ages. There was genuine discussion of what was and was not working in Member States and the challenges of moving forward to better understand the issue and its impact on eradicating poverty, the costs of such programs from financial, time and talent stand points and strategies of what can be accomplished now.
Overall I came away from the week with a much better understanding of the SDGs and the impact they should be having on our government’s policy making from the local to the national stage. There were stories of success that gives hope to the process and gave me the momentum to look at how my local government is responding to these goals. I also came away with a much better understanding of how important taking all the steps, from a policy point, is necessary when asking for global participation. There was a great deal of discussion of what Global Citizenship means today and personally the challenge of being a citizen of the Kingdom of God on our earth. The experience has already impacted my work in the province in small intentional ways. I look forward to following this particular commission in the future.