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Changed for Good: a Final Reflection on my UNANIMA Internship

By Colleen Jackson, RSC

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion of my 3-month internship at UNANIMA and the UN. It is difficult in a few short sentences to describe the impact of this time, but suffice to say … ‘I have been changed … for good’ (from the musical “Wicked”). Having spent my life engaged at the grassroots – most recently working with asylum seekers who have experienced torture and trauma – this UN experience has broadened and expanded my understandings of the complex nature of poverty, human suffering, and sustainable development, and the global efforts required to create equity, justice and human rights for all. Despite its shortcomings and limitations, the UN is a powerful source of global research, planning and action. This has been exemplified for me, particularly, in the UN’s extraordinary, united global action plan of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together with Pope Francis’ call through ‘Laudato Si’, this is an epochal time. We are called to end extreme poverty, fight inequality & injustice, and halt the rate of climate change. In particular, a few issues have occupied my imagination and consciousness:

  1. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. SDG 5 calls for the end to all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, and for the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. The Commission on the Status of Women highlighted evidence that the legalisation of prostitution (including in my home country, Australia, and our neighbour New Zealand), rather than protecting women, is perpetuating human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The ‘Nordic Model’, where victims are decriminalised, and the purchase or arranging of prostitution becomes a criminal offence, is seen as the only way to protect the human rights and dignity of women. Ireland is the latest country to enact such legislation.
  2. The impact of the ‘informal economy’ (about half of the world’s workforce). In particular, domestic workers, more than 80% of whom are women, have few protections in terms of pay, conditions, hours of work, sick leave and maternity leave. How are the cooks, cleaners, gardeners and aides in our employ paid and protected? Are we contributing to the perpetuation of this injustice? What will it take for all people in the world, regardless of gender and age, to enjoy social protections that ensure equal access to health care, education, meaningful employment and economic security and dignity? (SDG’s 1, 3, 5, 8, 10)
  3. Water and sanitation. At “Rio+20” all States recommitted to the “human right to safe drinking water and sanitation” and recognized that “water is at the core of sustainable development” (SDG 6). It has shocked and mobilized me to discover that the commodification and privatization of water (including the packaging and sale of bottled water!) is contributing to water poverty across the globe. The inter-linkages between the various SDG’s are ever so transparent where water is concerned. Care of the earth, mitigation of climate change, and protection of water sources are all integral to world peace, the eradication of poverty, and arresting the current mass movements of refugees around the globe.
  4. Climate change and care of the earth. I understand irrevocably, after these months at the UN, that climate action is linked to almost every effort to create global justice and sustainable development. I can no longer “leave it to the greenies”. Human rights, world peace, the eradication of poverty, gender equality are all inextricably tied to how we care for our earth’s resources. To leave no one behind, implies we all take responsibility for the care of our earth.

So yes, I have been changed for good.

 

Give us the conscience it takes

to comprehend what we’re facing,

to see what we’re looking at

and to say what we see

so that others, hearing us,

may also brave the pressure that comes

with being out of public step.

Give us the courage we need

to confront those things

that compromise our consciences

or threaten our integrity.

Give us, most of all,

the courage to follow those before us

who challenged wrong and changed it,

whatever the cost to themselves.

 

(from “Prayer for Conscience and Courage”, Joan Chittister;

photo source: Woodland Trust)