Civil Society Forum 2014

Traditionally, the UN Commission for Social Development begins with a one-day gathering of NGOs. We prepare for the Commission and study different aspects of the theme, which this year was “promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.” In the panel discussions of the February 10th meeting, most of the speakers stressed that the voices of people in need must be heard to help them empower their own lives. They have the right to be heard; they have the right to change their way of life. Simona Miculescu (Ambassador from Romania) emphasized citizen participation in the decision-making process, in particular that of youth, women, and girls. Jose Nuñez (a person living in poverty himself) spoke about the empowerment that is needed to end poverty solely because it is essential for social change. According to him, empowerment means sharing knowledge with other people. It is not about ranking in society, it is about how you carry yourself to move forward in life and help people do the same to improve their quality of life.  (This section contributed by Intern Katherine Moreira)

Ms. Lakshmi Puri (Deputy Executive Director of UN Women) maintained that women must play an active role in civil society, but the long established social norms are going to present a challenge. She said that while “the most powerful transformation force… must begin in the minds of all gendered citizens…Civil Society is a key engine.”  We must end violence against women, provide access to resources, and give them a voice in participation as well as leadership. Jose Zapatero (former Prime Minister of Spain) asked why, if women make up half the population, there are only twenty percent in parliaments, fourteen percent in government positions, and eight percent on the board of directors in big companies?  Zapatero argued that women work longer hours than men, they suffer more mortality, they have difficulty getting jobs, and they receive less pay than men. Patricia Brownell (Chair, NY NGO Committee on Ageing) argued for the rights of older women. For every 100 women over the age of 60, there are only 40 men. Even when they are independent, healthy, educated members of society, women over the age of 60 are basically ignored in the work force. Instead, they are neglected, abused and often victims of violence–one in every ten older women has experienced some sort of abuse. She urged that they be provided with financial security, food security, and empowering age-friendly facilities. (This section contributed by Intern Amanda Soliman)