The Need for Women’s Empowerment in Policy and Intervention

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 5 February 2104

This discussion began with the executive director of UN-Women, who first asserted that women’s empowerment is key to sustainable development. She stated that one fifth of Africa has food insecurity. The solution for this problem, she stated, is to create a system in which all people who are affected by the area’s problems can help in decision-making, more specifically allowing women to become more involved in planning solutions that directly involve them. She stated that women in developing countries spent a staggering number of hours per year collecting water, about 40 billion hours to be exact, however they are not involved in the decision-making processes for cleaner water. “The women’s agenda is an agenda for half the population of all countries and needs to be integral in what we do to score high in any millennium development goals,” said Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She felt that the progress in this area has been unacceptably slow and that there must be more action made by governments in order to align themselves with international investment organizations.


The executive director of the UNFPA, then addressed one of the root causes of this problem: the inherent cultural ideas surrounding women. He stated that we must address the women’s place in society, providing the example that in some cultures, if a husband does not like his wife, he can pour acid on her face. These cultural norms and lack of respect for women are things that he believed contributed towards the lack of sustainable development, and stated that there is a direct correlation in the participation of women in parliament with the success of the nation, citing Rwanda’s growing economy and large number of women in parliament to support this claim. The main question that representatives of countries then posed is that if we already have all of these organizations to raise awareness about women’s empowerment in developing countries, then what is the world doing wrong and why is this issue still so prevalent. The representatives from UNWOMEN and the UNFPA responded by asserting that the solution is to ensure that women are given an education and are able to access that education. The committee seemed to agree that women needed to be given more rights, education, and power.

Meeting Title: The Role of Women’s Empowerment in Sustainable Development

Key Speakers: Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka- Executive Director of UN-Women, Executive director of UNFPA- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Representatives from the permanent missions of Tanzania, Palau, Guatemala, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Bolivia (speaking on behalf of G77), and Ireland, representatives from the European Union and CARICOM

Written by WIT Intern: Rachel Lauren

Biodiversity: The Need for Action

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 3 February 2014

During a side meeting on Biodiversity, representatives from various countries shared their perspectives on the importance of a biologically diverse planet. The ambassador to Germany, Mr. Thoms, shared the perspective that our earth, ocean, forests, and mountains hold many peoples spirituality. They also are the source of our economic capital and to exploit it for the short term will only lead to our degradation and vulnerability as people in the long term. 

India’s representative, Mr. Tyagi shared that overall, India’s percent of GDP from use of natural resources is 17%, but the poorest in the country receive 47% of their GDP from the environment. The poor in India, as in many other countries, rely more heavily on the environment than the population as a whole. Many other countries shared a similar concern, that with poverty eradication as a large part of the Post 2015 Development agenda, we must make a stand for biodiversity.


One solution to these problems was presented by Mr. Santos. Brazil has created a program called Bolsa Verde, translating roughly to green stipend. With the attention to social inclusion, sustainable resources, and poverty, Mr. Santos shared that the program goes to areas of extreme biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, provides stipends and training for people. The populations work on their land to bring back biodiversity and learn environmental conservation models of care. 

Mr. Jumeau from the island Seychelles, spoke from the perspective of the small islands and developing world, “This is not just about conservation, it is in many cases the economic viability of our resilience as independent sovereign states.” Ms. Sendashonga, the facilitator, said although biodiversity is a no-brainer, we must come up with targets and actions to make this goal a future for humanity. 

Meeting Title: Why Biodiversity is Essential for Social and Economic Aspects of Sustainable Development: Perspectives and Country Experiences from Developing and Developed Countries

Speakers: Mr. Katsuhiko Takahashi (Minister, Permanent Mission of Japan), Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias (Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity), Ms. Cyriaque Sendashonga (Global Director of IUCN), Ronald Jean Jumeau (Sychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues), Mr. Jean-Francis R. Zinsou (Ambassador, PR of the Permanent Mission of Benin to the UN), Mr. Heiko Thoms (Ambassador to Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN), Mr. Ajay Tyagi (Joint Secretary to the Govn’t of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests), Mr. Sergio Rodrigues dos Santos (Minister-Counsellor, Brazilian Mission to the UN), Mr. Jechul Yoo ( Director General, Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea)

Written by WIT Representative: Stephanie Harris

Threats of Social Inequality

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 20 January 2014

On Martin Luther King day, an important meeting was held by the Economic and Social Council on the threats of social inequality. Illustrating the link economic inequality has with social, racial, and many other types of injustice and inequalities, the meeting began with a quote by Martin Luther King, “The inseparable twin of racial injustice is economic injustice.” The keynote speaker, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and Professor from Columbia University, spoke on issues regarding America’s struggle with social inequality, and the model the US has passed on to much of the world. Dr. Stiglitz spoke further on topics such as: unequal opportunity, access to health, access to education, and exposure to environmental hazards. 


OxFam Report

It is not just economic law and monetary policy that determine the gap of inequality, it is the politics and policies that often manipulate how deep the gap recedes, Dr. Stiglitz explained. The world is imbedded in a global economic trade system that not only has it’s own set of rules effecting intercontinental situations, but also effects issues within individual countries. Dr. Stiglitz emphasized this issue in an effort to promote responsibility and thoughtfulness in policy making.

One panel member, Irene Khan, a lawyer and humanitarian, spoke further on the importance of politics and policies in changing social inequality in the world. Ms. Khan commented on situations where people can be excluded from laws, like a homeless person without an address, or a woman who has no rights against sexual violence. She asked why the Millennium Development Goals have been silent on human rights and questioned the worlds allowance of justice to become privatized. In her final comments she emphasized the need for laws to be relevant and people empowered to gain equality and security.

The final panel member, Elliot Harris, the UN environment director for the New York Headquarters, supplied his strategies for how inequality can be addressed in the field of sustainable development. He explained how trade, production, and consumption weigh on the poor with their insufficient funds for labor, dependance on a degrading environment, and an almost non-existent voice in comparison to that of the wealthy. One solution Mr. Harris shared was a focus on job creation and greater income generation in areas the poor already work. In giving the poor a higher share of their own markets, income security and sustainable use of natural resources becomes possible. In closing, the conversation on how to use green growth as a means to social and economic equality in the world will continue.

Meeting Title: ECOSOC: Threats of Social Inequality

 Key Speakers: Joseph Stiglitz, Claudio Bisogniero, Michael Doyle, Jose Antonio Ocampo, Irene Khan, Elliot Harris

Written by WIT Representative: Stephanie Harris

Post 2015 Development Agenda Recommendations

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 20 January 2014

On Monday, January 20th, the Woman’s International Forum (WIF) held a presentation featuring Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, special advisor to the secretary general on the post-2015 development planning. She opened her presentation by recognizing the 715 days left to accomplish current Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). With little time before the post-2015 agenda is implemented, Ms. Mohammed suggested various changes to the MDG’s to better adapt the new agenda with current global affairs. The special advisor stated the most essential characteristic of the post-2015 agenda is the need for realistic goals with common denominators. She finds this quality imperative to the effectiveness and adherence to the post-2015 agenda.

Following her introduction, Ms. Amina Mohammed continued her presentation by arguing that the post-2015 agenda should distribute its goals between climate change, openness and responsibility of governments, inequality and discrimination, technology, and job security rather than focusing primarily on poverty. Although she acknowledges the gravity of poverty throughout the world, she stated that the current MDGs focus far too heavily on this issue and not enough on the areas previously mentioned. Moreover, Ms. Mohammed argued that gender inequality should be a priority in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. With inequality and discrimination embedded in economic, social, and political domains, the advisor to the secretary general emphasized that societies will not be able to successfully evolve, making regional issues of the world generational issues. The post-2015 agenda gives member states an opportunity for a global paradigm shift, changing worldwide views that negatively effect the population.

The final part of her presentation addressed the significance of the post-2015 agenda’s global success. “Failure is not an option,” Ms. Mohammed stated, as she argued the progress for this agenda must not mirror the limited success of the current MDGs. In addition, Ms. Mohammed emphasized the use of pilot projects should be completely eliminated in the post-2015 agenda, explaining the wealth of knowledge in the world to know if a program will be effective and scalable. She supported this idea with her personal experiences in Nauru, the United Nation’s smallest member state with a population of less than 10,000. With poverty rates extremely high and a meek future for their young people, Ms. Mohammed argued that the post-2015 development agenda must reach small nations similar to Nauru, as it is essential this agenda does not, “leave any member state behind.”


Meeting Title: Women’s International Forum: Meeting on “The Post-2015 Development Agenda – Enabling a life of dignity for all”

Key Speakers: Special Advisor of the Secretary General on Post-2015 Development Planning, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, H.E. Irmeli Viinanen, H.E. Malini Nambiar

Written by WIT Representative: Alexander Luong

Voices From Syria

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 17 January 2014

During “Voices From Syria,” hosted by the Permanent Mission of Norway, three refugees from Syria spoke about their experiences during the current Syrian Civil War.  Mr. Knut Langeland the Norwegian Minister Counselor on Political Affairs, Disarmament, and the Security Council moderated.

Mr. Anas al-Dabas, a pharmacist from Darayya, Syria recounted how men from his town were pulled out into the street and humiliated by soldiers from the Assad regime.  Fifteen-second interrogations were deemed sufficient by the soldiers to establish the men as innocent or guilty, the later being punishable by death. Mr. al-Dabas explained that his neighbor, who narrowly survived the attack himself, showed him a basement in which 70 civilians were massacred.  Throughout the rest of the town more than 1,000 civilians had been killed by the Assad regime.

(A picture taken on January 19th of activists saving a young girl after her parents were killed in an air strike by a group loyal to President Assad in Allepo. The National. Picture: Mahmoud Hebbo)

Following this account, two cousins, Ms. Amineh Sawan and Ms. Hiba Sawan from Moadamiya, Syria detailed their experiences.  Feeling lightheaded, Amineh Sawan and her cousin rushed to a field clinic the day that the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons in late August 2013.  Upon their arrival, the pair sought to aid other victims by administering CPR.  Amineh Sawan recalled seeing other victims who had become paralyzed or twitched uncontrollably as result of the sarin gas. Hiba Sawan described how citizens of Moadamiya faced shelling and sniper fire at all times.  She recounted that the Assad regime deployed a strategy of “surrender or starve,” in which all access into and out of the area was cut-off.  

Mr. Langeland opened the floor to questions.  When asked about the future of Syria, all three refugees expressed concern about under education and the lack of hope for the their generation of young adults and teens. In closing, the refugees were asked whom they held accountable for these atrocities beyond the Assad regime. While Mr. al-Dabas looked at the inaction of the UN and the Unites States, Ms. Amineh Sawan and Ms. Hiba Sawan were more concerned about China, Russia, India, and other allies of Assad. All three Syrian refugees pled for their countries freedom, asking the world to stop clumping Syria with the external conflicts of Iran and Israel, and to focus on getting the current regime out of power so peace can be possible. 

Written by WIT intern: Katherine King

Sustainable Development and Community Resilience

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 9 January 2014

Mr. Marcus Oxley opened the discussion on sustainable community resilience by asking member states and the United Nations body to help strengthen community resilience against the negative impacts of soil erosion and land degradation. He further explained the results of shock and stress on the earth having a negative impact on climate change. Mismanaged urbanization and resource management have left the poorest and most vulnerable people in a devastating position. Ms. Margaret Barahaihi opened her statements by advocating for small-scale disaster management. She elucidates that vulnerable people, who have no access to basic needs, tend to suffer more during small scale disasters. She suggested long term programs and flexibility, while still taking into account the environmental uncertainty. She also suggested that women and children be at the center of decision-making. Dr. Barahaihi closed her statements by saying, “Central government involvement is critical to improvement.”

Ms. Diah Saminarsh was keen to align her statements with Ms. Barahaihi on the issues of small-scale disasters in poor countries. She suggested that poverty and inequality push people to take shelter in places that are risky, for example: hillsides, marginal lands, and floodplains. She explained that even though developed countries have more to lose financially during natural disasters, the disasters take a deeper toll in developing countries. For example, the 2011 earthquake in Japan was the most expensive natural disaster in history. It cost Japan $200 billion dollars which equals to 3% of Japan’s GDP; while the earthquake in Haiti has been estimated to cost around $15 billion dollars, which is equivalent to 160% of Haiti’s GDP. Ms. Saminarsh gave some final seeds of resilience including social cohesion, integration of local wisdom, and critical awareness.

haiti_time_z_01Ms. Hiller from Oxfarm opened with a compelling argument by saying that disasters derail development. She used UN research statistics to prove her point, saying that over the past 20 years, disasters from natural hazards have affected 4.4 billion people, claimed 1.3 million lives, and caused $2 trillion USD in economic losses. She complains that governments have failed to adequately prioritize and invest in good risk management of disasters. Unsuitable development such as unplanned urbanization is a key driver of an increasing disaster risk. Her proposed solution was to invest in disaster risk reductions, build the peoples resilience, while also reducing the impact of disasters on the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable. She proposed integrating the principles of community resilience into the post 2015 development framework. These principles include: participation, inclusion, learning, self-organization, accountability, responsiveness, collaboration, partnerships, and living within social and environmental boundaries.

Meeting Title: Risk-proofing the SDG’s: why development will not be sustainable without building community resilience

Key Speakers: Chair, Marcus Oxley, Director, Global Network for Disaster Reduction; Margaret Barahaihi, Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance Coordinator, Uganda; Diah Saminarsh, Assistant President’s Special Envoy on MDGs, Office of President’s Special Envoy on MDG’s, Indonesia; Hepi Rahmawati, Program Manager, YAKKUM Emergency Unit Indonesia; Debbie Hillier, Humanitarian Policy Adviser, Oxfam, Representative of Act Alliance.

Written by WIT Representative: Modou Cham

Global Health 2035: A World Converging within a Generation

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 15 January 2014

The Permanent Mission of Norway and The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health hosted an event at the UN headquarters titled, “Towards a Grand Convergence in Global Health: What Convergence Means for Health after 2015.” Mrs. Jeanne d’Arc Byaje, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Rwanda to the UN, replaced the Permanent Representative of Norway and gave introductory remarks. She said that health is one of the top priorities and goals on the post 2015 agenda. She noted that the report produced by an independent group of commissioners from the Lancet commission on investing in health analyzes why we should be leaning towards a grand convergence in global health.


Dr. Margaret E. Kruk, Assistant Professor in Health Policy and Management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and one of the 25 commissioners of the report, introduced the panel. She said that the world diverged in many different ways 200 years after the industrial revolution. The Lancet report, she said, is an independent academic analysis of how to narrow the gap and bring the world back to convergence. The report highlighted that dedicated and targeted investments into the health systems can bring low and middle income countries like Chile, China, Costa Rica and Cuba to a point where their mortality rates are quite similar to most developed countries. Such investment in the health sector, Dr. Kruk said, “will not only bring great health outcomes but also vibrant economic growth because people will be productive.”

Dr. Gavin Yamey, one of the report’s lead authors, highlighted the four key findings of the report. It says that a grand convergence in global health can be achieved within our lifetimes. The commissioners found, from their analyses, that the returns from investing in health are enormous. The report also suggested that fiscal policies, particularly tobacco taxation, are very powerful for curbing non-communicable diseases and injuries. Fourth finding is that pro-poor pathways are an efficient and fair way to achieve both health and financial protection.

H.E. Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health, Rwanda, said that Rwanda is one of the rare countries which are going to achieve their MDGs. She said that “we have prepared the country by managing the communicable diseases to be ready for non-communicable diseases.” Dr. Ariel Pablos Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, USAID, said that the international donor community needs to engage the lower and middle income countries in new ways and encourage them to mobilize their own domestic resources. Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India, ended the presentations with a quote saying, “If we do not create the future, the present extends itself.”

Meeting Title: Towards A Grand Convergence in Global Health: What Convergence Means for Health after 2015

Key Speakers: Mrs. Jeanne d’Arc Byaje, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Rwanda to the UN; Dr. Margaret E. Kruk, Assistant Professor in Health Policy and Management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; Dr. Gavin Yamey, Lead, Evidence-to-Policy Initiative, Global Health Group, University of California, San Francisco; H.E. Dr. Agnès Binagwaho, Minister of Health, Rwanda; Dr. Ariel Pablos Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, USAID; Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India.

Written by WIT intern: Shan Cheema

Preventing Another Rwanda in Our Future

United Nations, New York Headquarters, 15 January 2014

Key figures that were involved in the genocide in Rwanda twenty years ago have gathered to seek further prevention and change towards future atrocities. The Ambassador from Rwanda began by inviting, “the world to remember,” the significance of lives that were lost during the genocide. She then discussed the positive change that has taken place in Rwanda since the time of genocide, such as an increased life expectancy among civilians and a total of 1 million making their ways out of poverty. The Deputy General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Aliasson, pointed out that Syria is in a similar situation that Rwanda was placed in twenty years ago and continued to warn for another possible genocide event in Syria.


The Force Commander of the UN Mission for Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire, gave an inspiring speech reminding everyone that children cannot and should not be used as an instrument for war. He pointed out the irony, that he was back in the same room that he had been in twenty years ago, remarking on the same genocide event, except back then, there was a much smaller audience and less interest in the issue. Ms. Eugenie Mukeshimana, the Founder and Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, shared her own childhood experience during the years of genocide. She emphasized the security she felt by having the Belgian soldiers by her side, and went on to state the importance of educating the next generation about the cruelty of crimes so that a child born today can look at the world differently twenty years later. The speakers came to agree that a genocide should not be in anyone’s future, and that we must do everything we can to prevent the upcoming generations from having to experience such crime.

Meeting Title: Special Event on Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities Twenty Years after the Genocide in Rwanda (co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Rwanda, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the Department of Public Information (DPI))

Key Speakers: Representative from Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Ambassador from Rwanda, Deputy Secretary General of UN (Jan Aliasson), Force Commander of UN Mission for Rwanda (Romeo Dallaire), Founder and Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network (Eugenie Mukeshimana)

Written by WIT intern: Yoo Jin Erin Kim