aka - A.J.'s Adventures to the United Nations
by AnnJanette Alejano-SteeleLast week I had the privilege of attending the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women. Ranking high in my experiences in the anti-human trafficking movement, I served as a delegate for the International Public Policy Institute. Specifically, I had the opportunity to present our Colorado Project research as a panelist at one of the Non-governmental Organization Commission on the Status of Women Forums. The 58th Commission’s Priority Theme was, “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.” As a trained psychologist, my UN experience pulled me well beyond my professional lenses that honed my focus on individuals and their lived experiences. In this space, I had to think outside my comfort zone and think globally.
In preparation for this experience, I had the honor of meeting other members of the IPPI delegation on a few conference calls. During one of these calls involving 15+ delegates from around the world, I distinctly recall a statement made by a sister delegate: “Voices carry energy.”
Heady physics analyses aside, the phrase came to serve as a gentle metaphor for the convening of thousands who made their way to New York City, where representatives of Member States gathered to evaluate the MDGs as they pertain to women and girls worldwide. I had the rare opportunity to witness and feel the energy of thousands of voices united to make a stand about the importance of women and girls having a say in what happens to them regardless of location on this planet. Among the key themes were access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology; the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work; and ongoing efforts to address violence against women and girls.
From a human trafficking perspective, it was relatively easy to apply these themes to women and girls’ vulnerability to exploitation and violence. It was comforting to see how human trafficking has held an established place in the global discussions on the status of women and girls.
From a participant perspective, I listened carefully and paid close attention to the voices who were privileged to present; the voices who were privileged with technology that enabled them to amply their voices through social media; and the well-worn and defiant voices of the trailblazers who continue to fight for the rights of humans and the environment, and the survival of their non-governmental organizations. Equally deafening was the silence of those who could not be in attendance, where funding, competition for delegate slots, visitor visa rejections, armed conflict, poverty and community need prohibited them from taking part.I listened to the voices who came to represent individual and community struggles during the portion of the UN deliberations that highlighted country reports. Again, thanks to available translation technology, I could hear the content in addition to the passion of those who traveled hundreds and thousands of miles to represent the women and girls from their countries. As a psychologist, I could not help but wonder how the collective voice of the UN Commission would impact the domestic workers in Dubai, the migrant nannies from the Philippines, the youth experiencing homelessness in North America. Among the voices present at the United Nations, how many are voices privileged by race, class, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and nationality? From a research and monitoring perspective, how do you collectively and uniformly measure progress on the MDGs and their impact on women and girls, particularly if many individuals have been silenced by their families and the cultures that surround them?
As I continue to learn and bear witness to the progress of global social change in my lifetime, I remain hopeful. Thousands of voices cannot easily be ignored, and in a global event of this magnitude, I like to think that it’s this collective global energy that provides the undercurrent of social change.
What energy does your voice carry; how far is the reach and for what purpose?
As with all of my endeavors with LCHT, one solitary voice is a rarity. With deep gratitude and special thanks to the voices that cheered me on… To the voices that provided me opportunity and stood by my side: Audrey White, Beth Wilson, Anele Heiges, Michele Morek and very specially Sharon Sullivan….To the collective voices that provided inspiration and comprised the delegation for the International Public Policy Institute…To the 250+ voices that contributed to the Colorado Project, including our amazing LCHT staff… To the inspirational administrator voices at Metropolitan State University of Denver-- Drs. Vicki Golich, Joan Foster and Arlene Sgoutas who have remained steadfast supporters of my community work and helped to logistically get me to New York. And most importantly, to my family’s voices who sustained me through this and many ongoing adventures.