25th Anniversary of WFWP
Women and girls all over the world are speaking out against injustices and becoming powerful agents for change. It starts at the family level, where men and women learn to respect their differences as well as their equal value, and rises all the way to the heads of government, civil society and business.
Women’s empowerment was a hot topic at the United Nations headquarters in New York City this March during the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and it was also reflected in the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Women’s Federation for World Peace and the two-day Horizon Summit for young women leaders.
I was invited to attend all of these events as a youth representative of WFWP from the Middle East region, as I have spent most of my life in Lebanon. I arrived in New York on March 12 and attended the first full day of CSW61 events at the UN on Monday, March 13. The halls and rooms were buzzing with energy the whole day, filled with women NGO leaders from across the globe networking, sharing ideas and discussing key issues in the struggle for gender equality. With so many sessions going on at the same time, it was a challenge to choose which ones to attend in the limited hours of a day, but I targeted events focusing on the Middle East and Africa. Topics ranged from preventing violence against women to the positive contribution that women were making to national productivity. One point that really stayed with me was the presentation of a national study conducted in Egypt that revealed the astronomical cost and prevalence of violence against women, particularly domestic abuse. Nearly half of the 20,000 women surveyed had experienced some form of spousal abuse in their lifetime.
Apart from Tuesday, when the UN and most of the city was unexpectedly shut down due to a sudden snow storm, I joined a variety of side events and parallel events (which were held in other buildings in the city) throughout the week and was repeatedly inspired. This included a parallel event organized by WFWPI with the title “Women Fostering Peace and Co-Prosperity: creating Intergenerational Collaboration sans Arrogance.” The diverse panel, which included ladies ranging in age from 19 to early 70s, shared their ideas with a highly engaged audience in a question and answer format. Topics included what it means to be a woman leader balancing work and family life, and how generations can learn from and support each other.
In addition to hosting events as part of the CSW, WFWPI celebrated reaching a significant milestone in its history: 25 years of dedication and service to the world and still going strong. The anniversary was commemorated in two events, the first being a formal celebration dinner held at the ONE UN New York Hotel on March 15. The distinguished guests were welcomed by Prof. Yeon Ah Moon, the president of WFWPI, in her opening remarks, and what followed was a full program of congratulatory remarks and awards. Carolyn Handschin, WFWP director of the UN office in Geneva, highlighted the 20th anniversary of WFWP’s general consultative status at the UN, a title conferred upon just a handful of NGOs worldwide.
Then the Global Women’s Peace Award was presented to UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka and Dr. Rima Salah, chair of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium, as well as representatives of the WFWP Japan chapter, in appreciation of their great contributions. Prof. Moon herself was recognized with the “2017 Best Contribution to Women’s Empowerment” award by Dr. Amalle Daou, president of Active Intervention of Mothers, Inc.
Congratulatory words were offered by Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Sunhak Peace Prize laureate and founder of Afghan Institute of Learning, and Dr. Ki Hoon Kim, the chairman of UPF North America. Additionally, excerpts of congratulatory letters from international dignitaries were read out to the audience. The dinner event concluded with beautiful entertainment from mother and daughter pair Seiko and Yuna Lee.
On March 17, a second celebration event was held at 4 West 43rd Street in a more intimate setting. Longtime volunteers of WFWP from around the world were honored in a moving video and presented with special awards, and the rest of the evening was spent with delicious food and a lot of singing and dancing.
This brings me to the final component of this action-packed week, namely the Horizon Summit: A Global Women’s Gathering on Leadership and Networking. Around 60 women attended the sessions on March 18 at East Garden, where presentations were given by Dr. Rima Salah and Karen Smith, author of “United Nations Unlocked”. Both shared their experiences at the UN and inspired the young women in the audience to actively come up with solutions to world problems and pursue effective advocacy.
In addition to the talks, there was time for networking and discussions during breaks and in the afternoon, when Dr. Thomas Ward, co-chair of the Research Institute for the Integration of World Thought, led a simulation game that tested our negotiation skills. The program concluded with group reflections and a brief tour of the East Garden buildings. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the longtime home of the founder of WFWP, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon and her husband Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, and gain a deeper understanding of their lives and their dedication to peace.
This day had also awakened our desire to learn more about the UN, and on the following day we got that chance, as we toured the Franklin D. Roosevelt museum and library and heard in detail about the establishment of the UN and the pillars that it was founded on. What personally inspired me most was the life and works of Eleanor Roosevelt, a lifelong activist and role model for women everywhere.
It’s hard to summarize in a few words all that I experienced and felt during this week, but I would like to express my deep gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of it. I learned so much, established new friendships and made connections with the international vice-presidents of WFWP in different regions around the world. I recognize the importance of their work and want to do my utmost to help the Women’s Federation for World Peace achieve its mission.