Women Taking the Lead: Designing and Monitoring Sustainable and Gender-Responsive Infrastructures

By Theresa Carthy

The theme of Thursday’s UN DPI briefing was the importance of infrastructure to the women’s empowerment movement.  Entitled “Women Taking the Lead: Designing and Monitoring Sustainable and Gender-Responsive Infrastructures,” the panelists discussed the intersection between gender and grassroots development.

Speaking from their experiences with grassroots organizations across the world—including in Kenya, Guatemala, Chile and Norway—there was a consensus that the development of infrastructure which equally considers the perspectives and experiences of women and men is integral to empowering women and strengthening local communities.  Local governments and urban planners have to be asking: “what do we need for women and girls when planning cities?”.

One vital element is the safety of streets and public areas.  Without public safety, women’s access to services, education, jobs and social spaces is seriously restricted.  In least developed countries, community mapping and current directories of public land can help women to both access and provide public services to their local communities.  Additionally, coordination between local women, NGOs and governments is a key way in which women are empowered and can develop their communities.

Ruth Serech Icú, a leading grassroots women in national disaster prevention and management in Guatemala, found that assigning a portion of the local budget to women working to decrease risk from disasters is necessary and effective.  Supporting programs which build women’s capacities for emergency preparedness, encourage their voices at the local and government levels, and use their social networks and technology to bring communities together empowers women while fortifying the disaster management process.

Esther Mwaura-Muiru told her experiences as a grassroots woman in Kenya.  When hospitals could not shoulder the burden of HIV, women in Kenya took on this role in the home.  As many women developed expertise in healthcare as a result, the government began to seek out their opinions.  Women know the signs that a pandemic is coming from their lived experiences, so the government relies on their input to get ahead of oncoming healthcare concerns.  Esther Mwaura-Muiru’s grassroots women’s organization brings these women together to manage mobile health clinics and medical facilities. Her organization has attracted international funding for its success in strengthening healthcare services in local communities.

Panel moderator and experienced grassroots women’s activist, Jan Peterson, advocated for the construction of a women’s center in every city.  This gives women a physical location where they can share ideas and construct strong platforms for advocacy.  A living example of this type of structure can be seen in New York City’s Family Justice Centers.  These Centers were constructed by the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence to provide women with safe spaces where they could seek assistance and social services.  While interning for the City of New York, I witnessed how simply constructing these spaces can have a huge impact.  In creating these centers, the city acknowledges the barriers that many women face in seeking services in other settings and takes a stand against gendered violence.  The panelists at Thursday’s briefing stressed the importance of safe access to services to the empowerment of women; NYC’s Family Justice Centers are a positive example of the role which local governments can play in constructing infrastructure which addresses women’s issues and thereby opens up women’s opportunities.


NGO’s, Youth and the UN

By Miranda Morton IMG_3581 On 26 February 2015, the DPI/NGO hosted an event entitled “Partnerships for Success: NGOs, Youth and the UN.” The purpose of this briefing was to rouse excitement and galvanize youth into action. This day was especially exciting for the Impact Initiative as we had just fewer than 20 Fordham students join us for the briefing. There was also a high turn out for students from Columbia University, New York University and Lehigh University. This goes to show the high level of interest in world affairs and the desire of youths to achieve the “World We Want” (in reference to the World We Want 2015 campaign).

Though the room appears empty at this moment, it was packed by the time the briefing started.

Though the room appears empty at this moment, it was packed by the time the briefing started.

Dr. Bill Hunter, the Director of International Outreach at Lehigh University, moderated the event and set the stage for inspirational stories from NGO Youth Representatives Amanda Nesheiwat (Foundation for Post-Conflict Development), Viktoriia Brezheniuk (World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations), Gabriela Taveras (Seton Hall School of Diplomacy) and Joy Ukaigwe (Environmental Development Action in the Third World). IMG_3593 The stories of each of these young women encouraged youth participation within the UN. Young people around the world are identifying issues that they feel impassioned about and then finding ways to take action—whether that be starting their own initiatives, volunteering for NGOs, advocating for their causes on social media, or even educating their communities. We can continue to foster the empowerment of youths locally and around the globe by creating spaces for interaction and conversation, tapping into their specific expertise and background, and strengthening their skill sets. As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi (who made an appearance earlier that day at an informal “morning coffee conversation”) is currently working on all of these initiatives. Mr. Alhendawi is mandated with task of bringing the voices of young people to the UN, as well as elevating the position of youths within and outside of the UN. Through Mr. Alhendawi’s work plan—participation, advocacy, and harmonization—young people will have more and more opportunities to make a difference in the world. In the words of Gabriela Taveras, one of the youth panelists, “Let no one stop you and let’s all truly make a change.”

Fordham's Youth Reps, Miranda Morton and Theresa Carthy.

Fordham’s Youth Reps, Miranda Morton and Theresa Carthy.

This briefing is available online via UN Web TV, please visit the following link to watch and learn more about youth participation at the UN: http://webtv.un.org/watch/partnerships-for-success-ngos-youth-and-the-un-dpi-ngo-briefing/4082419379001

Additional Resources: Information about DPI Youth Reps: www.theyouthreps.workpress.com https://www.facebook.com/dpingo.youthreps How to become a youth rep through DPI? How can a NGO can be paired with a youth rep? http://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/youth Office of the Secretary General’s Youth Envoy http://www.un.org/youthenvoy NGO/DPI Executive Committee Youth page http://ngopiexecom.org/youth NGO/DPI Executive Committee’s Youth subcommittee contact NGOyouth2014@gmail.com

Partnerships for Success: NGOs, Youth and the UN

The Impact Initiative invites you to join as at this Thursday’s event on the role of youth and NGOs at the UN.  The event is from 10am – 1pm at the United Nations headquarters.

Everyone interested in attending must RSVP through this link by TOMORROW Feb 24th at noon and will receive a confirmation email to confirm their security pass. It will have specific details for the day as to timing and where to meet. If you plan to RSVP please be able to be at the UN HQ by 10:15am on 2/26 and plan to stay until 12:30pm.


26 Feb Invitation Flyer-1

Transitioning from the MDGs

By Miranda Morton

On 12 February 2015, the DPI hosted an event entitled “Transitioning from the MDGs.” This briefing “outlined the United Nation’s role and strategy for transitioning from the historical achievements of the Millennium Development Goals to a transformational post-2015 development agenda that leaves no one behind in poverty or without dignity, in partnership with civil society.”

The first panelist to speak was Amira Mohammed, Ban-ki Moon’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning. She explained many ways in which the world has fulfilled the MDGs, including huge advances in water availability. However, Ms. Mohammed contests that despite quantitative increases, there has not been enough emphasis on quality. More children are being educated now than ever before, but not to a high enough standard. Thus, the means of implementation (e.g. financial resources and technological developments) must play more of a role in the coming years. Furthermore, Ms. Mohammed suggests that during the transition, partnerships and accountability must be a key focus.

The next panelist to speak was Mitchell Toomey, who played an instrumental role in the World We Want Campaign and who is now the Director of the Millennium Campaign. Mr. Toomey explained how the framework of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals is reflective of the astonishing partnership between civil society and member states of the UN. This is already an improvement from the MDGs. Mr. Toomey believes that the next step in transitioning from the MDGs is popularizing the new agenda and making everyone more aware of the campaign. Finally comes finding ways to localize individual goals and checkpoints, as well as to create a universal accountability system in which actors may receive credit for what’s been accomplished.

Florencia Soto, who has focused on communicating sustainability issues through digital campaigns over the past few years, spoke next. Ms. Soto described how awareness for the necessity of global change is rising because more people are sensing how the environment is affecting individuals and how individuals are affecting the environment. The focus of Ms. Soto’s campaign is to promote awareness for the SDGs by further elucidating how environmental change impacts our daily lives.

The next speaker was Jeffery Huffines, who served as Chair of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference on the theme “2015 and Beyond: Our Action Agenda.” Mr. Huffines has focused his career on creating international alliances with organizations and individuals to strengthen citizen action and civil society. Mr. Huffines expressed his amazement over the comprehensive outcome document of the 65th Annual Conference and encouraged everyone to use it as a resource. Please find the Declaration here (http://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/files/2014/08/DPINGOOutcomeDoc-DeclarationFinal.pdf) and the Resource Document here (http://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/files/2014/08/ResourceDoc25Aug2014.pdf).

The final speaker was Thomas Gass, who was appointed by Ban-ki Moon as Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in UN DESA in 2013. Mr. Gass stressed the importance of leaving no one behind in the Post-2015 Agenda. We must make a conscientious effort to identify the most vulnerable groups and prioritize their needs. We cannot go for the “low hanging fruit” as we have done in the past. The weakest members of society deserve to know that their heads of State are working to improve their lives through the UN’s Development Agenda.

From left to right: the moderator, Thomas Gass, Mitchell Toomey, Florencia Soto and Jeff Huffines.

From left to right: the moderator, Thomas Gass, Mitchell Toomey, Florencia Soto and Jeff Huffines.

A Future For All, The United Nations Through Women And Faith

By Theresa Carthy

Thursday’s briefing, entitled “A Future For All,  The United Nations Through Women And Faith” was one installment of the UN’s Focus on Faith series.  This series aims to provide an understanding of the common foundational principles of tolerance, respect for diversity and peaceful resolutions to disputes found in all major belief systems.  The United Nations shares these principles.  It believes that promoting interfaith dialogue can facilitate and inform the active promotion of peace and peaceful dialogue by governments, civil society, religious leaders and civilization at large.

This particular briefing focused on the roles that women of faith play in furthering the overall mission of the United Nations.  Women of the Islamic, Baha’i, Episcopal, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist faiths were represented on this week’s panel.  Each spoke about her faith and what it means to her to be a woman of faith, particularly in the context of the United Nations peacekeeping and development missions.


Shafferan Sonneveld, the Global Advocacy Director of Muslims for Progressive Values, believes that women of faith are key actors in the global mission for peace.  She draws on the history of Islam, including the Quranic teachings of Mohammad lifting up the rights of women, to empower and sustain her passionate commitment to peace.  She also derives strength from her belief in the good of humanity and her knowledge that God protects us all.

Julia Berger, the Principal Researcher at the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations Office, spoke about the benefits of staying away from labels and focusing instead on our common humanity.  Her favorite aspect of the Baha’i faith is that she does not need to invalidate the views of others to believe her own.  Her faith is founded in the understanding that everyone is on this earth to make her own contribution.  She believes that the peacekeeping and development missions of the United Nations work to construct a society where everyone can play her own role.

Reverend Theodora Nmade Brooks, a Liberian Episcopal Pastor in the Bronx, spoke to the importance of living with the awareness and trust that there is something bigger than us.  This dictates how she treats others and herself, and how she sees the world.  This drives her to touch people’s lives through even the smallest of interactions.  Every singular action of kindness is a promotion of both her faith and the ideals of the United Nations.

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women for Reform Judaism, believes that many women bring a caregiving role to the world and therefore to their interpretations of faith.  She calls women of faith stand up against violence and extremism in favor of the peaceful order which she believes that God really wants.

Kamila Jacob, the Youth Ministries Coordinator at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, posited that, in her opinion, a woman of faith is someone who takes risks to make the world a better place.  Women of faith who take these risks are well-prepared to do so because they believe that someone, whether God or another member of their faith, is behind them.  Her faith empowers her to take these risks and believe in a better world.  She and all the other panelists believed that one can have faith in anything; it is not the religion itself which is important but that themes of peace, kindness and respect inform everyone’s actions at the individual and global levels.

Briefing on the Holocaust and LGBT Rights Today

By Miranda Morton

On 27 January 2015, which is the UN’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the DPI hosted a briefing entitled, “The Holocaust, Homosexuals and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Today.” This event commemorated the persecution of homosexuals during the Third Reich.

Erik Jensen, the first speaker, is an Associate Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio who concentrates on the collective memory of Holocaust persecution. Mr. Jensen’s address offered expert background on the subject and provided a context for the briefing. Throughout the 1920s, German homosexuals enjoyed a higher level of freedom than anywhere else in the world. The publications and organizations that catered to the homosexual community were very legal and accessible. Public policy took a turn in 1934 after Ernst Röhm, then the 2nd highest Nazi commander and an openly gay man, was purged due to the threat he posed to Hitler. In Röhm’s wake, Hitler promoted Heinrich Himmler, one of the men most directly responsible for the Holocaust. Himmler took a hard stance on homosexuals, claiming that gay men posed a threat to the all-male Hitler Youth groups. It is estimated that 100,000 homosexual men were arrested during the Third Reich and between 5,000 and 7,000 men died in concentration camps. In these camps, the SS forced homosexual men to wear a pink triangle, signifying their deviant preferences, and subjected them to hard labor, hormone treatment and even castration. Very few survivors of this persecution ever came forward, but Mr. Jensen shared the story of Rudolf Brazda who spent 3 years at Buchenwald concentration camp under charges of homosexuality.

Another panelist, Rick Landman, also shared a poignant story. Mr. Landman came out at the age of 13 with the full acceptance and support of both his parents. Mr. Landman’s parents were Jewish Holocaust refugees and had already experienced their fair share of bigotry and persecution. Having had a strong support system from an early age, Mr. Landman now serves as a gay rights activist working to formally commemorate homosexual Holocaust victims via memorial structures.

Next to speak was Charles Radcliffe, the chief of Global Issues at the UN for Human Rights and leader of the UN’s Free and Equal campaign. Mr. Radcliffe sees homosexuality as a human rights issue. In his words, LGBT discrimination is in direct violation of the UN’s first article of the Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Mr. Radcliffe proposed three ways in which the UN can make a difference: (1) document and gather data on what’s happening on the ground, (2) advocate for human rights to governments and (3) assist governments in developing new policies, training people and improving institutions.

Finally, Marianne Møllman closed the briefing by explaining three myths that she believes pose a challenge to equality. The first myth is that being LGBTI is “a new phenomenon.” In reality, people have always identified as LGBTI, but there is now a definite label, making the phenomenon more visible. The second myth is that LGBTI is “all the same thing.” However, decriminalizing the act of homosexuality will not instigate effective change. For example, there is a stark dichotomy in Latin America where laws are very accepting and inclusive, but there is still an exceptionally high murder rate for trans men and women. The third myth is that being LGBTI is “all about sex” and all LGBTI people are perverted. Unfortunately, this myth reflects a focus on genitalia and behavior rather than actual identity. The truth is, everyone has a sexual orientation—including those who identify as straight.

From left to right: Erik Jensen, Rafael De Bustamante, the moderator, Rick Landman, Marianne Møllmann and Charles Radcliffe.

From left to right: Erik Jensen, Rafael De Bustamante, the moderator, Rick Landman, Marianne Møllmann and Charles Radcliffe.

Inspiring Voices: Transforming the World, Lives and Communities

By Theresa Carthy

At the 2015 DPI/NGO Inaugural Briefing, “Inspiring Voices: Transforming the World, Lives and Communities,” we were joined by a diverse panel of leaders.  The briefing started with spoken word performances by lyricist and poet, Imani Woomera, and her fifteen year old son, Zion Miyonga.

Woomera was born in Hawaii and raised traveling between Honolulu and Nairobi.  At the age of eleven, she decided to move to Kenya to live with her father and spent the next eighteen years of her life there.  Her son was born in Africa and lived there until he was eight.  Woomera’s lyrics describe her experiences straddling and eventually integrating two diverse cultures and languages throughout her young life.  Through her lyrics, she recounts her self-journey working through cultural labels and preconceived notions until she realized that she has been ‘blessed with the gift of cultural choice’.  Woomera and her son performed pieces about the importance of expanding our minds and our cultural experiences in order to become more compassionate human beings and letting the concept of sustainability inform everything that we do.


Roszel Morris joined the panel to tell her story of September 11, 2001.  She was working on the 88th floor of the tower when the first plane hit; her story was one of pain, trauma, small kindnesses, and eventually healing.  She now works as a team assistant at the United Nation’s department of Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.  She is currently pursuing further studies in human development with a concentration in psychology to become a counsellor.

Karim Abouelnaga is an Ivy-League-educated inner-city public school graduate who is working to make a quality education possible for other economically disadvantaged children.  He is the Founder and CEO of Practice Makes Perfect—an intergenerational program based on research that two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning.  His organization is building a national summer school replacement model which pairs struggling elementary and middle school students with high-achieving middle and high school students under the supervision of college interns and expert teachers during an intensive academic summer program.  The idea was inspired by his strong belief that poor people are the best equipped to help themselves, and our role is to decide how we will help them to do that.

The title, “Inspiring Voices: Transforming the World, Lives and Communities,” was aptly chosen for Thursday’s briefing.  The stories of these amazing individuals left us feeling inspired and reinvigorated to make the final year of the Millennium Development Goals as influential as possible.