I had every intention of posting every night but that obviously hasn’t happened. That fact is a testament to how busy we’ve been. I’ll do my best to review the highlights of the past three days. I’ll start with today and work backwards.
Wednesday February 23
Claiming Space for Pacific Women in the International Arena
This morning I attended an event sponsored by Pacific Women’s Watch (New Zealand) titled “Claiming Space for Pacific Women in the International Area.”
The Pacific islands, between 20,000 and 30,000 islands in the Pacific ocean, are made up of three subregions: Melanesia, Micronesia, andPolynesia. The panel included women from Melanesia (Fiji) and Polynesia (New Zealand), but not Micronesia. The panel recognized this issue as problematic, and representative of the larger issues being discussed, and attributed the absence of a Micronesian women to a lack of resources. They noted that a number of women had wanted to attend.
The panel discussion, using a human rights framework, focused on issues of representation faced by Pacific island nations, especially Pacific women. In the United Nations, the Pacific islands are part of the Asian regional group. This is problematic because the Pacific islands is a unique region that faces specific issues that differ from the rest of Asia. It was suggested that the Pacific islands work with the rest of Asia to come to an agreement about permanent or rotating representation within the Asia regional group.
A friend of mine in my graduate program has a research interest in environmental health in the Marshall Islands. Following the panel, I was able to ask two of the panelists a question on her behalf. The question was, “Some experts anticipate a rise in sea level of three feet by the end of the century. Given the susceptibility of many of the Pacific islands, particularly atoll countries, to changes in sea level, are you planning for possible displacement contingencies for the people of this region?” The answer was that they have no longterm strategic plan but are responding as environmental issues as they occur. It was noted that the largest obstacle in developing a longterm plan is the global denial of climate change as a danger.
Learning Methodologies: Post-Trauma
The second event I attended was “Learning Methodologies: Post-Trauma” sponsored by Ecumenical Women at the United Nations. The panel was impressive and each woman had a powerful story to share. The panel consisted of an ordained Lutheran minister from India, a peace-building specialist with expertise in trauma healing from South Sudan, a domestic violence shelter coordinator from Brazil, and an American urban minister. The moderator was an American educator and artist. Talk about some amazing women!
The Rev. Dr. Surekha Nelaval told a moving story about a Dalit girl which illustrated the traumatic effects of patriarchy, casteism, and classism on girls in India. Cecilia Castillo spoke about her work with victims of domestic violence in Brazil. Milcah Lalam shared some of the techniques she uses in trauma healing in her work in South Sudan. These techniques include storytelling, games, coloring mandalas, and drawing. Lalam identified the need for leaders to do their own healing before they take on the care and wellbeing of others. The Rev. Heidi Neumark spoke about her work in the South Bronx and the traumatic issues that children face in their young lives. Neumark named three ways to create paths for healing: (1) creation of spaces that nurture hope, (2) cultivation of a space of trust and solidarity, and (3) creation of spaces to explore the stories of biblical sisters. She stated that biblical stories of trauma affirmed and validated trauma victims, even when the stories did not have happy endings. Because the stories were included in holy texts, women who could relate felt like their stories also matter. She also mentioned the healing qualities of exercise (like yoga) and beauty and relaxation practices. These things teach girl victims of trauma to care for their body, a place that has been often been dishonored by others.
The panel was inspiring and offered practical advice to others working in areas of trauma. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to ask a question at the end. I asked how trauma healing and treatment can be incorporated into the work of UN Women as part of women’s mental health. The panelists acknowledged that doing so was necessary and that the only mention of women’s health so far this week has been maternal health. I was thrilled to hear their answer because this is something that I’ve noticed and have been concerned about. Women’s health must not be defined as maternal health. There are so many other areas of women’s health that cannot be neglected (e.g. sexual, reproductive, mental, and preventative health). I will be sure to reflect upon and write more about this at the end of the week.
Please see my next post for a (more photographic) description of the rest of my day. Post will be up tomorrow.