NGO CSW Forum 2013

On Sunday, the SI delegation within our hotel gathered at 8am to line up at the Armenian Diocese Convention Center. It’s a huge building with a gold-metallic dome on the corner of 2nd Ave and 35th Street. We were bombarded with handfuls of flyers, buttons for the 5th World Conference on Women and even a book (Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.). The weight was overwhelming and a surprise to me.

The NGO Forum hosted 700 women and men for a full day conference, starting at 9am and ending at 5:30 with a song – Keep on Movin’ Forward – sung a capella by our very own Dawn Marie Lemonds, who did a spectacular job. While I don’t have photos uploaded yet (the one thing I forgot was the camera cable), I will update this post when I return.

I heard that there are over 6,000 people registered for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women – the largest yet. In a time of economic hardship and turmoil one must believe that the topic of Violence Against Women is truly that widely held a belief and the movement to irradiate it is that strong.

The day opened with a public service announcement video for G!RL Be Heard: from Victim to Victory and a live performance that was incredibly moving. Find out more at

In the spirit of easy to search content, I’d like to take this opportunity to post the various panels and speakers individually in the next series of posts. It will be aligned with the format for the rest of this week. Instead, I will speak to the post-forum evening – the whole SI delegation met for dinner, along with members from SI Manhatten who came to greet us. We were presented with UN 2013 calendars and a listing of key publications, as well as an SI lobby package with flyers, pamphlets and CDs of the 2011 Global Impact Report. We got an update of key messages and actions taken in advance. We also rejoiced in the celebration of Catherine Myers, who was recognized for her lifetime achievement of advocacy work and unofficial welcoming committee for delegates to the UN in NY.

I had the pleasure of meeting Hanna G from Australia, who has been interning at Capital Hill, Margaret C from SI Middlesbrough in England (who took a keen interest in our auction and I in her Rotary Night @ the pub with music and a bottle auction), Any Aryany, National Representative for the one club in Indonesia (located in Jakarta – they hold all their meetings in English and are exploring the idea of multi-lingual meetings in an effort to charter another club in the country), and Christine Peer from Austria who I had previously met at the Montreal SI Convention in 2011.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the members of Soroptimist International: President Alice Wells and Federation Programme Director Anna McCormick, as well as the former Programme Director Dawn Marie Lemonds, and from SI of the Americas: SIA Federation Programme Director Sharon Fisher, who have made me feel so welcomed. I’ve met the most lovely people (Robyn from SWP and Hillary from UK, Wanda and Vivian from SIA and others whose names didn’t register with me) and am so incredibly thankful to be here!

Ring the Bell

Many women are not safe in their own homes – don’t condone domestic violence through silence – take action. Ring the bell.

An international campaign launched by Breakthrough in 2008, Bell Bajao! calls upon men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence and work towards eliminating all forms of violence against women. These vingettes are real examples of men who demonstrated zero tolerance:

57th Commission on the Status of Women

This coming week marks the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57), to be held at the United Nations in New York City. I will be joining the Soroptimist International delegation, a team of 40 women representing over 120 countries across the four Federations that make up our organization: Americas, South West Pacific, Europe and Great Britain & Ireland.

The priority theme at CSW57 is “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”. It is an issue that exists here in Hamilton in the forms of domestic violence and human slavery (forced marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour). There will also be a review at CSW57 of the theme from the 53rd session regarding the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS. Learn more about the issues on the UN Women: In Focus website (»

I have been passionate about the mission of Soroptimist International and their role as an NGO at the United Nations. This year, I put my name forward for consideration and was informed that there is a lottery process within our Federation. By pure chance (or fate), there were three vacancies and my name came up! I am very excited to be attending and I will be blogging about my experience during the week (mostly in the evenings because WIFI is harder to come by than I thought).

The position Soroptimist International has taken is to abide by all previously agreed UN declarations, conventions
and resolutions relating to the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. Specifically:

1. Prioritise and adequately resource policies, programmes, and interventions with education, empowerment, and enabling opportunities at their core, not just for victim/survivors or perpetrators, but for all men, women, boys, and
girls as accountable community members.
2. Institutionalise the responsibilities and obligations of the State and individual members of society to actively tackle the root causes of violence against women and girls.
3. Ensure that violence against women and girls is not labelled “private” and thus out of the reach of the hands of the State and/or the community.
4. Ensure that actions taken to eliminate violence against women and girls – prevention or resolution focussed – are systems-based and holistic, rather than project-based and vertical.
5. End any and all approaches, activities, or policies which promulgate the victim/saviour dichotomy and ensure meaningful, respectful, and human rights based approaches to eliminating violence against women and girls.

“Today we are aware that one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. We still live in a world where violence against women and girls persists as a weapon of war. We come to the 57th Session of CSW to ask the question – why?” – International President, Alice Wells

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month

For Breast Cancer Awareness month we wanted to close out October with a special event featuring our partner and breast cancer research expert, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Join Soroptimist International of the Americas next Tuesday, for a live chat on the Live Your Facebook Page.

Join Naz Sykes, Executive Director, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation on Oct. 30th @ 2:00PM (Eastern time).

What do you want to know about breast cancer?

International Women’s Day

March 8, celebrates International Women’s Day. The UN Theme will be prominent at this year’s Caucus on the Status of Women: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty. The Canadian federal agency, Status of Women, is closely aligned in its theme by highlighting some of the issues that we still face as a country: Strong Women, Strong Canada – Women in Rural, Remote and Northern Communities: Key to Canada’s Economic Prosperity:

In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on member states to proclaim a day for women’s rights and international peace. Following the United Nations’ lead, Canada chose March 8 as International Women’s Day.

Each year at this time, Canadians celebrate progress toward equality for women and their full participation, reflect on the challenges and barriers that remain, and consider future steps to achieving equality for all women, in all aspects of their lives.

(Reference March 8, 2012:

In celebration of this day, Soroptimist International of the Americas announced and congratulates all the participants of the Soroptimist Live Your Dream Art Contest, and to those winners! View them online:

4th Annual Live Your Dream Art Contest

The fourth annual Soroptimist Live Your Dream Art Contest is open for judging. The contest calls on students to visually depict the dreams and accomplishments of women. The contest winners are revealed and celebrated on March 8th, International Women’s Day.

This year, more than 2,000 children from around the world, including Japan, Taiwan, Guam, Mexico, South Korea, and the U.S., participated in the contest. The winners will receive $100 for themselves and another $100 for their schools.

A group of professional judges was charged with the challenge of narrowing down the entries to three finalists in each category (Ages 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18). Now, it’s up to us to choose the winners …

Visit and vote for your favorites now! Voting is open to the public, so tell your friends.

2011 December 10th Appeal

Human Rights Day commemorates December 10th, 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. This day holds a special place in Soroptimist International’s history, from 1981, when SI President Catherine Salt chose a project on the island of Pulau Bidong, Malaysia, to help refugee women and children.

This year on Human Rights Day, December 10th, I would like to invite Soroptimists worldwide to join together to support a very special project under our international programme of work, “Educate to Lead”. Read more about Soroptimist International President Alice Wells’ message online »

Birthing in the Pacific: December 10th Appeal

Goal: Increasing skills, Further Educating Birth Attendants, and improving facilities to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity

In resource poor countries, only 36% of births are attended by skilled health care worker. Less than 30% of women have a supervised delivery in a health facility. Increasing access to supervised de- liveries and properly functioning health care facili- ties for women to deliver greatly reduces the risk of dying from complications. Most maternal deaths occur in the 24-48 hours surrounding delivery, where a correctly chosen suite of interventions can be most effective.

Working with relevant partners under the leadership of Soroptimist International of the  to support the roll-out of four levels of educational programmes for birth attendants:

1. Pacific Emergency Obstetric Care courses for trained clinicians
2. Learning exchange programmes for midwives
3. Maternal health competency programme for Community Health Workers
4. Literacy and reproductive health education for Village Birth Attendants

Soroptimist Eastern Canada Region

Uber condensed Spring Conference, down from 2 days to 4 hours! There were changes to the by-laws and announcements about membership with the loss of Simcoe County and potential charter of Kawartha Lakes, but the morning highlight was the Soroptimist Foundation of Canada winner. Blanca Haydee Lopez de Brizuela, M.A. in Legal Studies. Her bio is listed below and her story of passion for lead to a standing ovation from the whole room. She was presented with a $7,500 cheque to help her continue her studies as a candidate for Juris Doctor (LLB) at the University of Ottawa.

We had an interesting talk on mentoring young women through S-Club or Sigma Societies as a club program (posted separately) and were then joined by Governor Coleen Schmidt and Western Canada Region to hear Pat Donohue, President-Elect of Soroptimist International of the Americas, speak on Embracing Change. She cited leaders Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat, and Violet Richardson Ward, who quit her job three times on the basis of not getting paid equally as men who worked in the same position, as leaders of change.

“In every crisis there is a message. Crises are nature’s way of forcing change–breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place.”
– Susan Taylor

What’s Working? How can we do more of it? The Renaissance Campaign (Program | Public Awareness | Fundraising | Membership) has fostered cohesion and clarity with focus on women and girls, but more needs to be done. It will be extended for another year. Clubs are being asked to do the following two ac tions across the four areas:

  • Hold at least one recruitment event per year. Conduct the annual club assessment.
  • Participate in the Live Your Dream Campaign. Undertake media correspondence.
  • Donate 10% of club fundraising to SIA. Report the amounts you contribute to local projects
  • Focus on programs that benefit women and girls. Give out a Women’s Opportunity Award.

Pat’s presentation cited our own Dorothy Huhtalo from Humber-Credit Valley dreamed of retiring to her cottage in Kawartha Lakes. She and her husband are now Living their Dream and is spearheading the charter of a new club. “My experience helped me see that change is a good thing. We need to look for it and expect it each day.” We must be that change.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead

May 4-6 in the next Spring Conference: Dirty Thirties and Roaring Twenties in Haldimand Norfolk for the Jubilee Anniversary

Announcement from SIA: it is rare that clubs are impacted by the SI Board. Governance, Oversight and Strategy issues came to fruition this year across the four Federations. There is further discussion to be had.

After the lunch we were delighted to take home three of the four Federation awards for Celebrating Success: Program, Fundraising and Public Relations.

Grants for Women
Blanca Haydee Lopez de Brizuela is a lawyer and a former judge from El Salvador, Blanca completed a Master in Legal Studies at Carleton University. Her research “En-gender-ing Gender Sensitive Decisions: A Challenge for Decision –makers” draws on the issue of the impact of gender discrimination and domestic violence in refugee cases.

Two things are the cornerstones in Blanca’s life: her family and her commitment to social justice for the advancement of women. Blanca is a mother of six sons. She and her family came to Canada seeking protection ten years ago. As a single mother and as a refugee, Blanca knows the struggles women face in order to survive. One good thing about being a survivor has been the development of a deep understanding of other people’s pain. Her experiences have taught her to combine work with compassion and how to balance family and professional life. She believes, without a doubt, that her personal history has shaped the path in her career.

Outside academia, Blanca has had invaluable work experience supporting women. For more than five years Blanca has facilitated an art and sharing discussion group for refugee women. Impressed by the courage of these women and the power of art as a tool of healing, Blanca and her co-workers at SASC were inspired to give voice to women’s experiences. “Our Unspoken Stories: The Stories of Butterflies” is a book that Blanca has co-authored with the Women and War program coordinator at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC). Some of the stories will be featured at the Women’s World 2011 conference ( in Ottawa. In her capacity as the Women of Colour Outreach Coordinator, for SASC, Blanca has supported women survivors of violence, rape, torture and trauma. She also worked as a settlement counselor for Catholic Immigration Centre and volunteered with the Community Legal Clinics in Ottawa, helping women in their immigration and settlement processes. Her choice of pursuing a law degree in Canada was the result of those experiences.

After living in Canada for a number of years, Blanca realized that having a law degree and work experience from her country was not enough to work as effectively as she wanted for the advancement of women. She believes that being accredited here as a lawyer would be the best way for her to work for women’s equality and access to justice. Upon completion of her law degree Blanca wants to provide legal services from a gender perspective to one of the most disadvantaged and oppressed groups in society: immigrant and refugee women. Blanca’s goal is to work in Immigration and Family Law. Not only is her dream to work for and with marginalized women in need of legal services but also to support them to feel empowered and in control of their lives.

Plenary Panel Discussion

There were three panelists: a doctor, a makeup specialist and a journalist, who lead the discussion.

Anna Maria Tremonti told compelling stories, opening with the analogy that carpets are like our lives – they are stepped on, admired, functional, and each one is unique; a tapestry of woven fabric is like the experiences of our lives. In learning about carpets, she learned about families and politics while living in the Middle East.

There have always been women covering war; Martha Gellhorn smuggled herself on a D-Day ship as a nurse so she could uncover the story of civilians in hospitals.

We need to be role models to our youth, but also to ourselves. If you want a friend, get a puppy; if you want to think, listen to her program: The Current. Now is the time to ask tough questions of those who are of influence. Active participation in a wider society, and our responsibility globally because we live in a civil society. Asking uncomfortable questions and shining light into places of turmoil begins with individuals who are not afraid to share their ideas, and journalists must give a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard.

Lee Graff, president of Cover FX, told the story of their foundation product that was co-created with MAC out of Sunny Brook Health Sciences. Corrective makeup specialists help patients camaflague skin disorders and visible pigments to help themselves regain self-confidence. The product caters to sensitive skin and muli-ethnic skin tones.

Dr. Kirsty Duncan brought photos from her excursion to Norway to demonstrate her research project that exhumed 6 bodies of young men who died 80 years ago from the 1918 Spanish Flu. Preserved by burial in the perma-frost, she set forth with the principles of safety, ethical, with respect and dignity to extract tissue samples; they found the virus in lung, liver and brain. H1N1 was the next major epidemic but it was mild by comparison. She reflected on being asked, how do you want to be treated – as a young woman or a scientist? The questions are not mutually exclusive. She also discussed how scientific behaviour disintegrates when the stakes are high, and the risks of loss in safety and ethics when that occurs.

A drop of 2-4 degrees results in an ice age. An increase of 2-4 degrees will melt the glaciers: Rhone-Glacier in Switzerland has almost disappeared. Smog and heat are killing the elderly and the children. There will be more flooding, storms and tornados. 20% of the world population are already at risk of malaria; mosquito and water borne diseases will increase. Malnutrition and hunger will increase. Past generations had WW I and II, and then went to the moon. Now it’s climate change that is the world’s challenge.

She works with an organization to feed 110,000 children in Toronto; ¼ go to school hungry in Canada and it appalled her. Her passion lead her to Parliament to fight for child hunger and diseases of the brain, such as dementia, which is prevalent in an aging population. Now she is also fighting for MS. After 13 months of petitioning through official channels and being denied, on June 29th the first Clinical Trial for angioplasty as a treatment was approved in Canada.

The most generous people are often the ones who have nothing to give. Find your passions, whatever they are – let them grow and change over time. There is a way around or over the hurdles.

Wilma Rudolph learned to walk at 11 years old after being affected by Polio. She was born premature and had survived scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox, and measles. At age 16, she won the olympic bronze medal in sprinting for the USA. Impossible is a dare and it’s temporary. 4 years later she won three gold medals, the first American woman to do so. All she wanted in celebration was a non-segregated party in her town; it was the first of its kind in her state.

SI commits to leave no woman or girl behind. We all have a gift to give. We are all worthy and all deserve respect and dignity. It is about making a small difference in our little piece of the planet.

Discussion Notes:

  1. Kirsty: what should we do about the small pox virus; should it be kept for scientific research? It is critical for researchers to be safe.
  2. Anne Marie: wiki-leaks provides a plethora of information that is not otherwise available to us. If gov’t were more transparent about their inner workings, sites like that wouldn’t have traction.
  3. Kirsty: MS treatment – is there any signs of it being a treatment of other neurological diseases? By March 31, 12500 liberation procedures have been done across 50 countries; 1/3 are significantly affected, 1/3 have mild improvement and 1/3 seem to not respond. Always talk to your health care provider about treatment options and side effects.
  4. Lee: were there gender differences from business people getting capital funding? Cover FX was self-funded to start but then they went to the bank. Had male bankers and applied for a gov’t grant and to the export bank of Canada. Eventually, the Royal Bank with a female account manager brought other females in to the meeting and the reception was unreal. One was already using the product and loved it – the product liberated her and she advocated for the project. There is a nurturing and encouragement that women have.
  5. Lee: For prepubescent girls who feel compelled to wear make up even though they have no acne or pigment issues, she recommends girls be well rounded in their interests/sports so their energy is not solely focussed on their appearance and have avenues to gain self-confidence.
  6. Anna Maria: Media focus on the bad or difficult, sad things and not enough focus on the celebrations or positive? Seems to be a global phenomena. Challenge for SI to get article coverage of the work we do. The trauma needs to be talked because there is an accountability threat; you need to be told so you can never say you don’t know or made an uninformed decision. Good news doesn’t have to be “light” news but can follow social trends and how they worked against a system to accomplish something. News these days is creating/following stories that don’t matter and that is a significant problem. Have to go in there and insist. Say no on a project and suggest the story you want to cover. They can slow you down, but they can’t stop you.
  7. Kirsty: How do you encourage girls to go into science? Go to primary schools to interact with children about science and environment. Assigned a project to save the world (but without marks) such as purchasing boreal forest or making hats/scarves for homeless shelters.
  8. Lee: Has a summer coop program exists for young women. It’s not about the makeup but counselling and business skills. Donate makeup to young girls or shelters. Try to teach about body image.

Questions to all:

Did you have a struggle to get established in your career?
• Lee’s parents immigrated from Eastern Europe; four daughters ran their family business. Her mother went to school to learn English and worked side-by-side with her husband. It made her an excellent role model – she didn’t give up. The experience of trying and realizing it’s not what you want to do builds the experience to get you on the path.
• Kirsty was influenced by her Grandmother, who was a working single mother, and her mother was the first in their family to ever go to university. Kirsty was teaching at University by 24 and sometimes treated as a secretary by people. She tells her upper year students that women need to learn to negotiate – want $5-8k more than what they offer when you get a job just to make it equitable.
• Anna Maria was taught to try and keep trying. Many more leaders are women at CBC, which is a dramatic change from when she started. Feminist is not a bad word, it has enabled women to do lots of things.

Zimbabwe has an energy shortage. Some of the UN protocols that the country signed for on climate change was to conserve trees, but they are the main source of fuel because they have no gas or electricity to cook with – only firewood. Women are arrested because it is a punishable offence. Can solar energy and wind turbines be made more affordable for 3rd world countries? Fog nets are used to condense the droplets and collect them. Simple solution as an example of changing from no water to 50L per family per day.

Project Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is the quadrennial project for SI (2007 to 20111). Alison Sutherland, International Project Liaison, delivered a celebration of our achievements.

Sierra Leone has seen much peace and improvement since the project began. It is now ranked by the UN as 158/169 countries, up from the very last for quality of life and has show an increase from 42 to 48 years as the average life expectancy for women.

The program targets children living alone, outcast teenage mothers and single grandmothers who are the head of household and delivers tailored education, health, counseling and improved living conditions. The overall goals are respect, community engagement and reuniting families.

Partnered with Hope & Homes for Children and HANSI SL: 57 children completed, 67 currently in the program. 164 teen mothers (165 babies) graduated and 119 mothers (99 babies) are currently enrolled.

200 families with over 1000 children graduated from ACTIVE family support. Community hubs were introduced in January 2011 to support and extend the program to more families and have challenged community traditional practices that are harmful to children and young women. Play activities, informal education and health care are provided broadly to the community; the focus is on strengthening families and engaging local communities. A recent focus has been outreaching mothers of teenage daughters who are at risk of unplanned pregnancy. The program offers day care and nurseries for babies of teenage mothers so they can train – it is the first of it’s kind in the region and government policy now states that that daycare is available to all babies, regardless of the mother’s status. The next project for HANSI SL is conducting a national street children survey to provide data for gov’t policy on the issue.

Project is sustainable at the end of the quadrennial; it advocated for the impact of conflict on women and young girls, as well as the risks of trafficking.

SI set a target of £1M before the financial crisis; about £950,000 (or $1,500,000) is expected as the final tally (£880,000 already submitted to the partner organizations). The presentation concluded with a message by video that ended in two strong rounds of applause (one premature because the emotional message of thanks was so powerful and meaningful).