International Bulletin - July 1998
I take this opportunity to reflect upon the changes which have occurred among the non-governmental organizations and their relationships to the United Nations in the eight years during which I have represented our own organization at the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women.
At the first session which I attended, in Vienna in 1991, there were 75 women who represented some of the 800 then-accredited NGOs. It was a small, tightly-knit group, in which "old hands" took new-comers under their wings, and it was possible to get to know the people and the procedures fairly quickly. This year, there were nearly 600 women there, representing I have no idea how many of the presently-accredited 1,630 organizations. The halls were boiling with people. Meeting rooms were crowded. Access to documents was difficult, sometimes impossible, as was trying to find a given person among the throngs. I saw 29 people whom I knew from previous years, but couldn't find several others. I imagine a new-comer would feel quite lost.
The entire attitude of the UN and its member nations toward the NGOs has undergone an enormous change. There is a new respect that was shown most clearly when the ear-phones carrying translations to the balcony where the NGOs sit were found to be inoperative. The presiding officer actually suspended the meeting - making all the distinguished government delegates cool their heels - while the problem was solved. Only when she asked, "Can you hear me now?" and got a resounding "YES!" from the NGOs did the session re-convene. That would never have happened eight years ago. The meeting would have proceeded, and if the NOGs couldn't hear - tough luck.
It is Beijing and Hauirou that showed governments both the power and the abilities of the NGOs. We've always been able to get things done, often faster and easier than the governments could, and the governments paid lip-service and went on without us. Now, in the days of dire governmental budgetary crises, the NGOs can do things the governments might like to do, but can't afford. We can do things that need doing that we want to do. We can do those things, at least in part, because so many of us are willing to work for little or no pay for the ideals we believe in. We've become a workforce to be reckoned with, and the governments, and especially the UN agencies, are eager to have us on their side.
I came away from this session of the CSW both inspired and energized, much more so than in any other year. The aims and projects that came out of our conference in Malaysia, on top of the Platform For Action from Beijing-Huairou, are pointing us in the right direction. If we follow those leads, we will find ourselves in a position to make a real difference in our world. Let's make the most of it.
Last Modified: June 05, 2010