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04 August 2021

Graduate Fellows Program Annual Report


Read the Annual Report Here

28 July 2021

The Biden-Harris Administration's Approach to Foreign Affairs

By Hank Burke-Manwaring, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday July 20th, UNA-NCA, in collaboration with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) held a moderated panel discussion that delved into expectations of the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to foreign policy and international organizations such as the United Nations. The Panelists also reflected on Biden’s successes since his inauguration.

The two panelists for the discussion were UNA-NCA’s Advisory Council Member Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and head of CMU's Heinz College in DC, and Ted Piccone UNA-NCA Advisory Council Chair; Chief Engagement Officer at the World Justice Project.

The panel started off looking at the Administration’s impact in broad strokes. Ambassador Mendelson discussed four topics that the Biden Administration has addressed thus far. First, she has looked at issues such as social and racial justice and have begun the new task of linking the work on those issues both at home and abroad. Second, there has been a focus for the Administration on combatting the rise of authoritarianism, with special focus on the interference of China and Russia in other countries. And “When they talk about Russia it is about a form of hybrid warfare.” This hybrid warfare has become a threat as seen in many places such as Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Third, there is also a strong focus on elevating the combat against corruption which goes hand in hand with the fight against authoritarianism. She pressed that the administration needs to make sure we are not creating and enabling an environment for corruption through our financial institutions. And finally, she felt that the Administration has responded boldly to the emergencies they inherited, especially regarding climate issues, and COVID-19.  

Ted Piccone mentioned Biden’s key phrase “America’s back” in reference to the United States working its way back into the international community. He proclaimed that the Administration was off to an “overall encouraging start” to reviving America’s role on the world stage with bilateral and multilateral channels amid a tremendous crisis. He praised the Administration for actions such as rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, committing funds to COVID vaccine distribution, and renewed support for the United Nations Population Fund and United Nations Human Rights Council. He also noted that with Congress in democratic hands, future support of international organizations looks promising in the years to come.

Diving more in depth on the multilateral approach of the Biden Administration, Ambassador Mendelson noted that all the actions mentioned previously by Piccone “somehow related to the Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). She also mentioned that what puzzled her was that the Administration has many policies that they have rolled out that dovetail into the SDGs, however the actual SDGs themselves have seldom been mentioned. In addition, she pointed out that there has been no discussion of a voluntary review of America’s progress with the SDGs, which is how countries measure their success in sustainable development. She questioned why this was the case given that “the Obama-Biden Administration helped shape the SDGs.” However, she did mention that many cities, universities, and even the state of Hawaii have been working on sustainable development, and how to make it effective. She sees this as a positive change in the United States, because by having domestic support for sustainable development, it gives leverage to make Congress prioritize sustainable development both domestically and internationally.

Ambassador Mendelson did warn that while this progress on sustainable development is positive, we are running out of time to make changes that we need to make during this Administration. One of the tasks that remains is to start naming ambassadors. She said that Congress is slow to admit people into ambassador roles, however she qualified “that some of the slowness is because the Administration is really focused on making sure the candidates are diverse” as they want the U.S. Department of State to be representative of the US population.

Mr.  Piccone went on to discuss The United States and their involvement in the Human Rights Council (HRC). He stated that the United States’ involvement in the HRC “has become increasingly politized here in the United States. And has become a bit of a political football between the Administrations (Republican/Democrat).” He also spoke about the current issues with the HRC membership. One of those issues was the fact that authoritarian regimes have been elected to the Council. Another issue he found important was the inherent bias towards Israel, as it is the only standing item on the HRC docket. He believes at the Israel bias worsens when the United states is not a part of the HRC council.  

The last issue mentioned by Mr. Piccone was the rising power of China. He stated that “when the US walked away under Trump, what happened? China and its allies filled the void.” This is the first time that we've seen China go on the offensive on the international stage. It is introducing resolutions to undermine the role of the HRC, which could potentially weaken the success of the Council. Along with China's influence in the HRC there's also using its economic power to influence other countries interaction. One example of this he mentioned was regarding China using vaccine diplomacy to influence countries to quiet down on their criticism of their treatment of Uyghurs. Ukraine was one of the countries who's on the list to sign a statement that was critical of China, however after receiving vaccinations from China they removed themselves from the list of signees. Piccone, while critical of China and their actions on the international stage, did clarify then in order for us to be critical of them, The United States must too be willing to go under the scrutiny of the HRC.

From there, Ambassador Mendelson picked up on the issue of universality. She mentioned that while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to us all, it may be difficult to implement in our country. However, she stated that “universality is as relevant today, as it was, I would say in 1948.” She also made note of the fact that the international issues of security during the Cold War times are not the same issues as today. Today, international issues need to be focused more on socioeconomic issues, development, and the full spectrum of the SDGs.

Regarding the United States regaining power on the international stage, Ted Piccone said that the United States has to “practice what it preaches,” it needs to not only drive for international support of democracy, but also be a prime example of a successful democracy. Piccone said that we have been in a democratic landslide, with January 6th being the low point. So, we as a country have work to do to show evidence of our resilience and self-improvement. He finished the panel by saying that we have the multilateral systems in place with things like the SDGs, and the voluntary national reviews, now it is time to comply with them.

From there, the event moved from the panel discussion to a Q&A session. The first question asked was “Are there any spillovers of Biden’s policies on Russia and China that protects religious freedoms for locals in both countries?” Ambassador Mendelson in response touched on Secretary Blinken’s response to the Chinese persecution of the Uyghurs. Piccone picked up on that point and said that the United States and other democratic countries need to step up to impose sanctions on China as it’s a religious freedom, as well as a cultural, linguistic, and historical minority protection issue. He did also note that he found it surprising that the Islamic conference states have been quiet on the defense of Uyghurs.

The second question posed to the panelists was “a lot of the discussion focused on international development. The FY 2022 [budget] also discusses a lot of increases in humanitarian assistance funds. Do either of you have thoughts on that regarding the Biden administration?” Ambassador Mendelson responded, talking about the paradigm shift in aid implementation towards focusing on the needs of the local communities. She pointed out that often what we think local groups need is not what they want, nor need, as she showed with her example of Syrian refugees in Southern Turkey.

The next question, regarding the impact youth can make was “What do you think are the most general ways for young people such as YPFP and UNA-NCA members who are already engaged in this work to push the Biden administration to comply with the SDGs as well as implement them in our own communities?” Ambassador Mendelson said that one way was to show support for bills in Congress that support the SDGs and show them that these issues matter to the youth of our country.

Next came a question regarding a critique of the United Nations, “Can you speak on the reforms that need to be made by the United Nations and the multilateral system to become more relevant in a post-COVID system?” Piccone took the lead on this question mentioning the re-election of António Guterres as Secretary-General of the United Nations. He said that in Guterres’s first term he was dealt a weak hand with the combination of a lack of support from the Trump Administration, as well as Russia and China making it difficult to make any impactful change. But Piccone is hopeful for success in Guterres’s second term. Ambassador Mendelson on the other hand mentioned the need for reform of the UN Security Council. While she did not have an answer to how to fix it, she mentioned United Nations General Assembly’s growing frustration with the lack of efficiency as evidence for the need to change.

The final question of the night touched back on Israel asking, “What would you suggest the U.S. do to address the UNHCR’s bias against Israel?” Piccone suggested that Israel be treated like any other country, as opposed to simply a constant item on the docket. Ambassador Mendelson said that in her time in New York she saw the anti-Israel bias as intense and widespread.

In Ambassador Mendelson’s closing remarks, she implored the young people listening to understand that the scope of international relations is becoming more and more fluid, and that the SDGs are crucial to prioritize. Piccone finished with a warning that China is a serious competitor on the international stage that poses a direct threat the universal human rights, the United Nations, and multilateralism.

23 June 2021

Annual Membership Meeting 2021

By Mackenzie Norton, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday, June 15th, UNA-NCA held its Annual Membership Meeting. This event featured a discussion with UNFPA Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, as well as a presentation of the Annual Reports, announcement of the newly elected members to the Board of Directors, granting of the annual awards, and a live piano performance by Graduate Fellow Alumna Keren Yang. 

The program opened with remarks from outgoing Board Chair, Stephen F. Moseley. Mr. Moseley spoke on the turbulent past year we experienced through the pandemic, and how UNA-NCA has been a source of community and support for members, volunteers, and staff. He shared the fact that UNA-NCA’s membership now consists of 64% people under 40 -- a statistic that shows both the passion of young people for global issues and the promising future of the organization. Before introducing UNA-NCA’s President, Paula Boland, he left on a hopeful note, touching on the incoming changes brought with the Biden Administration and the reignition of collaborative spirit between the United Nations and the U.S.A. 

Paula Boland then introduced Dr. Natalie Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She noted that although so much progress has been made, currently more than 760 million people are living in extreme poverty. Sexual and reproductive health issues are a leading cause of death for women, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the moderator, Paula then moved on to asking Dr. Kanem a few questions about her work at UNFPA. 

Paula began by asking Dr. Kanem to share the efforts of UNFPA in response to the pandemic. Dr. Kanem explained how UNFPA has over 5,000 members working in 150+ countries and was one of the first to “sound the alarm” when they understood a pandemic was coming that was going to involve movement restrictions. She described how because of the pandemic women were unable to go about the course of daily business and girls were kept home from school, leaving them vulnerable. The UNFPA accurately predicted that during the pandemic, gender based violence, loss of agency, child marriage, and genital mutilation, could increase. In order to address this, UNFPA worked with local, women-led organizations that they had existing relationships with to build shelters for people in need overnight, create hotlines, and figure out early logistics through working with governments. 

The second question asked what it means to the organization that the Biden-Harris Administration had resumed funding to UNFPA after a four year lapse. Dr. Kanem described how financial support is so important and they are grateful to the Biden Administration for reaffirming that women’s rights are human rights. However, while the U.S. is returning to its stance of support for the UN, in many ways it never left. The past four years were a difficult period with challenges to sexual and reproductive health, but the U.S. has always led when it comes to women’s rights. Although they had to be creative and find new ways of working, UNFPA’s team in Washington worked hard to preserve their goals. Going forward, the tremendous influence that the U.S. yields will be on the side of the most vulnerable girls, which is essential for the future.  

Next, Dr. Kanem was asked what the relationship with the U.S. means to UNFPA beyond funding. Dr. Kanem explained how the strong relationship with the U.S. is important through evidence and data from the census, as they often assist developing countries with updating and creating censuses. Beyond a monetary relationship, their collaboration with the U.S. is a partnership to strengthen the developing world. In practically every instance where the U.S. is working in the developing world, UNFPA is a partner, making sure women’s choices are respected. Dr. Kanem noted that the symbolism of the Biden administration making efforts to be more inclusive carries a lot of power. While the money is very important, especially in places like Yemen and Syria, having the issues of justice spotlighted by the leadership of the U.S. is essential in defending the rights of the most vulnerable people.  

The following question asked what UNA members can do to help UNFPA. Dr. Kanem answered by noting that “the world needs the UN and the UN needs you...Whether you are persuading someone in your family, mentoring someone else, standing up in front of the school board -- the idea of solidarity among people is part of the hope I carry.” She advocated for people to stand up and speak out whenever given the chance, and to continue to engage in important dialogue and participate in organizations like UNA-NCA, calling the support of UNA-NCA’s members a “beacon of light.” 

Next, Paula asked Dr. Kanem: “The UNFPA was created in 1969, what makes UNFPA relevant today?” Dr. Kanem described reviewing their trajectory for the Nairobi summit a few years ago and how UNFPA has changed over time. When UNFPA was created, population control discourse was prevalent, however, it became the vision of the organization that population was about people, not the numbers, and a consensus developed around women and couples having the right to decide how many children they want. Midway through the Cairo International Conference, they also had something new -- one of the first women high-level leaders of the UN who invited NGOs to fully attend the conference, a transformative decision. Dr. Kanem then talked about the beliefs and goals of UNFPA, such as promoting women’s local leadership and making contraceptives available to women around the world. According to her, “it comes down to an issue of choice.” The UNFPA is also working to address sex based violence through prevention and helping survivors to heal. 

Dr. Kanem was then asked to share the highlights from her recent humanitarian trip to Yemen. She explained how Yemen is in its seventh  year of conflict, leaving the population exhausted, with specific fatigue placed on women. Every two hours a pregnant or delivering woman dies. With the security situation, women cannot safely get to health centers. Dr. Kanem described the conversations she had with many Yemeni women and the terrible experiences they have suffered through. With the additional financial support from the Biden Administration UNFPA hopes to be able to reopen clinics and provide reproductive care and contraception to the millions of women in Yemen asking for it.  

Finally, Paula Boland concluded the discussion by asking Dr. Kanem to share insights on UNFPA’s recent multi-year strategic plan. Dr. Kanem explained how the plan consists of three overarching goals. First, to ensure that there is a serious effort towards contraception and family planning, meaning zero unmet needs for family planning. Second, ending preventable maternal deaths and the tragedy of womb damage (fistula) during prolonged labor. This also includes working against child marriage as many of the deaths that occur during childbirth are due to girls giving birth at a very young age. And third, focusing on gender based violence, including putting an end to the expectation that women will suffer in silence, including trafficking and femicide, and giving women the chance to speak up. 

After thanking Dr. Kanem, Stephen F. Moseley then returned to present the Annual Reports, now available on UNA-NCA’s website. Highlights included membership growth to over 1,000 members this year, increased engagement from young people, a growing number of partners, and a variety of successful programs both in person and online. Mr. Moseley then went on to thank all of the members, corporations, and organizations that made generous donations this year, as well as the families that work to provide millions of dollars a year for UNA-NCA’s endowment. Because of these contributions, UNA-NCA is more financially stable than it has ever been. Finally, he concluded with a hopeful look into the future as the return to normalcy continues and staff can finally begin going back to the office. 

Next, Vice Chair of Strategy and Operations, Lauren Terrell, announced the results of the Board of Directors election. She began by thanking the nomination committee, led by Nominating Committee Chair Kristin Hecht, for their extensive work finding the best candidates and focusing especially on the diversity and equity of the board. She shared that the new demographics of the board consist of a balanced gender composition, 50% aged 18 to 44, 11% Asian, 28% Black, 11% Hispanic, 6% Middle Eastern, and 44% white. A variety of sectors are also represented within the newly elected board, including education, corporate, government, foreign policies, NGOs, philanthropy, international development, and international relations. Lauren Terrell then announced the newly elected slate, consisting of Jill Christianson as Board Chair, Sultana F. Ali as Vice-Chair of Communications, Timothy Barner as Vice-Chair of Finance, Thomas Bradley as Vice-Chair of Programs, Kristen Hecht as Vice-Chair of Membership & Volunteer Engagement, Ambassador C. Steven McGann as Vice-Chair of Development, Lauren B. Terrell as Vice-Chair of Strategy & Operations, and Lanice C. Williams as Vice-Chair of Young Professionals. Elected Directors-at-Large include Brian Griffey, Christina Hansen, Louis Henderson Sr., David M. Luna, Katherine Marshall, Abbey Ogunwale Ph.D, D. Yvonne Rivers, and Richard Seifman. Elected student representatives include Thomas Liu as the undergraduate representative and Maekara Keopanapay as the graduate representative. 

After thanking the outgoing board members and congratulating those newly elected, the program then transitioned to the first of two beautiful piano performances by Graduate Fellow Alumna Keren Yang, who performed live from Seoul, South Korea. Her first piece was her own arrangement of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. 

Next, the annual awards were presented. The Evelyn Falkowski Volunteer Service Award was given to Kristin Hecht, the Vice Chair of Membership and Volunteer Engagement, who also worked with the Membership Committee and Nominating Committee. The Richard and Anne Griffis Program Leadership Award was presented to the Graduate Fellows Program, and accepted by Co-Directors A. Edward Elmendorf and Nancy Donaldson. Finally, the Arthur W. Johnson Leadership award was granted to Stephen F. Moseley for all of his hard work as Board Chair over the past four years. 

The event concluded with closing remarks from the newly elected Board Chair Jill Christianson. She praised the success of the variety of programs run by UNA-NCA this year, including Coffee Chats, Global Classrooms, and the Model UN program. She referenced the current issues that we are facing, stating that “our collective strength within UNA-NCA can only be stronger and we can continue to be nimble and efficient by keeping our eyes on the equity factors that play out in our neighborhoods and around the globe.” Jill thanked all of the staff, volunteers, and members who have contributed to all of the successes of the organization this year. She ended the program by looking to the future, noting how “as we embrace our diversity and reckon with our identity as an intergenerational, multi-racial, gender inclusive organization, we are stronger.”  

The program closed with a second piano performance by Keren Yang of a special arrangement of Franz Liszt’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole” (Spanish Rhapsody).

16 June 2021

UNA-NCA Is Proud To Present The 2021 Annual Reports


UNA-NCA 2020-2021 Annual Report

Global Classrooms DC 2020-2021 Annual Report

09 June 2021

Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth with the Sustainable Development Goals Global to Local

By Jill Christianson, UNA-NCA Chair-Elect of the Board of Directors

Link to recording:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhNJDcZZ7EE&t=4s 

Taking on LGBTQ+ discrimination and bias faced by youth – at the global and local levels – can be done in context with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Coffee Chat on June 1 provided insights. 

As the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz noted that “every identity intersects with others.”  In other words, his work is centered in intersectionality.  To explain, he noted his recent statement written with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief that included 115 human rights officials, that urged religious leaders to respect the human rights of LGBT persons.  

Madrigal-Borloz addressed how the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in LGBT peoples’ lives, impacting well-being and, on a systemic level, the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.  This specifically includes  SDGs 1 - No Poverty, 3- Health and Well-Being, 4 - Education, 5 - Gender Equality, and 10 - Reduced Inequalities.  He stressed the importance of youth empowerment and engagement, including plans for a United Nations-sponsored international queer youth network that will take shape later this summer. 

Monet Umana, panelist from co-sponsor SMYAL, the local youth organization, put focus on helping LGBTQ teens thrive.  She addressed how SMYAL supports youths in “starting with ourselves” in coming to terms with internalized homophobia and racism.  SMYAL helps young people navigate the challenges of coming out, often in the context of homelessness and poverty.  Umana noted SDGs 1, 3, and 10 as having particular relevance to the youth that she empowers.  

Panelist Zach Koung, a high school senior, spoke about the impacts of bullying which began in elementary school as he encountered students who spat anti-Asian and the ‘f’ word slurs at him.  His activism is grounded in SDG 4 – Quality Education, both as the Student Member of the Howard County (MD) Board of Education and with the It Gets Better initiative supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Taskforce (co-sponsor for the Coffee Chat) emphasized that that we all have an “opportunity to show up, listen, uplift, and connect.”  The families, of birth and by choice, of LGBTQ people are all also impacted by homophobia/transphobia and other biases.  Johnson and the Task Force look to the Equality Act, now in the US Senate, as a critical piece of public policy to protect all people, especially LGBTQ people.  The proposed legislation addresses public accommodation, employment and housing (SDGs 1,3,5 and 10).

This Coffee Chat is a part of the developing UNA-NCA initiative that links the Sustainable Development Goals to our realities in the DMV – the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.  

02 June 2021

Careers in International Environment & Climate Change

By Calypso Moschochoritis, UNA-NCA Senior Program Assistant

On May 19, 2021, the UNA-NCA Young Professionals (YP) Program hosted a virtual panel discussion on Careers in the International Environment and Climate Change fields. Part of the Young Professionals Career Series, the panel featured professional speakers working in the international relations and global development fields. The evening’s panelists came together to offer students and young professionals career advice and guidance, sharing personal stories and experiences in their particular fields.

UNA-NCA Young Professionals Program Operations Officer, Cecilia Esterline, kicked off the event by expressing the goals of the Young Professionals Career Series “to service as an opportunity [for young professionals] to speak with mid to senior-level employees within a desired field to gain their valuable insight into their chosen career paths.” She then identified the focus of the panel on careers in international environment and climate change. Finally, she introduced and thanked the three speakers of the panel, Cornelia Hartman, Eliisa Carter, and Hilary French.

Cornelia Hartman was the first panelist to be introduced. She is an Environmental Consultant with SWECO. She described her responsibilities as a consultant and explained her role in guiding clients through permit requirements, municipal planning practices, writing reports, and carrying out environmental impact assessments.

Following Ms. Hartman, Eliisa Carter introduced herself. She is a consultant for the UN Climate Change Adaptation Division. In her position, she is responsible for overviewing the overall communication efforts and vision goals that all adaptation programs have within the Adaptation Division. She also identified her organization’s overall duty to helping support the constituted bodies under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Concluding the introductions was Hilary French, Program Officer with the UN Environment Program (UNEP) North America Office. She outlined her office’s role to represent UNEP in the North America region. In her position at UNEP, Ms. French is a regional coordinator for climate change, chemical wastes, air quality, and resource efficiency.

Ms. Esterline initiated the discussion asking the panelists what prompted them to pursue a career in the environment and climate change. Ms. Hartman expressed her love for science, nature, and animals as the triggering force behind her interest in environment-related professions. Ms. Carter echoed Ms. Esterline’s interest in various topics, and she also explained that a career in the environment field was able to connect her interest in urban design with the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Ms. French was the last to answer the question and stated her family’s focus on environmental issues and her early exposure to the outdoors. This passion for the environment was met, and later combined with, her fascination with the United Nations.

As the panel’s moderator, Ms. Esterline, then asked the panelists about the hiring process and how they got where they are today in terms of finding their current jobs. Ms. Hartman explained that the hiring process for her was really quick and continued to explain that once someone has obtained their first job, the hiring process becomes easier because of the knowledge and experience accumulated. Ms. Carter’s hiring process in the climate change field started during her master’s degree program, she emphasized the importance of harnessing networks to help young professionals and students find internships in order to gain more experience. The knowledge learned during the various internships can then be used to move on to consultancy positions and other employment opportunities. Ms. French concluded this segment explaining that there were three times when she “got into the UN.” Firstly, during her UN internship during her college years, then once she graduated and became a consultant for the UN, and finally when she managed to get a staff position with the UN. This continuum and a good track record were the two aspects of her career that helped her advance through the UN.

The panel then moved onto advice helpful for audience members interested in the field. Ms. Hartman explained that it is helpful to pursue a degree within a relevant field and recommended choosing a thesis subject relevant to the field of interest as it would give people great experience when applying for jobs. She also expressed the importance of working on developing a network of professionals that can help young professionals find future positions and opportunities. Ms. Carter added onto what Ms. Hartman said and described the importance of self-analysis and understanding personal interests and skillsets that can be harnessed in future career choices. Ms. French then went on to explain the importance of a graduate degree and taking seriously school opportunities in order to land staff positions at the UN. She also expressed the importance of following passions to motivate pursuing careers in the environment and climate change.

The panel then addressed the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. All panelists have been working at home since the beginning of the pandemic. Ms. Hartman shared that she misses the social aspects of working in an office environment. She also explained that workwise the pandemic has not changed her work experience too much and that, instead, she has been able to widen her network and clientele internationally. Ms. Carter shared that with the move online prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed that people are now able to notice “intangible risks” such as pandemics and the climate change crisis that they previously had a harder time observing. Ms. French expressed that working from home has had a positive impact for her, facilitating a balance between family life and working life. From a work point of view, she also noticed improvements as we are now able to more easily work with people all over the world. She then went on to describe the pandemic as a distraction from the climate change crisis because of international negotiations being pushed back until physical meetings can be resumed.

After addressing the favorite parts of their jobs, the panelists transitioned into the Q&A section of the event. The first question was about looking into careers in the environment and climate change without the formal education or with formal education in a different field. Ms. French took the lead answering the question and explained that although it is hard to transition between fields, getting formal education can facilitate the process to build the case that the professional in question has the necessary knowledge to succeed in the field. Ms. Carter brought forward edX and Coursera as good platforms to explore different aspects of interests and complement previous formal education. The following question asked about sustainable development and how it could become part of professions in the environment. Ms. French focused on green jobs and expressed the importance of sustainable development in her field.

The Chair of the Young Professionals Program, Lanice Williams, concluded the panel by thanking the three panelists. She then went on to explain that this panel was the first one of a series of events exploring different career topics within the international relations and international development fields.

26 May 2021

Decade of Action: Women in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

By Shabnam Kabir and Pauline Placide
UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee Members

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) along with its Peace and Security Committee hosted a panel discussion, entitled, “Decade of Action: Women in UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding” on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The event took place virtually and welcomed panelists and participants from across the United States and all around the world. The panel was moderated by Mr. Patrick Realiza, Co-Chair of the UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee. The panelists all shared their perspectives on pressing issues related to women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts and operations.

As the moderator, Mr. Realiza began the conversation with a startling statistic: In the year 2020, out of approximately 95,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeepers worldwide, women only represented about 5% of military contingents and 11% of police units. His opening question to the entire panel was: What would you say are the key structural barriers to women’s participation in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts today? 

Ms. Alison Giffen, Director of Peacekeeping at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, began with an initial response stating that there are a lot of structural problems that prevent increased numbers of uniformed women in both UN and civilian peacekeeping roles. Some of those examples range from women not given equal opportunity to deploy or advance in their careers as well as the different  living conditions in the field. Ms. Giffen further added that some member states agree and pledge to support the different women’s initiatives and peace and security policies, but at the same time will voice that several of the agendas and actions that need to be taken to advance women in peace and security are actually in contradiction to overall culture and thus consequently are not going to be able to support some of those initiatives. She also added that it is disheartening to her that UN member states that do say they will support the different policies in public, ultimately behind closed doors during negotiations end up not delivering on their word, thus not being supportive of the different initiatives like gender, or selecting female peace and security advisors to deploy to peacekeeping missions which would in the end help to prevent sexual violence. She added there is still work that needs to be completed. She further stated that these issues are some of the reasons why there are not many women who decide to enroll in UN peacekeeping efforts today. 

Ms. Llani Kennealy’s answer to the opening question was the lack of accountability in the system. Ms. Kennealy, who serves as the Military Liaison Officer with UN Women, supported her answer with some quick statistics from research conducted by the International Peace Institute (IPI), including that 96% of women experienced discriminatory or sexualized behavior in UN peace operations, 94% experienced or witnessed or heard about sexual harassment, and 86% experienced or witnessed racism in UN peace operations. 

Ms. Megan Corrado, who is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, answered and agreed with both Ms. Corrado and Ms. Kennealy in stating that one of the big components would be the sexual harassment, and that along with sexual harassment she felt it was also an issue of a patriachry. Examples cited include women not having access to proper uniforms or having proper barracks facilities for them. Different issues like this play a small part in the big picture as to why there is a reluctance by women  to enter in the variety of peacekeeping roles. She explained tokenism as being a common theme in deterring women as well. She further stated, “When you have women peacekeepers in the field, they are expected to be the one going to the communities and talking to women and young children who are being abused and sometimes those women are not equipped with the right training to do the different missions in the community.” She emphasized that making sure that the women in these roles are equipped with the right tools to process, cope and still be able to succeed is an important need.

Part I: Questions for Megan Corrado (Alliance for Peacebuilding)
Mr. Realiza then asked Ms. Corrado to explain to the audience what the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 is and how it has been implemented over the past two decades. Ms. Corrado replied that UNSCR 1325 was passed in the year 2000 after years of advocacy and was basically trying to get both the UN and member states to recognize that there cannot be work towards peaceful initiatives when women are excluded from the discussion. She explained the four pillars needed to make it work. One being bringing in women who are actually in the roles of soldiers, police, and civilian advisors to the peacekeeping table and making sure they are involved in all aspects including prevention and conflict resolution. The second pillar being protection: making sure that there are mechanisms in place to deal with emergency humanitarian situations. The third pillar being prevention: making sure there are intervention strategies on the prevention of violence and conflict, and accountability strategies placed for the protection of women. The fourth and final pillar being relief and recovery calling for the advancement of relief and recovery measures to incorporate women’s perspectives and their particular needs in different contexts. As of right now there are about 92 member states that have implemented national action plans which take these different pillars into their policy.

Mr. Realiza asked another question for Ms. Corrado, on Troop-and-Police implementing Countries (TPCs) being expected to implement the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and how it has facilitated the participation of women in UN peacekeeping missions. He asked, “In your opinion, out of all the TPCs, which countries have been particularly successful at promoting women’s participation and what factors do you believe have contributed to their successes?” Ms. Corrado's response was that it depends on what one would consider to be success if by numbers there are different countries in the global south like Bangladesh, Nepal, or Ethiopia who have large contingents of women serving in peacekeeping operations. While looking at percentages there are countries like Albania where they have 100 percent representation but there are only two members serving. On a financial outlook, more countries in the north are helping out in that demographic. Canada has been more of a leader in research and funding for women and peacekeeping initiatives. As a follow up, Mr. Realiza also asked what Ms. Corrado thought would be the greatest impact the WPS agenda has already had on women and men since the passage of 1325. Ms. Corrado felt that there is still a long way to go but there has been some change as well, including now seeing the role of gender advisors both in peacekeeping situations and domestically where there are more experts to do different tasks like gender analysis which can ultimately measure the successes and failures. As well as the slow cultural shift in changing how men and women are viewed in society with the importance of why it is good on all aspects that women are included in a multitude of roles in decision making.

Part II: Questions for Alison Giffen (Center for Civilians in Conflict) 
Mr. Realiza moved on to mention that in 2017, UN Secretary General António Guterres launched a system wide strategy on gender parity, which basically sets targets for equal representation of women and men. The strategy has yielded some positive results. He asked, “In your opinion and based on your expertise, what do you think has made the gender parity strategy so successful and what can be done moving forward?” 

Ms. Giffen started out by stating that from the perspective of someone not directly in the field but from reading the research there are different key things that stand out. One is the pipeline issue and making sure that women are aware of applying for or being nominated for positions and that they have the training and skills needed to succeed in those positions.  With the practice of rosters, it would help in having a list of women who might be a good fit or interested in filling the different roles. Another would be selection where the UN has control over selection if there is better access and control then they could get better statistics that way. With better access to selection it leads to more ability to address the issues when it comes to women in those leadership posts, as well as individual police and individual military officers if they’re getting the candidate nominated and applying for those posts. Ms. Giffen went on to say that one of the major barriers is making sure that there are women in frontline posts when they’re serving in the various peacekeeping missions. She noted, “We often see women in leadership support roles, like administrative work or cleaning roles. But the aim is to get them engaged in key roles as well, such as community engagement.”

One point that she further wanted to point out and agreed with Ms. Kennealy and Ms. Corado is that by enabling the physical environment in which the women are faced with in the peacekeeping missions for example the living conditions where there are no separate bathrooms or the sleeping conditions where it can be scary at times for women because there are no civilian offices for the UN and in some cases no accommodations that are available for women to go to for certain missions. This goes along with the sexual harrasment and discrimination problems that are prevalent as well. Lastly, she emphasized, “If there is no mentorship, networking, and training, [then] women are not given the opportunity to redeploy for the different missions.”

Mr. Realiza further added that some of the issues that Ms.Giffen brought up were some that did not previously cross his mind until this conversation. He then asked Ms. Giffen to elaborate as to what the strengths and limitations would be to having gender quotas and what are some alternative strategies in lieu of them. Ms Giffen added that she doesn't feel there will be change without some sort of quotas in place. With the many issues already in place there is also a need for everyone to be held accountable. If the quotas are not being met, how will there be a way to measure if the system is moving in the right direction. She concluded by stating that “Having quotas in place will not [necessarily] work alone [and] that is why it is important to have the other properties in place like the pipeline and an enabling environment.”

Part III: Questions of Llani Kennealy (UN Women)
Ms. Kennealy agreed with Ms. Giffen that quotas are a powerful tool but they cannot work in isolation. She also highlighted that when using quotas, “We need to make sure that we are not just adding women and that we are actually allowing them to do the role that they have been trained to do.”

Mr. Realiza moved on to mention the dichotomy between the military structure and having workforce diversity and then asked Ms. Kennealy to share some real-life experiences to better illustrate the tension between those two. Ms. Kennealy began by stating that the military structure is inherently in opposition to a diverse workforce. The analogy she used to describe the situation, “[That] the military structure is like baking cookies; it is like bringing in all these incredible ingredients to make cookies, but then mashing them altogether to create the same cookie – that is how the military is, it is team before individual.” A real-life example she gave of this was female pilots in the Royal Australian Defense Force. The Royal Australian Defense Force has an ongoing relationship with the Australian Human Rights Commission. A couple of years ago, the chief at the time asked the Human Rights Commission to conduct a review into why they had not managed to graduate any female pilots. When they were sitting down with a young female pilot who was going through her initial pilot training, she discussed at a debrief that she had with her instructor about her failed experience in the cockpit. And the final feedback that she received from her instructor at that time was that she did not have enough “tiger.” And when she explored the option of what that meant, it came out that he assessed her as not being aggressive enough when she flicked the switches in the cockpit, which further demonstrated a subjective assessment. 

Closing Remarks 
Mr. Realiza concluded the questionnaire with two questions for the entire panel. What are the key systematic reforms that need to be implemented by the UN to truly give women in peace operations the opportunity to thrive in a long-term career? Because we are in the age of COVID-19, does the current pandemic provide an opportunity for peacekeeping and peacebuilding? And if so, what opportunities would that be? 
With regards to the first question, Ms. Kennealy stated that the concept of a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse needs to be more than just a hashtag. Sometimes when we have such hashtags, they lack the strength behind it. She indicated that “We need to see visible policy and visible actions; standards of behavior and training need to be consistent; we need to have good training around gender, racial bias, and so on.” She further continued, “That from a military perspective, the concept of a gender perspective should be mainstreamed in mandates within operational plans. There should be a global effort to improve the data collection on women, peace, and security. We need to move beyond just looking at men, women, and age, but also all sorts of cultural pieces and everything that makes us individuals.” Lastly, she emphasized that having that data and using it correctly in itself should be driving how we create the teams for deployment. 

Ms. Giffen chimed in and said that in peacekeeping operations, “We often focus on the uniformed components but really, it’s the civilian components and the integrated mechanisms, which are civilian, military, [and the] police, that are actually really trying to carry out and able to carry out the main mandated objectives of a peacekeeping operation.” She further added, “While we are still in a pandemic this is a good time to take a look at how gender is right now and see what needs to still be done in terms of conflict analysis and how to better respond.”

Ms. Corrado replied that with the world becoming more fragile every day, “Yes there is going to be a need for peacekeeping and peacebuilding as soon as possible. Even if the pandemic disappears, there are going to be a multitude of effects from it for years to come. So now is a good time to think strategically as to where and what will be the problems at the peacekeeping and peacebuilding levels.”

Mr. Realiza then moved on to the final part of the event and allowed audience members to submit questions they had for any of the speakers. Questions ranged from topics such as how women peacekeepers and how they were received when coming home from completing their missions in conflict zones and to whether there were any tools available to the UN Security Council to punish or discourage habitual criminals in the field given the number of rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual harassment allegations. The speakers were able to successfully give the audience members more insight in answering these questions that were asked in an informative and comprehensive way by helping the audience build a bit more of an understanding as to what the main issues are today for women actively serving in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.

In conclusion, the virtual panel discussion was attended by about 60 attendees and allowed the panelists from different areas in the peacekeeping field to share their unique perspectives. The event also allowed panelists to give the audience greater insight as to what the current issues are and what they ultimately believe will help in making the environment for women in peacekeeping a much more appealing and enjoyable field to pursue career endeavors in, with the end goal of significantly increasing the number of women in the field. As noted and agreed upon by all the panelists, in order to truly achieve women's advancement in UN peacekeeping there must be work done in ensuring that women are intricately involved in all aspects from the very beginning such as working on the frontlines to being in senior-level leadership posts. The panelists all re-emphasized to the audience members that there are indeed many initiatives in place which are aimed at improving the current issues faced by women in peacekeeping, but there is still much work that needs to be done.

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01 May 2021

Gender Equity Advocacy Opportunities: CEDAW, Congress, and More

UNA-NCA is committed to championing gender equity globally and locally. Take action today through any of the opportunities listed below. 

Safe from the Start Act 

Encourage your Member of Congress to support the Safe from the Start Act, introduced in both the House and the Senate. For more information about each bill, review this one-pager. 
Armed conflict, natural disasters and climate change often have the greatestimpact on the poorest countries, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, including women and girls. Global estimates indicate that nearly 70 million people are currently displaced around the world, and we areexperiencing the largest refugee crisis in recorded history. On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted women and girls worldwide, putting those who are displaced at unique risk of harm. Conditions in refugee camps and other displacement settings often exposewomen and girls to greater security risks due to issues such as inadequate lighting, lack of gender-appropriate sanitation facilities, and needing to travel long distances to access firewood, water or other basic commodities. Sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian personnel has also become a well-recognized concern, prompting action by the international community. COVID-19 has exacerbated these GBV protection risks, particularly as already stretched humanitarian resources are spent on stemming the health crisis. An estimated 31 million additional cases of GBV could occur in six months ofthe COVID-19 lockdown and another 15 million more for each additional threemonths. Despite the acute impacts that emergencies have on women and girls, they are often excluded from leadership and decision-making roles when it comes to humanitarian response. Without their voices included in the design and implementation of humanitarian programs, the United States and others that generously provide humanitarian relief risk ignoring or exacerbating theneeds of women and girls in our response efforts. 

Safe from the Start is an existing program implemented by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) toprevent gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian emergencies and protectsurvivors or those at risk. This program supports necessary training, toolkits, personnel, and accountability measures to improve the ability of those whowork in emergencies to adequately prevent and respond to GBV from the onset of the crisis. These types of programs are critically needed: nearly 1 in 5 womenreport experiencing sexual violence during a humanitarian emergency and therisks of domestic/intimate partner violence, child marriage, and human trafficking all increase during crises.Despite this, only .12% of allhumanitarian funding goes to address GBV.

This bill will ensure: 
  • Humanitarian response organizations are better equipped to prevent GBV and supportsurvivors through training, guidelines, and the deployment of specialized experts to close gaps that make women and girls vulnerable to violence and abuse; 
  • Efforts are coordinated for greater efficiency and accountability of response andrecovery efforts, and that humanitarian relief activities mitigate GBV risks from the very beginning;
  • Girls and women who experience GBV during crises receive appropriate care and that survivors  and those vulnerable to GBV have access to empowerment opportunities that will help them recover from or prevent GBV; and
  • Local actors, including women's groups and others from the impacted communities, have funding, support, and skills to help provide necessary care and lead efforts within their communities to prevent and respond to GBV. 
Encourage your Member of Congress to support the Safe from the Start Act, introduced in both the House and the Senate, or thank them for their support. You can find their sponsorship status and social media handles below. 


Take advantage of this digital advocacy toolkit from our partners at CARE to craft effective messages on social media to thank your Member of Congress or encourage them to support the Safe from the Start Act. 

DC for CEDAW: Gender Equity Coalition  

Tell the DC Council that it's time to champion gender equity at home. Join our mailing list to recieve updates about forthcoming sign-on letters and legislative meetings here

At a time when achieving gender equality will take an estimated 100 years at our pre-COVID rate of progress, we need local solutions that advance women’s equal rights and opportunities now more than ever. COVID-19 has further threatened the physical safety and stability of women and girls; in DC, increasing rates of domestic violence and high unemployment have forced an unprecedented number of women and children into homelessness.

DC for CEDAW is a campaign to adopt the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into city legislation. Through legislation that requires DC government agencies to report gender analysis data and develop a citywide plan to ensure parity for women and girls in all arenas, we move one step closer to enshrining true equality. 
Mayors from San Francisco and Los Angeles reported that these measures “materially improved the lives of women” in their municipalities and “fostered more transparent and accountable governance.” 

For more information, view our DC for CEDAW one-pager here. To learn more about the Cities for CEDAW national campaign, click here
Tell the DC Council that it's time to champion gender equity at home. Join our mailing list to recieve updates about forthcoming sign-on letters and legislative meetings here


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