Speaking at the United Nations and presenting a paper is a great, grand, unforgettable experience. Especially since it was my maiden entry to the UN as a delegate. Six months ago when my name as a delegate to the CSW62 (Commission on Status of Women) was accepted I was delighted. More than five thousand women from over 150 countries of the world, belonging to a thousand NGOs participating in a fifteen day seminar is an event to reckon with. And I was a chosen one, thanks to Madam Dame Meher Master-Moos, President of the Zoroastrian College and All India Behram Baug Society who had proposed my name and done all the ground work. The priority theme of the seminar was "Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls" and since I am associated actively with Ram Krishnaa Academy, an English medium school in rural Panvel having 440 students from seven villages, I was awarded the chance to speak. My joy knew no bounds when I received this information on January 21 this year and I began my preparations in earnest. I spoke to the girl students of RKA, their mothers, teachers, took pics and googled all India status on the rural girl child. Armed with my papers I arrived at the United Nations, butterflies in my stomach as mine was the very first presentation on March 12. I had wanted to observe the proceedings and then present mine but the UN had decided on beginning with mine. My daughter, son in law, children, and her friend all got special invitations to see and listen to me speaking. The Temple of Understanding which organized the event consisted of Alison Van Dyke, and Grove Harris, two charming ladies and the speakers with me were Donna Bollinger, Executive Director, RPA, USA and Dr Angela Reed of the UN. I spoke extempore for fifteen minutes though I had my papers with me (and this, they said, came from my heart), pics and recordings made and I was happy and satisfied at the accolades heaped upon me.
At the UN main building there were women, women everywhere, all cheerful, smiling and talking to each other. The Opening ceremony was a grand affair. About 1800 women were seated in the semicircular UN Assembly hall. I had also got a pass for the Round Table Conference. The topic was ‘Good practices in the empowerment of rural women and girls, including through prevention of gender-based violence and through access to justice, social services and health care’. There were so many important ministers and I heard the Ministers from Costa Rica, Australia, Egypt, Paraguay, Norway, Saudi Arabia and other places speaking. I was busy craning my neck to see them. Their discussions were not very clear to me, but the very fact that I was in such high society, seeped into me and I again pinched myself to see whether it was real or a dream.
I noticed that the women who came to the United Nations are all great in their own fields and have no complexes. They are dedicated to whatever they do and speak freely about their work. We saw the First Lady of Nigeria, Queen Mother of Africa and other countries, ministers from all over the world, social workers, women of faith and others and they were all so polite and nice. During the seminars, presentations and discussions, there was pin drop silence. No mobile rings, no coughs or sneezes either. And all listened attentively. I met a couple of Brazilian girls in the cafe and they invited me and my friends to their event. We went and the girls were so thrilled! Though their talks were in Spanish and Portuguese, there were translators and we had no problem. Ninety five per cent speeches and discussions I attended were in English. Being at the United Nations is a great experience. The women from all over the world came together to discuss about the rural women, their problems, their challenges. There were more than a four hundred seminars, about two hundred side events in places just outside the UN headquarters and it was a beehive of activity. Women dressed in colourful attire rubbed shoulders with the black and white dresses of the local people, the bonhomie exhibited by all was something one has to see and experience. There was no discrimination, instant friendships were made and there was laughter in the cafes. The problems women face are the same worldwide, in different formats. Child marriages, trafficking, domestic violence, gender discrimination, patriarchal society are all similar the world over, I felt as I listened to a few discussions. These women who have come are representatives of their countries, the educated cream of society. Each one is an important person with an interesting story of her own. I met women from New Zealand, Kenya, Japan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru, Ecuador, Canada, Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, UK, and many others. All were eager to talk and exchange notes. My colourful silk saris (Madam Moos had insisted that I wear saris as a proud Indian) were instant hits and people took pics of me while others eyed me with interest. During the seminar I noticed that India held an important place. There were references to India and Indians, and there were a few Indian speakers like Dr Pam Rajput of Delhi. Each session focussed on a different aspect of rural girls and women(one and a half hours each beginning from 8.30 a.m to 6 p.m) simultaneously and we would go to the ones which caught our interest. We made notes, listened, asked questions. And we met interesting people like the Queen Mother Dr. Delois N. Blakely, who had come to the United Nations seminars for the forty ninth time!! Dr. Blakely, who is 61 years old, dresses in a colorful African style, and has been a mayor for the last eight years. During the fifteen days I met several others also and had interesting talks with them. There was a Professor from Canada who hailed from New Zealand and we had many things to discus. I met another New Zealander whose father is from Kerala and she was thrilled to talk about her country and mine. The ladies from Bangla Desh, Pakistan and Nepal recognized each other and we made an interesting group.
It was an unforgettable experience.
-Dr Veena Adige,