On Achieving Social Justice

Head of UN Women Michelle Bachelet discusses social justice.

At the conclusion of a listening exercise that lasted months, the newly created UN Women released their strategic plan in June. Last week came the release of their flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, which lends even more validity as to why the formation of UN Women is a vital step forward, even if the organization remains underfunded.

Creating Macro Level Change
Months ago, on Columbia University’s campus where, former Chilean President Michele Bachelet was first being introduced to the world as the head of UN Women during the UN’s high plenary sessions, I marveled at how small the audience was compared to an event that previous Sunday where Bachelet spoke at a conference focused on women’s rights at the New School. The students of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) were brimming over with desire to hear Bachelet speak, but they had to prove their credentials before being allowed entry (as if every up-and-coming humanitarian already knew her or his role in women’s rights).

Bachelet’s point that evening was the best way to manage expectation is to share the truth. Recently, the Guardian reported that Bachelet said the UN Women flagship report, “reminds us of the remarkable advances that have been made over the past century in the quest for gender equality and women's empowerment. However it also underscores the fact that despite widespread guarantees of equality, the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach…. For millions of women in both rich and poor countries, the search for justice is fraught with difficulty and is often expensive; laws and legal systems frequently discriminate against them."

The report confirms the high-level agency is on task and confronting statistics through a worldwide lens on how to forge the most effective legal outcomes and make them inherent for all women. However, Women’s eNews reported when queried how UN Women is pushing for country accountability, Bachelet did not offer any specifics. "It's not only about meeting with countries," she responded. It's about "encouraging decision-making authority for women. . . We have to work with the judicial system."

This does not create a second of rest for any of us, no matter our place in the world. Not only does the report break down the number of poverty stricken, health challenged, or abused female populations by country, it also reminds how important it is to highlight massive achievements within our most prestigious human rights-focused organizations, but also the every day actions that pave the way for women to forge better, more equitable lives.

Women Who Sport Empowerment
Until July 17, women soccer players are facing off in Germany at the Women’s FIFA World Cup. As always, I find parallels between sport and empowerment.

My running coach for Comrades 2011 does as well. Jennifer Hart of Hart Total Fitness, based in Paris and pictured here sporting the shirt sent I her after completing Comrades this year, holds a Master’s in Personal Training and an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies.

Jennifer Hart
The same day I ran 56 miles uphill in ode to Congo women, Jennifer Hart completed the Ottawa marathon in her home country one year after the birth of her daughter. When I asked her why she felt compelled to race she spoke of family.

"The marathon for me was a symbol of being a mother of two kids yet still making time for me. I didn't want to become a 'martyr mother' so I decided while still pregnant that I was going to set a goal. My brother has always been a casual runner but nothing serious. I found out the Ottawa Marathon took place in the city he lives in just days after my what would be my daughter's first birthday. I felt like that marathon chose me instead of me choosing it."

However, she also discussed why sport is so important for females globally.
There are so many (too many) expectations on what it means to be a kind, polite, gentle, loving girl/woman across the globe and for some reason, being athletic does not fit into that. In most cultures, we are expected to stay slim/slender, but never muscular, never too ambitious and never too sporty. I think that does a great disservice to all of humanity. Women are fierce creatures and our bodies and mentality were built to endure. We may not be built for the speed men are but speed is only one part of being active. Mental toughness is an inherent female characteristic and every time a woman balks at "conventions" that say we shouldn't be too sporty by lacing up to run or do some other sport, they are already taking on the pressure and pride that comes with putting what they want before what they are expected to do.
Run for Congo Women (RFCW) was born out of the idea that women runners could create social change for some of the most vulnerable women in our world. I have written extensively about the organization, a part of Women for Women International, because of its sustainability. After launching in the UK exactly one year ago, last weekend the fourth UK race was held in London’s Regent Park. It had over fifty runners and raised over £10,000. Thus far, the UK arm of the organization has raised £100,000. Globally, Run for Congo Women hit the million dollar fundraising mark earlier this year.

Sarah Haynes, Grassroots Campaign Officer at Women for Women International, shared, "RFCW will continue to promote and raise awareness of the pandemic sexual violence in Congo -- leading to greater advocacy and campaigning to tackle the root of the problem; whilst raising funds to support women in our programs, and work towards Women for Women International's vision of a world where men and women work together to promote viable civil societies."

One Woman’s Hunger Strike
Elizabeth Blackney is a mother who has recently become a prominent member of A Thousand Sisters, by enduring a 40 day hunger strike in support of Congo women.

Her message the day she ended it is the following.
40 Days of my hunger strike have come and gone. My commitment is strengthened. Our Sisters in Congo, who live without physical safety or proper medical care, and without their unalienable rights, deserve so much more than just one small gesture of solidarity. They deserve justice. However slow the wheels may grind towards that goal, each of us can hasten the day it becomes reality. I will call the White House. Every. Single. Day. A Special Envoy must be appointed and empowered.
In order for equality and social justice to be achieved, human rights efforts must continue at all levels. What are you doing to better our world?