It’s not often that you go to an event at the UN and end up staying much longer than intended.
Usually it’s the other way round. But this week’s high level panel on the ‘power of empowered women’ was one of the best UN discussions I’ve seen and a fitting prelude to international women’s day this week.
It was a packed house in the UN ‘s main assembly hall and despite my solid feminist credentials, I couldn’t help feeling a little nervous when I realised that I was one of the few men in the room. Judging by the expression of the lone man on the panel, UN Director General Tokayev, I wasn’t the only nervous one, but he soon won the room over by proclaiming that women were better workers than men.
At the risk of betraying the brotherhood I have to say I’m inclined to agree with him, at least as far as the UN goes.
The panellists gave inspiring accounts of how they had blazed a trail for other women by fighting prejudice and challenging long-standing male hierarchies whether in the US, Afghanistan or Switzerland. High Commissioner Navi Pillay summed things up best when she said it was the was the responsibility of all women when they reach the top to check that the ladder is there for the next generation.
In the Council, UK Minister Baroness Warsi gave an impressive address calling for greater global understanding to combat religious intolerance and protect freedom of religion.
Speaking as a British Muslim gave added strength to her message that this was not a debate between the west and the rest. Her visit went well but delays in the Council agenda meant her finely prepared programme quickly went out of the window.
I ended up involved with everything from fixing last minute get togethers, scrabbling around for chairs for impromptu corridor meetings to commandeering a banana to keep the ministerial show rolling.
The Sri Lankan delegation seems to be going to great lengths to keep itself at the front of people’s minds. The unpleasant verbal attack on the High Commissioner by the Sri Lankan Minister was ill-judged and had no place in the Human Rights Council. The attempt to block the premiere of ‘No Fire Zone’ , the latest film on the final stages of the 2009 war, got short shrift from the Council President and only served to ensure a full house for the film.
It was grim viewing but important for council delegates to see as the further in time we move from the conflict, the harder it will be for Sri Lankans to achieve justice for the violations which occurred. After the film a Sri Lankan Member of Parliament from the Tamil National Alliance made a poignant statement quoting Arthhur Schopenhauer: every truth passes through three stages before it is recognised.
In the first it is ridiculed; in the second it is opposed and in the third it is regarded as self-evident. Let’s hope that the Council ‘s attention can help the process of truth telling about the conflict in Sri Lanka as a much needed first step towards reconciliation.
The week ended on a lighter note as delegates put on their national garb for the Council’s annual national dress day.
While people go to great lengths for the occasion my colleagues and I have usually not managed much more than resorting to our contemporary national dress – football shirts. We upped our game this year and the UK delegation collectively donned 16th century felt hats for the occasion, much to the delight of other delegations.
I’m not too sure why my boss Ian opted for this particular period for our outfits, though I suspect there may have been a closing down sale in his local outlet of Elizabethan Fashion.
On the home front I was happy to welcome back my own powerful woman when my wife got back from a week away. My son Ben and I just about survived without her but poor Pixie the cat came through the week a bit worse for wear.
Ben woke me up one sleep-deprived morning by putting handfuls of hair wax into my hair while proudly proclaiming lid off, lid off ! to announce his achievement.
As I slowly got my act together I realised I had been the morning’s second hair wax victim as I found our normally fluffy cat sulking in a corner trying to undo her new punk look and regain her dignity. But in our house the women always come out on top, even the cats, and no doubt she’s plotting some wicked feline revenge.
I’ll keep you posted on Council matters and domestic score-settling next week.