If you have never been to the United Nations building, let me paint you a picture. It sits on the East River at the edge of Manhattan. From the upper floors of the UN you can see the good ol’ American Pepsi plant in Queens, but the real action at the UN doesn’t happen on the top floors.
The real decisions are made in the basement, where you can’t see the light of day. The conference rooms buzz with languages from all over the globe, and because it is an international space, smoking is permitted. Official government delegates wrestle over which words should flesh out the international documents that govern nations in a tobacco haze that is as old as the building itself.
It’s a world unto itself, the conversations are cryptic; the decisions are esoteric. Long debates are conducted over the addition or deletion of a single word in one sentence in a 20-page document. Yet, even at this level of international diplomacy, nothing is more contentious than discussions about sex and women’s bodies except perhaps discussions about human rights and young people.
It’s a challenge to understand the internal workings of the United Nations, but if you can hang out there long enough, you’ll see some exciting things happen. You might also meet some people like the group of feminist advocates I met yesterday who represent at least 22 organizations from all over Latin America. I’m not a fan of reality television, but I can assure you these are the kind of people you wouldn’t want to be up against on Survivor, because if one person was going to come off the island, it wouldn’t be any of them. They are steely and determined, and they are united in their belief that everybody has a right to live free of violence and discrimination, to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and to the information and services they need to be healthy.
These women and men are a force to be reckoned with it. Yesterday, they stood on an international stage and spoke with one voice on behalf of women and young people everywhere who are not safe in their own homes, who cannot decide when and with whom to have sex, who cannot exercise control over whether and when to marry or have a baby.
These brave women and men reminded governments that 15 years ago 179 nations committed to making the health and rights of women and young people central to global family planning policies. They pointed out that we have yet to keep these promises. With urgency and a recognition that people’s lives hang in the balance, they demanded that governments do more to make a just and healthy life a reality for people everywhere.
You can read the full statement here.