Editorial Note: This article was originally published in the League of Women Voters of Virginia's newsletter the Virginia Voter. It was written by the collective 2017 LWVUS UN Observers.
L to R: UN Observers Jill Follows, Rosalee Keech, Suzanne Stassevitch
Over seventy years ago, the United Nations was established and the United States assumed a pivotal role in its many distinguished achievements. However, the mere creation and anticipated effectiveness of the United Nations depended on the ardent participation of the world’s member states. In the early 1940’s the United States government needed to be convinced of the merits of a United Nations.
Proud and progressive members of the League of Women Voters spearheaded a grassroots movement to establish the United Nations. League members flooded the US State Department with 1000 letters each day. In the autumn of 1944 the League launched the “Take it to the People” campaign that distributed millions of pieces of literature, held educational forums, and urged its members to write their Senators to approve the United Nations Charter. The US Senate ratified the UN Charter on July 28, 1945 by an overwhelming vote of 89-2. The League sent Anne Hartwell Johnstone to the Charter Conference in San Francisco where she was asked to assume leadership of the committee charged with creating the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW has been held almost yearly since then and currently attracts the most attendees for any UN annual event. The LWVUS proudly sends a delegation to the CSW each year. Shortly after the United Nations was created, President Truman appointed Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the Human Rights Commission at the UN. Mrs. Roosevelt was instrumental in the creation of the Human Rights Declaration.
Since the beginning of the United Nations in 1946 the League of Women Voters’ UN Observers Corps has been involved in the workings of the United Nations. Our role further developed when the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted special consultative status to the League. As a direct result, our UN Observers gained the privilege to intervene (advocate) with UN Agencies and member states. Today, the League’s UN Observers strive to create partnerships between the League and the United Nations that revolve around our shared goals as contained in Impact on Issues and the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Observers carry on the League’s finest traditions and pursue an ever widening agenda that solves problems by partnering with others to engage in civil discourse to clarify the issues, identify best practices, implement strategies and measure the results of the League’s initiatives. The UN Observers foster cooperation with UN Member States, UN Agencies and other UN accredited Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), academia and the private sector.
Historically and currently, the LWVUS policy positions on international affairs guide the UN Observers to perform substantial research, conduct international interventions and sponsor leadership initiatives. In 1995, the League’s UN Observer Margery Cohen attended the Beijing Conference and returned home to work in conjunction with the LWVUS UN Observer Corps and other interested NGOs to form a new organization within UNICEF called the Working Group on Girls (WGG). UN Observer Doris Schapira played a pivotal role in the development and progress of the WGG. Concerted efforts were taken to highlight the need to mention both women and girls in all legislative actions. Using the same advocacy and education tactics that the League used in 1944 to drum up support for adoption of the UN Charter, the UN Observers worked with the WGG and the larger UN community to ensure that girls have a right to an environment that is free from violence, an education that promotes their economic independence and a right to decide their own course in life. The WGG efforts culminated in the United Nations adoption of Resolution 66/170 (adopted 12/19/11) declaring October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child.
Our current initiatives focus on national and international efforts to increase women’s leadership and participation in democratic political processes, support the extension of voting rights to women, promote gender equality/human rights, prevent violence against women and girls and promote climate sustainability.
The UN Observers have taken many opportunities at the UN to promote the achievements of the League of Women Voters and encourage international cooperation in reaching even more goals.
Recently, UN Observers addressed UN briefing sessions on different forms of violence including child marriage, advocated for action on attacking the demand for forced labor and human trafficking and shared the contributions of the LWVUS on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.
The UN Observers sponsored a side event at the March 2017 Commission on the Status of Women: The Business of Parliaments: Achieving Women’s Economic Empowerment. The UN Observers also sponsored a parallel event: What Policies Can Support Women’s Economic Empowerment? Setting Up Forums and Debates in Your Community.
UN Observers also organized side events at recent UN events such as the International Day of Older Persons, Commission on the Status of Women, International Day of the Child and International Day of the Girl. The latter event focused on actions that can be taken by member States and UN Agencies to Prevent Child Trafficking. The LWV’s UN Observers partnered with UN member states including Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Sweden, Canada, Philippines, Tanzania, New Zealand, El Salvador, Poland and the United States in organizing various events.
The League’s UN Observers drafted White Papers (research/policy positions) on women’s voting rights in Saudi Arabia, gender violence as a precursor to terrorism/war and prevention of child exploitation major sporting events such as the World Cup in soccer or Super Bowl in football.
L to R: UN Observers Jill Follows, Suzanne Stassevitch, Chris Sagona, plus two delegates to CSW 61 (Liz Milner and Patty Infantino)
At present, the League’s UN Observers are led by the Chief UN Observer Rosalee Keech. (2010- present) Rosalee is an acknowledged expert on human trafficking issues and initiatives. She is taking the lead on researching the issue of the UN’s policies and impact on refugees. Judy Schachter continually spearheads work supporting the advancement of girls worldwide. (2011-present) Suzanne Stassevitch champions the League’s grassroots methodology and practices and actively supports League delegates’ attendance at CSW (2013- present) Chris Sagona manages the communications and outreach programs. Her live tweets are particularly insightful on anti-trafficking efforts and online harassment targeting women and girls (2013-present). Robin Tokmakian focuses on climate change and sustainability. Watch for her insights from the November 2017 Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. (2016-present) Jill Follows addresses international initiatives on women’s leadership and participation in democratic political processes (2017-present).
The LWV-UN Observers are motivated to expand our reach to League members able to participate remotely. Over the course of the past two years, the UN has expanded its use of technology in enabling participation remotely. The increased transparency of the United Nations affords an opportunity to learn much more about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and strategies to achieve peace and justice for all.