I wanted to recount what was for me the highlight of the GA Hearings with Civil Society that captured the value of having these kinds of gatherings. It was on the second day of the hearings, June 23, at the session on peace and security issues, when an activist from the Philippines began speaking on the issues of prostitution and violence against women. It was both her statement and the response from Chile that demonstrated eloquently the value of sustained and frank interaction between civil society at all levels and governments.
You can witness the instance yourself if you go to the archived webcast, and then fast forward to the 2:20:00 minute mark.
At about 2 hours and 20 minutes into the hearing, after a dozen or so NGOs had already spoken, Ms. Alma Bulawan of UNANIMA International and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Philippines, spoke from her heart on the issues of prostitution and trafficking in women. After speaking for about a minute, her voice began to crack, and soon she was not able to finish her statement. She began to sob uncontrollably.
The room erupted into applause for her obvious personal connection to the issues she was working on.
The Representative of Chile spoke soon after her (2:29:00) offering what I think is important advise for civil society activists:
It is important to bring the dimension of emotion into this building… Bringing emotion into multilateral work is a good antidote to the cynical attitude that stands just outside the door of every diplomats office.
If we were cynical we would look coldly at some of the topics that we see on our aganda. We would look at people, families as just statistics. Those children and mothers have faces, they have names, feelings, they have families, they have lives…
..The United Nations remains a political forum. While it is true that in moments like this, we have to experience emotion and the raw reality as it is. The perception of the reality is not enough. An inter-governmental political forum can only handle what can be handled. Politics is the art of the possible. We organize our work, we focus it within rules of procedure, within systems of conviviality…
…An intense therapy session is not enough to solve problems. Each of us has to shoulder his or her share of responsibility. Non-governmental organizations have their share of responsibility, which is to help us…
…We need concrete proposals, we need possible proposals, we need ideas that can be addressed. This is my invitation to you. We are all together here…
…Never lose touch with your emotions, never lose touch with your dedication. But makes sure that all the realism and pragmatism that you have is also there too so that we also get results.
I take his words to heart.
As civil society activists it is both our passion and our practical proposals that are needed. The passion is required to show governments the seriousness and importance of our claims. But passion without substance is of no use in multi-lateral negotiations.
We also have to have the text. We need to bring the actual wording we wish inserted (changing “recalling” to “affirming”, etc.) that our allies in government can use to bring the changes we are calling for.
Too many groups think that just expounding on your grand vision in empassioned speeches is enough to get governments to side with you. But the reality is that diplomats are very busy individuals, and they can’t use your speech when negotiating with their colleagues behind closed doors, even if they support your cause. What they need is the concrete proposals, presented in a way that is readily introduced in inter-governmental meetings.
This is the real grunt work that gets things done at the UN.