Soka Gakkai International
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The United Nations covers a broad agenda that touches the lives of everyone. As a UN-accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO), the SGI works on various issues within this agenda that resonate with its Buddhist view of life. Gender equality is integral to the philosophy of the SGI, which upholds the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings.
As such, I find it interesting to note that the SGI was founded during a year that has special significance for all women. The year 1975 was International Women’s Year and saw the first UN World Conference on Women take place in Mexico City with 133 governments in attendance. These events brought to attention the discrimination women continued to face around the globe.
related article Gender Equality in Buddhism The Lotus Sutra teaches that men and women are equal both in enlightenment and in practice. This amounts to a declaration that men and women are equally qualified to expound the Law in the Buddha’s stead. The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is an intergovernmental body created in 1946 for the purpose of ensuring gender equality and promoting women’s rights. Among all the intergovernmental sessions held at the UN Headquarters, the CSW draws by far the highest number of NGO participants. During the two weeks of the CSW, the halls of the UN that are normally filled with delegates in gray- and black-colored suits are instead filled with the lively voices of colorfully dressed grassroots women from every corner of the world.
While the intergovernmental sessions are being held, the NGO CSW Forum also takes place at a venue outside of the UN buildings. This forum is organized by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGO CSW) in New York. It provides a space for thousands of NGOs to hold parallel events to share experiences and best practices from the ground and gives participants invaluable opportunities to network and connect with each other. The NGO CSW/NY’s mission is to support the work of the CSW and UN Women and advocate women’s rights and the advancement of women and girls worldwide; its membership consists of about 100 organizations.
The SGI’s commitment to the committee’s mission has been reflected in its consistent attendance and active participation in the planning committee, which meets regularly over a six-month period prior to the holding of the forum. The SGI has held parallel events during the CSW for the past five years. Our hope is to contribute to the discussions of the commission through these events, which have focused on education, empowerment, dialogue and women’s leadership. Other activities that we have helped organize to support the CSW in bringing people together have included networking sessions, conversation circles and the NGO CSW Consultation Day.
Since the late 1990s, the SGI has been a member of the NGO CSW/NY, and I am currently serving on the executive committee. Through my committee experiences, I have seen the powerful impact that solidarity among women can have on the world. I am often moved by the passion, genuine care and support among women and their capacity to empathize with human suffering. In the nurturing embrace of these women, I am learning to persevere, find my own voice and truly collaborate.
I grew up with female role models in the SGI—women creating positive change in the place they are, in whatever capacity that may be, in their homes, in their communities and in society. This is the spirit we are striving to bring to the UN. It is the spirit of courage, compassion and wisdom. In reality, the UN struggles to uphold its lofty mission, and it needs the support of the people—that is, civil society or all of us—to ensure its success.
The SGI’s engagement in committees such as the NGO CSW is about collaborating with other like-minded NGOs to be the people’s voice at the UN. The particular strength of the SGI lies in its capacity to bring a holistic perspective and approach. We strive to be a bridge which connects people from different sectors and issue areas.
Among my NGO CSW/NY responsibilities, I serve as chair of the Young Professionals Subcommittee. The group recently launched its first series of conversations between young professionals working in government, the UN, NGOs, civil society, academia and the private sector. In an open, inviting atmosphere among peers, the objective is to create a space to help empower and foster leadership skills in younger women, in particular. The topic of discussion was women, peace and security and included representatives from the Office of the President of the General Assembly and UN Women.
related article Discussion Meetings Small group discussion meetings have been the foundation of the Soka Gakkai since the 1930s. Today, SGI discussion meetings are held in all corners of the globe, usually on a monthly basis. October 2015 marked the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark treaty acknowledging the role of women in conflict resolution and peace processes and calling for their participation at all levels of decision-making. On a broader scale, former UN Under-Secretary-General Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, who was instrumental in the adoption of Resolution 1325, expressed his belief at recent events commemorating the resolution that this resolution is not limited to countries in active, armed conflict but applies to any nation in conflict with itself. This means any country where violence of any kind exists. He emphasized how important women’s leadership is not only in these processes but in all spheres of society. I believe the spirit of Resolution 1325 is alive in the day-to-day efforts of the women of the SGI striving to contribute to the well-being of their local communities.
Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the driving force behind its adoption, is a source of encouragement for me in my work to support the mission of the UN. She said: “Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’”
People have the potential to change and to challenge the status quo. It starts with our decision to do it. With all of us believing it can be done, we will ensure the 21st century is a century of women. My wish is a life of dignity for all in a peaceful, gender-equal world.
Ivy Gabbert is a program coordinator for the SGI Office for UN Affairs in New York. She serves on the executive committee of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in New York and is chair of the Young Professionals Subcommittee.
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