Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
The best, most lasting way for women to change the world is for each woman to go for her dreams. And I know this because I had 300 of the most powerful, influential women in the world imbed that sentiment into my soul in the course of a week.
The 58th Commission on the Status of Women ran from March 10 to March 21 in New York. I attended the first eight days, and by the time I left I knew that our world was changing in beautiful, miraculous ways.
The Commission was established in 1947, shortly after the formation of the United Nations, with the purpose of eliminating discriminatory legislation and to foster awareness of women's issues. All of the founding delegates were women at a time when “women leaders” was not a thing. It was this Commission that inserted gender-sensitive language into statements of the United Nations national legislation, that gathered statistical data from people on the ground to get accurate information about women's issues (instead of relying on perceptions of what was happening based on stereotypes), and that began abolishing practices that were harmful to women and girls' physical integrity and dignity on a global scale.
It isn’t enough, though. Action from the top is not enough. Each of us must embrace the mission of changing our world by knowing without a shadow of a doubt that we can do it. And it begins with each of us discarding the limiting perspectives that we have been taught and dreaming like we have never dreamt before. As Gloria Steinem said, “Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning”.
Before I went to New York, I knew the statistics. Women earn less than men for the same jobs—except in the STEM fields, from which girls are discouraged. Assault in the military is finally being reported, but is still not being taken seriously, as evidenced by the light conviction of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair. Women bear the brunt of poverty and hunger, and child mortality is still an issue. This is here, in the United States.
It is disheartening when you think about it. I mean, think about it:
Women and men should be able to serve equally in the military without women having to fear for their lives from their own commanders. Right? We can teach our young boys that they do not have the right to touch a girl without her permission, and to raise them to become men who believe that a woman does not owe them her undivided attention when she is trying to simply walk down the street. We can teach our young girls everything they need to know about their bodies, their choices, and their unlimited possibilities and give them every chance to fulfill their own desires.
We can. But we don't. Why not? Why are these still questions in 2014? This is the United States of America, after all. We have unprecedented financial and cultural wealth, access to information literally at our fingertips, and successful models of equality we can observe right now from all around the world. All it would take is a collective agreement to stop treating girls and women like second class citizens. So why are we still arguing about this?
I don't know. I didn't get those answers at the Commission.
What I got instead was a week-long intensive on how you and I can help change our collective destiny. I listened, fascinated and mouth agape, as Dr. Lauri Leshin, dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Ph.D. in geochemistry , shared her experiences on the Mars Curiosity Rover Mission team. When Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, talked about how she refused to hate the people who raped her and killed her family, she helped reaffirm my commitment to help survivors of sexual assault and showed me that hate is indeed a choice. Amma Sri Karunamayi, the embodiment of divine motherly love in India, spoke so eloquently about loving our neighbor that it reminded me of being held in the collective arms of my own church—one that strives for total acceptance of all and a strong intention to reach out to the marginalized.
The way to create those opportunities, to establish equality as a fact of life, is for each woman to go for her dreams regardless of what anyone else believes about her perceived abilities. That starts with me. And you.
This requires an embracing of a woman’s right to her own life and a conscious, evolved decision to ignore the ideals, patriarchal or otherwise, of what a woman is supposed to be. Getting married or not, earning an education or not, starting a business or climbing the corporate ladder—these are choices that men have always been afforded and take for granted. But women have been hindered by outdated modes of thinking that try to limit growth, and this has limited our global economic survival. Even deciding to become a mother on her own timetable is revolutionary; with the increasing restrictions on birth control coverage, places to nurse, and even who will impregnate her in the first place, becoming a mother is not a choice that is totally in the woman's purview everywhere in the world.
Going for the dream—be it mom, computer scientist, pastor, or all of the above—is an act of rebellion because it challenges every single idea of what it means to be a subjugated person. Subjugation requires agreement by the enslaver and the enslaved. When women decide, “No more!”, the ties that bind the two begin to loosen and eventually release. First, though, she has to know that the choice is there. That’s what the Commission was all about.
To live the life of one's dreams, free from other people's expectations or standards of living, is an act of bravery. And women all around the world are doing exactly that—some, at the expense of their own lives.
Attending this year’s Commission on the Status of Women reminded me that my dreams are no less important than anybody else’s, and the pursuit of my dream is an answer to the sacrifices my ancestors and fellow dreamers have endured. The appreciation I have for the Detroit Presbytery who helped sponsor me, and from First Presbyterian Church of South Lyon who helped raise funds, who prayed and laughed and fed me (spiritually and otherwise), and who provided pastoral care cannot be expressed. It was an honor to attend. It is a greater honor to serve.
Now let the work begin.
Tina L. Van Ochten is a producer from Detroit, MI. Her dream is to produce a network television comedy. She has earned a Bachelor's degree in mathematics and a Master's in Teaching from Wayne State University.