61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women: Pushback Year

by Lucina Kathmann

United Nations, New York City, March 17, 2017

Pushback is a word I barely knew till this year. Here at the United Nations in New York attending the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, someone reports receiving reactionary pushback against the pro.woman agenda every 15 minutes: pushback about reproductive rights, pushback about home care, pushback about equal pay, pushback about just about everything. The delegates sent by conservative governments evidently have been instructed to object to everything.

In San Miguel de Allende Mexico, my home from which I flew here last Saturday, people talked about resistance. What are we doing to resist this week? Is it petitions? Marches? Some sort of civil disobedience? But what was this resistance, resistance to what? I wondered all last month. It couldn't be resistance to US President Trump or his administration exactly; it started before we even knew what he was going to do. Now I can link the terms. It is resistance to reactionary pushback. That pushback was why Trump was nominated in the first place.

It wasn't just reactionary pushback in the USA. I saw it in rural Turkey in 2015, where, no matter what one's religious beliefs, one could not even get water, much less food, before nightfall during Ramazan (called Ramadan in Arabic countries). Local friends all reported the same: they did not want to fast themselves, but they were afraid of what their neighbors would say. The conservative outback? No. Things were not always like this. My friends' aunt used to run a movie theater in this town and there were two bars that served alcohol. Everybody mentioned this.

In Istanbul the following week it seemed like things were much cooler and more diverse until a few thousand of us tried to march in the Gay Pride Parade. The parade is old and very popular in Istanbul. It had even been scheduled during Ramazan before. But that was before the pushback; in 2015 we got gassed and water cannoned. Erdogan was doing a big reactionary pushback campaign.

A backward phenomenon, you might say. Very unenlightened. How "eastern" of them.

Eastern? The east evidently spread west. The British voted for Brexit, the Colombians voted against the peace agreements. Extremist hate groups have more than tripled in the United States, and that's pretty far west. In the recent video Hate Rising, a representative of the Ku Klux Klan assures Univision reporter Jorge Ramos that he is inferior because of his race. By now, reactionary pushback has actually encircled the globe.

One tactic of this pushback is exclusion. Let us disqualify the upstarts, whoever or wherever they may be. US President Trump has begun to deport even those Mexican Americans who have DACA deferred action status. He has excluded representatives of important newspapers and news agencies from his press conferences. He has forbidden travel to the US for everyone from six countries in the MENA (Middle east and north Africa) region .

We feel that travel ban here at the CSW. Among the delegations absent from the NGO representation at the Commission on the Status of Women we are missing the sisters from those six countries. But those are not the only ones. The Central Americans are not here either. I have not found even one NGO from El Salvador or Honduras represented, not even in the Caucus of Latin America and the Caribbean, not even in the events in Spanish. I know a lot of these women; they are not here.

Elizabeth Starcevic and I are here to represent the PEN International Women Writers Committee. We come from the PEN Center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We thought we were here to monitor freedom of expression, our usual issue, and to learn more about the situation of women with respect to work, the highlighted theme for this year. To our surprise we found that we had a completely different moral duty: to denounce the exclusion of our neighbors from the south. Not only do we miss them and their important testimony, we help show that the issue of Islamism is nothing but a red herring. What is happening is a reduction of space for women, exclusion, margination and repression. It is pushback against improvements in the lives of women.

This is the United Nations, the most inclusive organization in the world, and we are missing people. In fact, we are missing whole regions. We are living in bad times and our job, here and everywhere, is to develop appropriate strategies.

Report from the United Nations by Chicago Network board member Lucina Kathmann