HAMNA TARIQ ’20
Surreal. From hurrying inside the UN Church Centre to conversing with well-known advocates from all around the world, everything was surreal. Together for Girls, a public-private partnership dedicated to end sexual violence against girls, invited me to speak on a discussion panel for the annual Commission on Status of Women’s Conference (CSW) for the United Nations last month.
I’ve worked to advance basic rights of girls back in Pakistan by offering free education, promoting the advantages of educating girls and discouraging child marriages in the most conservative of communities. My work in Pakistan was eventually noticed by an International NGO called Advocates for Youth which invited me on a fully-funded trip to New York City to speak at the UN Headquarters for the annual Commission on Population and Development Conference (CPD) in April 2015, which was my first speech at the UN.
After college started, I had pretty much halted all advocacy activities and concentrated on academics and club events. Thus, I felt extremely fortunate to be invited to the UN a second time to attend a conference that I had always dreamt of going to.
The event was co-hosted by Together for Girls, UNICEF USA, and the International Council for Jewish Women (ICJW). I was to be on a discussion panel alongside several activists including an inspiring Syrian woman who has done a great deal for community development and women empowerment after fleeing Syria in 2013, and an established advocate from Nigeria, who created the Girl Pride Circle in Nigeria to empower African girls. In addition, the Communication and Youth Advocacy Officer at Together for Girls, an influential young woman who currently works at the UNCEF USA on the End Trafficking Project and the Chief Executive Officer for Together for Girls, were also serving on the panel. I was initially nervous to sit amongst such successful women who had worked tirelessly to change girls’ status around the world. Moreover, I was the youngest panel member. Not only were all these women extremely friendly, but were also very down-to-earth.
CSW’s review theme for this year was Challenges and Achievements of the MDGs. In order to align our discussion with this broader theme, the Together for Girls event focused on the progress that we’ve seen, and the work that is still to be done to ensure that girls are safe. We were asked about our specific work to end violence against girls and empower women in our communities. We emphasized how eradication of sexual violence and discrimination can lead to the completion of several Sustainable Development Goals and help every citizen of the world. After highlighting our own experiences, the floor was open to questions from the audience. It was heart-warming to see the immense love I received not only from the panelists, but also from women in the audience. They appreciated my journey to the most orthodox areas of my city to preach gender equality. I recieved questions about continuing my efforts, my life back in Pakistan and my attempts to build a community.
As soon as the event ended, inspirational women who owned established advocacy organizations and who I look up to, came and congratulated me on my speech and responses. I meandered through the crowd, meeting all those I could. My fellow discussion panelists ignited a never-ending desire in me to keep working for oppressed girls because they need us more than ever now. They gave me hope in a silver lining that I thought ceased to exist. I plan to be heavily involved with Trinity’s Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC) to do all I can to promote equality in all forms.