The value of relationships is the real lesson

Together, the Dominican Leadership Conference attended an event, "Leaving No One Behind For Planet 50/50 by 2020," presented by UN Women at the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our seventh round of bloggers: Viviana Garcia-Blanco is a Dominican Volunteer at the United Nations and Geri Lanham is a volunteer with the Religious of Jesus and Mary in Gros Morne, Haiti.

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From March 12 to 23, the Dominican Leadership Conference hosted nine Dominican sisters and one associate for the United Nations' 62nd Commission on the Status of Women.

Each year, the Dominican Leadership Conference hosts sisters and associates from all parts of the world to come and participate at the official commission, which is made up of U.N. sessions, side events hosted by U.N. agencies and missions, and parallel events hosted by civil society groups. It's the largest commission gathering at the U.N., as people from all over the world gather to hear issues related to each year's theme. This year, the theme related to the empowerment of rural women and girls.

Our constituency came from all parts of the world, including Paraguay, the Solomon Islands, Tanzania and Australia, to name a few. The goal of inviting sisters and associates to the commission is not only to bring together our community, but also to inform and equip these women with the tools needed to combat multidimensional issues on the ground facing their communities.

Although not every woman's ministry work deals with rural women and girls, there were opportunities to learn about other issues related to women's and girls' rights at the events. Issues like gender-based violence, equal education, and health were only a fraction of the topics and situations the commission explored.

Viviana Garcia-Blanco stands by a sign for U.N. Women, the United Nations' entity that works for gender equality and rights for women. (Provided photo)

Because a majority of the commission attendees is made up of public actors, some events focused on the role civil society groups have when it comes to holding their governments accountable for unfair and unlawful policies. The U.N. is not a governing body in that it does not have the right to hold a country accountable for upholding laws. But individual citizens and civil groups can and have demanded policy changes in their own countries. It was inspiring to hear stories from women who have collectively come together in this fight toward social, economic and political inclusion.

A side event that affected me greatly was an event hosted by the Indian Law Resource Center on the faulty legal systems on Native American reservations that leave indigenous women vulnerable to sexual and physical violence, often without any kind of legal ramifications or justice. This dialogue, which also included short clips from the 2017 film "Wind River," highlighted the fact that there are significant gaps in U.S. policy, and too often, the public is unaware of the grave injustices regarding Native affairs.

I left the event feeling angry that this kind of systemic injustice, these legal frameworks embedded in our history's colonization and racism, existed — and that I had no prior formal education on these matters. Too often, Native Americans are treated as scenery when it comes to learning about American history. However, I also left the event determined to learn more about the issues and how I can contribute to these indigenous women's efforts.

Attending the commission was an emotional and spiritual journey for me. The Commission on the Status of Women brought to light critical issues that go overlooked in our society. When Westerners think about issues affecting women and girls, they think of issues that arise in different parts of the world, often forgetting that a lot of injustices happen at the local level, just like I learned about the treatment of indigenous women in my own country for the first time.

During the entirety of the commission, I stayed with our Dominican guests at a retreat center in upstate New York. For two weeks, I lived and breathed with the community. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, we commuted to and from the city together, and we even attended some of the same sessions together. After dinner, we discussed in a large group our takeaways from the day's events: what we learned, what surprised us, what inspired us. I got to know the Dominican family very well as we bonded over our life experiences and our shared commitment to social justice.

The group the Dominican Leadership Conference hosted for the Commission on the Status of Women poses at the Staten Island Ferry dock in New York City. The group rode the ferry as a tourist activity during their two-week visit to the U.N. (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

In many ways, we empowered each other, which is the real gift the commission brings. The commission is just a mechanism to bring together likeminded individuals who share the same vision of equality. While the Commission on the Status of Women taught me about the issues that affect women, girls, mothers, daughters, and sisters, the Dominican women taught me the value of relationships. Our time together was short, but the quality, not the quantity, of the time was enriching. Although I am not sure if our paths will cross again, I am blessed to have shared this experience with these Dominican women as they opened their minds and their hearts.

[Viviana Garcia-Blanco is a Dominican Volunteer serving as an advocacy associate for the Dominican Leadership Conference nongovernmental organization at the United Nations.]

Read more on GSR about the 2018 UN Commission of the Status of Women: Dominicans, students join global town hall of UN meeting on women
and UN women's commission agrees on measures to empower rural women and girls

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