Onto Sunday at the FMF Young Feminist Leadership Conference: the morning plenary focused on women’s rights around the globe, and I was hugely excited to see that Tamara Tunie, the actress who plays Dr. Warner on Law and Order: SVU, was going to be on the panel! It was really cool to meet her before the panel began.
Turns out Tunie has a long history of activism and community service. She works on local non-profit theatre initiatives in NYC and is active in NY Planned Parenthood and a group that provides meals to people in poverty living with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and other diseases. Tunie was invited to the panel partially through SVU Executive Producer Neal Baer, who’s been working with FMF to bring out issues about empowering women and girls. Case in point was last week’s episode focusing on rape as a weapon of war in the Congo.
Tunie began her talk saying that she was really inspired to see all the young women in the audience who were stepping up to get involved on these issues. She told a bit about her childhood growing up in a funeral home with two parents who were morticians, perhaps a fitting beginning for someone who would play a coroner on TV.
But the meat of her talk focused on what she called “the crisis of inaction around maternal mortality and lack of care for women and girls” around the world. She gave an impassioned speech, outlining stark statistics about the numbers of women and girls who die around the world – 1 per minute – from mainly preventable complications in maternity and childbirth. “Besides the moral imperative,” she argued, “empowering women and giving them access to reproductive health services would alleviate poverty and lead to a sustainable future for our planet.”
Tunie also pointed out the 70,000 women and girls who die every year as a result of botched illegal abortions and advocated the FMF’s current lobbying goal, which presses the government to commit $1 billion annually to meet the 2015 goal of ending maternal mortality as laid out at the Cairo Conference. The FMF is starting a “Countdown to 2015” campaign to put the pressure on the government to increase funding to make up for the shortfall during the Bush years.
Also on the panel was Daphne Jayasinghe of Amnesty International, who started by telling the story of a Haitian woman who had spoken to Amnesty about her experience in her neighbourhood after experiencing rape: “It’s as though I’ve been raped every day…I’m told that I should put myself in a corner, that I should say nothing.” She connected gender discrimination with women’s poverty world-wide.
Alexandra Ariaga of the Leadership Conference on CEDAW focused on lobbying the US to ratify CEDAW, pointing out how feminists have used the treaty to effect change and lobby government for greater equality around the globe, from Mexico to Japan to Morocco.
Another panelist was Feroza Yaria former participant in the FMF”s Afghan Scholar Program, which gives funding for Afghan women to attend school in the US. Farozha’s father was killed in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and she was raised by her mother. At 10 she was forced to stop studying and her mother helped her escape to Pakistan after her family was threatened by the Mujahedin. She was eventually able to gain entrance to the States and talked about her experience.
There were many more workshops, including discussions on women and the economy, gender and climate change, and coalition building. Overall it was an inspiring and heartening experience and I was thrilled to take part in it.
So overall it was a really well-organized conference with great energy. It made me feel good to see girls even younger than myself taking up the charge and working hard to fight for equality.