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This post is part of a series on the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Click on a link to read further.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 , Part 9 , Part 10
I am lagging lagging lagging behind, but luckily for me, I have been live tweeting, which means that not only can interested readers follow along in point form (search #csw54 at twitter.com) but I can go back and refresh my memory from the tweets!

March 4th (Thursday) seemed to hold a Rural women’s theme. I began the day at a session highlighting the work of the Salesian Sisters in rural South America. The Sister’s panel was made up of women who had accessed their services in Ecuador and Guatemala. The women talked about the circumstances that they had come to the Sisters from.

One of the women had come selling eggs and cheese from her family’s farm when she was 17. She said that they Sisters always made her feel welcome and that they seemed to show a genuine interest in her as a person. She said that because of that she felt connected and soon began attending programs at the Sister’s center. Her education started with basic literacy and the Sisters supported her through that to her eventually achieving a Bachelor Degree in Education through Distance Learning. Now the woman teaches at the Center where she learned.

The other woman became acquainted with the Sisters when she and her husband started having financial difficulty. At this time they had 8 children and she (the mother) didn’t know how to read or write. She was getting food from the Sisters and the supports that she accessed grew to include basic literacy classes and money management. She said that the Sisters were very personable and kind and that she felt that they genuinely cared for her and her family’s well-being. She said that the Sisters taught them how to manage the little money they had through teaching them to prioritize their spending and live with dignity on the basics.

A woman from Guatemala talked about the Sisters helping her to access distance education that helped her become a master level dress-maker. She talked about how Guatemala is in a time of economic transition and how they dont’ have many natural resources to build their economy on. She talked of the tremendous benefit of distance education and how technical training that the Sisters support her through has allowed her to live with dignity and train others at the Sister’s center in Guatemala.

I was really happy to have been able to attend this panel, and the “applicable” stuff that I got out of it was the importance of interacting with people on a human level that demonstrates your genuine concern for their well-being.

I see from the perspective of a frontline worker how we are encouraged to “be professional” and “maintain boundaries.” I think that those are important aspects of serving in our professions *BUT* that sometimes with our lingo around “clients” and “boundaries” that we can become cold and, at some level, unconcerned (or at least less concerned) with the genuine overall well-being of the people we work with. What I saw at this session was a very basic and positive response that the women had to the Sisters because they felt cared for, and I though it was pretty special.

if you’d like to know more about the Salesian Sisters you can check out the Sisters on the Web here:

http://www.salesiansisters.org/about/10things.html

The next session that I headed to was “Girls and Informal Education” which was hosted by Girl Guides and Scouts International.

The session talked about the differences between “formal and informal” education, the Girl Guides define the informal education opportunities as occurring in SAFE SPACES, BEING INCLUSIVE, and NON-COMPETITIVE.  So the Girl Guides use circles, and rely on peer-to-peer education that values each participant.

They presented on peer sex education happening in Britain (which has the highest teen pregnancy and chlamydia infection rates of Europe. <-Who’da thunk Britain would be “the North” of Europe?) They presented on how sex education in the schools focuses mainly on the reproductive process and is often “downloaded” on teachers with questionable interest in teaching it. One of the girls said that it’s often music and gym teachers who behave as if they’ve drawn a short-straw in a staff room draw.

In response to this they have trained “peer educators” to lead informal sex education groups that talk about sex, respect, choices, realities, and responsibilities. They reported a high participation rate and that girls leave the group feeling more informed and empowered about making healthy sexual choices.

The Girl Guides also talked about their leadership training which prioritizes empowerment and dignity within their guides, as well as encouraging them to take a strong interest in their communities. They also hosted peer education sessions on bullying (for victims, and for bullies) as well as on eating disorders.

That session made me want to register my daughter in Girl Guides as soon as I get home. Though she is now registered in “Girl’s Space” which is a fantastic girls empowerment group run through the YWCA, but it was really neat for me to hear the presentations of Girl Guides from UK, Australia and Taiwan and know that the organization cultivates such admirable qualities in girls from around the world!

Next I ran back to the Salvation Army to catch “Contemporary Forms of Slavery” which discussed informal labour markets and the challenges of the disproportionate number of women employed within them.

I heard women from Japan, India, Senegal and the Philippines talk about the reasons why women end up in the “informal labour market” which includes domestic workers and sex workers. I think that in some countries textile workers were also included.

From all the countries we heard that single mothers were most likely to be engaged in informal work. A Japanese labour union rep said that there is a 30% wage gap between men and women. She said that often married women won’t be hired because the assumption is made that she will start having babies, and that many women don’t return to work after having children because the Japanese corporate culture does not have a good work/life balance.

The woman from India talked about how the domestic worker in her country can join the domestic workers union which offers some level of protection to domestic workers, and has been able to set wages (though the wages are still at sub-subsistence levels.) A woman from Tunisia talked about their efforts in establishing a national help line for domestic workers because they are at an increased risk of sexual, physical and psychological abuse from their employers.

Aside from the events I am hoping that a number of us who are blogging through the CSW will be able to meet on Monday so that we can have a Blog-In and Blog for International Women’s Day.

The Plan International people have included a number of girls in their delegation and three of them are blogging here:

http://blog.becauseiamagirl.ca/

Madre Speaks is also blogging through the CSW and you can read their coverage here:

http://madreblogs.typepad.com/mymadre/

Feministing also has someone here:

http://feministing.com/

Hopefully we can spread the word and have a decent turn out for the Blog-In, but anyway  it goes I hope that everyone considers donating a blog entry to the subject of Women for International Women’s day. You can register your blog at genderscrossborders.com.

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