U.N. BuildingUNITED NATIONS, New York (WOMENSENEWS)–The headquarters building here is undergoing renovations. The quarters are more cramped and the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, March 1-12, has been more challenging than ever for delegates like me to navigate. There are the U.N. committee meetings, caucus schedules and a plethora of side meetings sponsored by nongovernmental groups in the near and not-so-nearby neighborhood.

The maze-like atmosphere imparts a strong sense of missing out on things, especially when over 200 national and international nongovernmental organizations–and about 8,000 individuals–are actively participating, with dozens upon dozens of people giving formal presentations, statistical reports and recommendations from their countries or regions.

The formal agenda is for countries to report back on their records of achievement on 12 pro-women reform areas outlined 15 years ago at the 4th World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China.

But backstage here at the meeting–called "Beijing + 15"–I’ve found one general, impossible-to-miss buzz among delegates.

What seems to be on everyone’s mind is the highly anticipated U.N. super agency for women, which is supposed to pull all women’s agencies together behind the concerted goal of advancing the lives of women around the globe.

Often simply referred to as "the entity," this super agency has been fueling speculation since last September, when the U.N. General Assembly agreed to its general framework. Estimates of budget size range from half a billion to 1 billion dollars. An undersecretary general may be announced in June, according to delegate talk.

But there’s no launch date yet and delegates are restless. Many are calling for a global gathering even larger than this one to overcome inertia and set the new entity in motion.

Drumming Support for Women’s Conference

They’re drumming up support for a 5th World Conference for Women, a nongovernmental organization-driven conference that would provide the first sequel to that historic meeting in Beijing, where women’s rights were pulled into the definition of human rights.

Is another huge gathering like that really required to launch a correspondingly huge agency? The rationale among delegates here is that it is, because planning such a meeting will set the new apparatus in motion. It will require the various U.N. women’s agencies and affiliated nongovernmental groups to come together under the new super agency framework. In other words, planning a launch meeting for the super agency will also give birth to it.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, an activist, physician and Jungian analyst from Northern California, has come to New York with a mission to secure a commitment for a 5th World Conference on Women, also called 5WCW.

Bolen, a veteran sixth-time delegate from Pathways to Peace, headquartered in Larkspur, Calif., has been meeting with delegates from nongovernmental organizations and governmental representatives from around the globe. She’s rallying to get petition signatures calling on the United Nations to set a specific date for the 5WCW, distributing 5WCW buttons, speaking on panels and in women’s circles and raising awareness of the urgency and importance of setting a date for the next World Conference for Women.

"I have been watching the momentum build for a 5th World Conference for the last few years," said Bolen. "This year we seem to have reached the critical mass of support to see a ‘tipping point’ for our success. Gender equality and peace building continue to be our core issues."

Official Business to Review Progress

Meanwhile, the official business here is for U.N.-appointed representatives to review global progress in the 12 critical areas of concern that were outlined in Beijing and are reviewed each year.

The 12 report-card categories involve women’s special concerns with: 1) poverty 2) education and training 3) health 4) violence 5) armed conflict 6) economy 7) power and decision-making 8) institutional processes 9) human rights 10) media 11) natural environment 12) the girl child.

Simultaneous sessions of country reports and topics that cover all 12 critical areas of concern are being held in small venues all over Manhattan. These meetings are standing room only and often leave interested participants unable to get in. Delegates are also heading to the sideline sessions, sponsored individually and in collaboration with many of the over 200 nongovernmental groups that are recognized by the Economic and Social Council of the U.N.

Delegates like me–I’m representing Project Kesher, the largest nongovernmental women’s advocacy organization in the former Soviet Union–seek out organizations with similar missions and issues to share best practices and brainstorm with one another. This year I am especially interested in the sessions that focused on using new media and technology to empower women and girls.

These sessions offer a critical space for delegate activists to find and inspire each other.

This year, for instance, I came across Bijaya Rai Shrestha from Nepal, founder of Pourakhi, a five-year-old advocacy group that helps female migrant workers in her country with legal advice about essential documentation, rights and education about the heightened risks of violence and discrimination that come with foreign employment.

Shrestha attended a parallel session sponsored by the Women Founders Collective, created by Sallie Gratch–a 2005 Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century–from Chicago. The group is founded on the idea that small, interactive, peer-to-peer sessions quickly establish trustworthy alliances and have a positive effect on one another. The women sat and talked in circles and like many, came away saying the chance for that kind of intimate encounter is one of the major reasons for attending these vast, sprawling, institutional sessions.

Experiencing this passionate and powerful global women’s activist network is not to be missed.

Dr. Sharon Ufberg is an integrative practitioner and health care journalist. She can be reached at sufberg@gmail.com and followed on twitter at: http://twitter.com/DrUfberg

For more information:

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1888:

Beijing + 15: