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From Outsider to Insider at the UN

April 26, 2011

by Kathy Kline, PhD, Member. UNA/NYC

Only in the past few months have I become better acquainted with the real value of what may appear to the outsider as endless committee and commission statements by Member States at the United Nations. 

As a recent volunteer member of AARP’s NY Office of International Affairs, I sat in on the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Poverty and Development and, last week, on the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing. All took place over multiple days with many statements made by individual country delegates. All gave succinct comments related to what their country was doing vis-a-vis the topic.

So, we heard for example that Guatemala is no longer resisting discussion about fertility within the context of population concerns and we learned that Latin American countries, particularly through the initiatives of Argentina and Chile, are promoting a convention to address human rights issues as they relate to our increasing older populations. The US Mission to the United Nations offered excellent briefings on each of these topics.

For me, the reality of the UN, after years of my being a UNA/NY member, grew into sharper focus. I had already come to appreciate the lesser known UN agencies (beyond UNICEF and WHO) which help our global community deal with conflicts and their aftermaths, with natural disasters, with patents and international agreements, with health concerns and a myriad of other issues. 

But I had not really understood the value of the bully pulpit which forces countries to focus on issues that relate to the well being of their own citizens. Many have to do the research and soon discover that they need better disaggregated statistics (so how many people over 60 do they have, and what is their plight?) and come back to the UN to get that kind of training and help. Others take the lead and proudly initiate and guide the discussions.

This has been a wonderful learning experience that can only happen to a volunteer with access to UN activities.

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