For the past 60 years, representatives from United Nations Member States, UN entities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world gather in New York City to hold a Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to prepare recommendations on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields.
I have the distinct pleasure of attending the 2016 Commission on the Status of Women, also known as CSW60, on behalf of YWCA Bergen County as an official delegate for YWCA USA. The theme of CSW60 is women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.
On Sunday, March 13, YWCA USA and the World Service Council hosted a welcome reception for all of the World YWCA delegates attending CSW60. I was asked to speak about my experience as a young woman working toward social justice, why I am involved in the global movement of the YWCA, and how it relates to my work for YWCA Bergen County.
Here’s what I had to say:
Good evening. My name is Samantha Plotino Emery, and I am honored to be here at CSW60 as a delegate for YWCA USA. I hail from a local YWCA association in Bergen County, NJ.
When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, we pledge that there shall be liberty and justice for all.
However, we have not yet met that pledge — neither as a world leader nor here at home. There is more to be done and YWCAs here and throughout the world must take action by assuming the leadership it takes to help make our world a better place.
Because in the United States, over 22 million women will have been raped in their lifetime. That is one in five American women.
● 12% will be younger than age 12 when they are first raped, and 30% between the ages of 11 and 17;
● 84% will be victimized by a current or former husband, partner, boyfriend or date;
● One-third of female murder victims ages 12 or older will be killed by an intimate partner. In the U.S., domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 to 44 — more common than automobile accidents, mugging and rapes combined;
● 43% of lesbian and bisexual women and 30% of gay and bisexual men will experience at least one form of sexual assault during their lifetimes; and
● An estimated 17,500 women and children are trafficked into the United States annually for sexual exploitation or forced labor.
As well, the struggle for economic and social justice faces many challenges here in the United States. Economic and social inequality remains remarkably high, particularly when compared with countries of similar development and wealth. Black, Latino and women-led households are disproportionately affected.
As a result, a record number of people in the U.S. are living in poverty in 2016.
The consequences of under-funded public schools, discriminatory lending practices, disproportionate police contact, a reduced social safety net, de facto segregation in schools, and harsher criminal justice outcomes affecting people of color can be seen as contributing to phenomena such as the school-to-prison pipeline and persistent wage inequality.
In fact, women in the U.S. working full-time jobs still earn only 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. The gender wage gap is 2.5 percentage points larger than the average among industrialized countries.
Working for YWCA Bergen County as its Mission Based Coordinator, I’m taking action — each and every day — to change those dynamics. I plan and implement programs, build strategic relationships, and work to generate the financial resources necessary to advance our mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen communities. I am On A Mission.
What was my path to becoming an agent of change?
In 2011, I graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Sociology. My focus: studying the social issues that affect communities from the ground up.
Which led me to AmeriCorps.
During my senior year of college, I became an AmeriCorps member and served for two years at ESP, a non-profit organization offering social, educational, and recreational programs for children and young adults with developmental disabilities.
The experience ignited a passion for the work of the non-profit sector. So after completing my AmeriCorps service, I returned to NJ to study for my Master’s degree in Administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University, focusing on non-profit organizational development.
And then I was offered my dream job — one that has shaped my future and I’m certain will shape it further still.
Last October, YWCA USA gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. I was awarded a scholarship to attend the 28th World YWCA Quadrennial Council meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. There I experienced the extraordinary effort by World YWCA and its member associations to empower young women leaders throughout the world. I came home reenergized — with a greater sense of urgency to make the changes necessary to improve the status of women and girls in the U.S.
Truth be told, I contemplated a career in politics, maybe joining the Peace Corps or working for an international NGO, but my AmeriCorps service and now my work at YWCA have helped me to realize that I can make a huge impact in my own backyard through the kind of grassroots advocacy that affects change from the ground up.
I now understand, as I have never before, that bold and transformative leadership starts with each one of us.
So as I end my remarks this evening, I want to leave you with a quote that inspires that bold and transformative leadership in me. I’m guessing you’re expecting a quote from Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, Angela Merkel, Benazir Bhutto or even Shirley Chisholm.
No. The quote is from American comedian Amy Poehler. In her recent memoir she writes:
Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that — that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special.
There is something special in all of us — so let’s go out and lead.