How to leave a whole room speechless

WAGGGS Youth Delegate Paula Neher reflects on our Voices Against Violence side event at the Commission on the Status of Women

“Thou shall not be a victim, thou shall not be a perpetrator, but above all thou shall not be a bystander” – Veronica Shiroya

Those powerful words from one of my fellow delegates, Veronica from Kenya, stuck with us through Monday’s event Prevention Education in Action: Voices against Violence here in New York at the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I had the pleasure to moderate this event co-hosted by WAGGGS and the German Mission to the UN.

It was clear that people were interested in hearing about approaches how to prevent violence against women and girls.

VAV CSW event UN We had a really strong panel with Lakshmi Puri (Deputy Executive Director of UN Women), Veronica Shiroya (WAGGGS Youth Delegate from Kenya) and Thomas Schieb (Head of Political Affairs at the German Mission to the UN) and the room was completely full. Every seat was taken and there even were quite a few people sitting on the floor. 

The most inspiring moment was Veronica’s  speech. I had heard her rehearse so I knew the content beforehand, but it was the impact it had in the room that made it so special. 

Veronica talked about her own experience with the Voices against Violence curriculum and how it had impacted her community. She explained how after doing the activities with the local Guide groups and then raising the issue to the wider community it had impacted how girls, boys, men and women live together. She described how it has made her community safer and how the people in her community now watch out for each other. 

After the speech the whole room was silent. People were clearly impressed by the impact this non-formal education tool has.

“Prevention is always better than cure” said Lakshmi Puri in her speech. “Everybody has a right to live without violence” was Thomas Schieb’s approach to stress that living a life without harm is set in many constitutions and is a basic human right. All three speeches reaffirmed what all people in the room agreed on: We need a way to prevent violence against women and girls before it happens.

VAV event UN CSWBut we didn’t just give the audience input, we wanted to engage everyone attending the event. We wanted to hear everybody’s ideas and approaches for the prevention of violence against women and girls. So we also included an interactive activity during which participants were asked to give their ideas on the issue. Two words really stuck out: Empowerment and Education. Which are interestingly enough two things that are at the core of WAGGGS’ Voices against Violence curriculum. It was widely recognised that in order to prevent violence we need to educate women and men, girls and boys on what violence against women and girls is, how we can prevent it and how they can be empowered to be role models.

The interest throughout the event was huge and there were many questions. Being a moderator at this point was both a great and a challenging job. I experienced the unique atmosphere in the room. I also had to make sure that we didn’t get carried away by all the enthusiasm and emotion. I had to keep track of time, pay close attention to what everyone was saying and asking in order to lead the conversation. 

We had a very lively discussion and finished off the event by letting the audience experience an activity from the curriculum. It was great to see the interest in our work and how much it is appreciated. 

After this we all knew that being a bystander is not an option. We have to take action to prevent violence against women and girls and for that education and empowerment of both genders are essential.

So, how to leave a whole room speechless? 

At this event everyone in the room learned that a powerful story presented in the right words can make everybody feel what the speaker wants them to understand. This event was definitely very successful because the whole room had understood: We need to make a change. We need to make this world a safer place for all women and girls. And above all we shall not be bystanders.

- Paula Neher, WAGGGS Youth Delegate, Germany 

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