Nicole Arski is one of two women in The Court of Süleyman at HNMUN 2017.
GARIMA KARIA, THE HINDU (Opinion)
BOSTON: It’s 2017, and dialogue surrounding female empowerment in an effort to achieve gender equality is ongoing. Even within our “Western liberal democratic” contexts, women continue face inequalities that manifest themselves in multiple ways on a daily basis, be it the wage gap or underrepresentation in positions of power and leadership.
The Gender Gap in politics is nowhere near eliminated.
As of June 2016, according to UN Women, only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women.
Currently, 10 women serve as Heads of State, and 9 as Heads of Government.
Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide, with 63.8% of seats in the lower house. Rwanda’s government is among the few that can actually boast “equal representation” in government.
Unfortunately, this same reality holds true for female representation in Model UN, particularly in crisis committees. As I visited each crisis committee at HNMUN, I found that women were the overwhelming minority in these boardrooms. “Crisis is kind of a boys club,” Hannah, one of two women in the historical Romanian committee told me. “It’s hard to not feel like an outsider sometimes.”
From the day they are born, men, and especially young men, are taught to be outspoken, to be brave, and to be undaunted when speaking their minds and making demands in a group.
The same cannot be said for women.
“When I first started Model UN, I was super shy. I stood in front of everyone and my knees were knocking together,” Rebecca from the United Arab Republic committee admitted. She tells me that she no longer feels the fear she used to feel when addressing men she didn’t know or defending herself. “In Peru, where I live, sexual assault is very prevalent. I used to be scared to confront men that made me uncomfortable as I walked the streets, but now I have no problems.”
Another delegate, a medical student, tells me that the negotiation training she receives as a result of being a MUN delegate has taught her to “frame her ideas in ways that those who normally would not understand can now do so.” In her medical career, many people have her me that “female pain is less than male pain,” and MUN has helped her communicate to these people “that they are wrong.”
Leily and Mariam: female double-del dream team
Mutual Empowerment: Female Double-Delegations
Leily and Mariam, from Emory University, are one of two female double delegations in the historical UN Security Council committee.
“MUN taught me to assert myself and make my voice heard,” says Leily, “but I never felt that because I was a girl, I wasn’t able to be the best delegate in the room.”
Her partner echoes this sentiment. “It never really crossed my mind that we were one of the only female double-delegations, but when I told a friend of mine on the circuit, she was shocked.”
Often, delegations choose not to pair women with women in double delegations for “strategic purposes,” but for Leily and Mariam this was never thought of as a disadvantage because of how well they cooperate and empower one another.
These women also highlighted some additional pressures that women in Model UN face. “Women are judged more harshly on how they dress and how they look, which seems ridiculous in a highly intense and academic environment like this one.”
Women are often held to much higher standards, especially in crisis committees, and feel severely disadvantaged and attacked upon making small blunders, which do not affect their male counterparts as severely.
Kirsten and Hannah, two of three women in the historical Romanian committee.
Combatting the Crisis “Boys Club”
Hannah and Kirsten, two of three women in the historical Romanian crisis committee, stand by the importance of sticking together as a form of empowerment.
“Crisis is kind of a boy’s club, and masculinity is so prevalent with all the backstabbing, intensity and crazy crisis arcs that occur in these types of committees… it’s very cut-throat and difficult to be one of the only women in there,” says Hannah.
Both women find it difficult to infiltrate these small, male-dominate cliques once they have formed early on in the conference. In addition, they bring to light a sense of false “illegitimacy” and “not being taken seriously” by the men in the room.
“We’re underestimated,” says Hannah. This reality, however, won’t stop these ladies.
Both Hannah and Kirsten are confident in their abilities (as they should be!) For Kirsten, “doing a lot of crisis has taught me to be assertive even when there are a lot of men around… I’m not afraid to run the show.” Hannah, too, finds that “she used to shy away from thinking about how to interact with men in male-dominate competitive situations,” but has now realized that “being a woman doesn’t define her” in these situations.
They agree that it’s empowering to have other women in committee and see them thrive. Although they ended up being on opposing sides of their committee-turned-JCC, they continued to communicate and keep one another in the loop.
These kinds of [crisis] committees and finance committees are the worst for female treatment and representation. That’s why Hannah and Kirsten gravitated towards one other. For empowerment.
Commission on the Status of Women: A Committee by Women, for Women
I spoke to the chairs of CSW, who gave me some great insight on the dynamics and substance of this unique, female-oriented and female-dominated committee at HNMUN 2017.
“Having this committee was great because it taught women to empower one another and work together through diplomacy instead of competing with one another,” Angela, the Committee Director, told me. “Here, these women are having a new experience because most of them are used to fending for themselves in male-dominated committees. The dynamic is different.”
Angela is proud that, in her committee, women are taking the lead on issues that affect them directly. “There’s less mansplaining, and there are less men in suits running the show” because of the women-for-women nature of the committee. “Witnessing them empowers me,” she says.
Angela also reminds her delegates that men are crucial in the feminist dialogue. “Including them in these processes is important. It’s awesome that men care enough to join this committee and endeavor to promote women’s rights in a respectful manner. We need more of that.