Lillia Mitov, Contributing Editor
UN Women in collaboration with the United States National Committee (USNC) entered its second entry into their very own “Motorcycle Diaries.” July 20th marked the 165th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention where the United States’ women’s rights movement was born. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the hosting members of such a momentous event. This year’s Seneca Falls Convention gathered people from all different backgrounds and facets of life to celebrate the historical significance of this key moment with a series of events, reenactments, and displays held by the convention including USNC-UN Women’s very own program; highlighting that “the work for women is far from over.” The partnership promoted the importance of gender equality in the United States and its inherent effect not just on women but everyone worldwide.
The second annual trip starting from New York and ending in Seneca Falls mimicked southern Africa’s famed motorcycle ride known as “Ride on. Speak out.” During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence in 2012, fifteen men rode across nine countries in an effort to raise awareness of gender based violence. “Why, might you ask was this trip so significant?” The answer is, that it stood as testament displaying that women are not the only factor in the struggle for women’s rights. Men too, are an integral key in participation and progressive effectiveness.
With the outstanding collaborated leadership of UN Women’s Director Resource Mobilization Ton deJong and USNC-UN Women’s President Maggie Forster Schmitz another famed ride took place to raise awareness at the Seneca Falls Convention. A group of UN and USNC men and women rode/drove from New York City and stayed at Cornell University. While there, the participating attendees embarked on a mission to speak of the current global concerns for gender equality. This included moments beyond Women’s Rights National Historical Park by speaking one on one with individuals in the area, as well as, in the local eateries they dined in. Most notably was an experience with one wait staff, by the name of Holland, whom took to the group after discovering why they were in town. She shared her own views on the legacy of the First Women’s Rights Convention. The travelers also heard a special personal anecdote about a piece of her identity. Her name, Holland, stands for how her parents came to name her. And no, not as obvious as you would think; she was not of Dutch heritage. Her name was simply the acronym of:
“How Our Love Lasts And Never Dies”
She is proof of the product of such a beautiful familial story and its affect on her caring demeanor. The entire group was taken aback by her story.
The trip was UN Women and the US National Committee’s second journey to Seneca Falls. Most notable of their moments was one point of the trip that stood as a marker that local involvement is critical and valuable. This was the moment which all of the participants, men and women alike, from all different backgrounds and identities came together one evening and bonded over international topics with stimulating conversation. It was a melting pot of ideas in the confines of a casual setting. As Ton DeJong put it himself, “What I find in the UN, unlike any other place, is that no matter the good- the bad- the ugly happening in the world, it echoes within the UN.”
Sitting alongside these new and old friends alike, DeJong’s statement instantly resonated with what had really been happening. It was truth; what happens in the world echoed in Seneca Falls as well. Discussion flowed easily with positive critique and with endless respect new questions and answers came about. Making it that much more encouraging to see the work that these two organizations do on a daily basis and the impact it has on those who are touched by their effort.
Addressing an audience in the Guntzel Theater of the Visitor’s Center, Ton de Jong, introduced UN Women, noting that while great strides have been made with regards to women’s rights, the work of UN Women remains as crucial as ever. Highlighting UN Women’s multi-pronged efforts in South Sudan, de Jong detailed how UN Women addresses multiple barriers to gender equality, working in the areas of peace and security, economic empowerment, gender-based violence, and political leadership.
Maggie Forster Schmitz followed his talk with remarks about the historical legacy of Seneca Falls and how support for global women’s rights is a continuation of the very battle for women’s rights and suffrage that was being celebrated that day.
After the celebration at Women’s Rights National Historical Park, a small group representing UN Women, the United Nations, and the Metro New York Chapter lunched with Maggie Forster Schmitz. They discussed the event and next steps for continuing the tradition for years to come. They also brainstormed initiatives aimed at those within the United States that are unfamiliar with UN Women. Agreeing that more must be done to promote UN Women here in the US through outreach and advocacy. It was an exciting conversation.
The remaining group of five left Seneca Falls towards Ithaca for the final night of the road trip. It was a delightful journey back as the route ran along the pristine glacier-carved Finger Lakes. Impulsively, they stopped at Taughannock Falls State Park to take in the gorgeous scenery and a quick dip in Cayuga Lake. That evening, the park hosted an open-air concert with the DixieKats, a local band that plays traditional Dixieland and Bayou Gumbo. Our very own, Leyla Zaloutskaya, boldly approached the lead vocalist hoping to join them on stage. He graciously agreed and asked her where she was from. Leyla took full advantage of the microphone explaining she was from the United Nations. She had come to Seneca Falls to celebrate the 165th anniversary of the first Women’s Rights convention with UN Women. It was an excellent pitch for UN Women in front of a crowd of 500 attendees who gave her an enthusiastic applause. Then she delivered a breathtaking rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” It was such an incredible close and memorable weekend concluding its second entry in its very own motorcycle diaries.