Working Together to Empower Women

National Headquarters  |  March 17, 2016

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946, and is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Every March, the Commission is in session for two-weeks at the United Nations headquarters in New York, bringing together representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, and UN entities to review and discuss progress on behalf of women.

CSW60, the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, began on March 14th and will continue until the 24th.  Representatives of Tzu Chi Foundation will be in attendance for the full session, and on March 15th, Tzu Chi and its partners hosted a workshop entitled “Empowering Women to Be Leaders of Sustainable Development.” The workshop addressed the importance of empowerment in grassroots communities, and speakers included:

  • Amanda Lin – Moderator, Tzu Chi Foundation
  • Debra Boudreaux – Tzu Chi Foundation
  • Joseph Champagne – National Haitian American Elected Officials Network
  • Alan Bigelow – Solar Cookers International

As the day began, participants began piling in for what was to be an exciting panel discussion held at the Thai Cultural Center in the heart of Manhattan. Tzu Chi and its partners, United Peace Federation and Solar Cookers International, then began the discussion by bringing together elements of faith, disaster relief and energy access to describe best practices of empowering women to become leaders.

Opening the panel with an overview to frame the conversation, Amanda Lin from Tzu Chi Foundation provided the audience with a global perspective by drawing from Tzu Chi’s vast international disaster relief experience. She pointed out how the empowerment of women in communities impacted by disasters, can help them stand up to rebuild their communities into healthier, improved spaces for women and girls.

Alan Bigelow from Solar Cookers International focused his presentation on the effects of energy deficiency and the role it plays in stripping time and power away from women. He then went on to elaborate on the importance of access to clean energy. He introduced the benefits of solar energy for cooking, not only in terms of protecting maternal health, but also from a time-cost perspective. 

Following Alan, Joseph Champagne the Peace Ambassador to Haiti from the United Peace Federation, offered a faith-based perspective alongside a detailed analysis of the situation in Haiti. He highlighted how the empowerment of women could help Haiti overcome its current struggles, and that education and a health-based approach are key.

Finally, Debra from Tzu Chi Foundation gave a disaster relief perspective, noting that relief and development must be intricately linked and simultaneously pursued in order to create truly sustainable communities. She told stories of women and girls who were empowered to become volunteers after a disaster impacted their lives, and described the significant changes that followed as they were transformed into leaders. 

Throughout the presentations, the key message emphasized was that true sustainability can only be achieved if relief organizations implement development practices such as humanistic care and empowerment during the relief process, and pay special attention to women and girls. They represent over 50% of the world population, and must not be left behind in the pursuit of sustainable development. 

In the Q & A session that followed, Diya John, a young woman from Melbourne, Australia who was attending CSW60 as part of the International Council of Women was eager to hear words of advice from the panel:

“For me as a girl in high school, how can I get involved?”

The panel had words of encouragement about identifying one’s own strengths and path:

"Follow your passion. We all have our own tool kit of skills. In the world we are now in, we need to work on solutions, especially with women empowerment here.”

"First find out what you can do, hone your skills. Identify where are the needs in your community. Once you find out what you can do, then think about how do you provide the help. From my standpoint, it's to provide with care, compassion and love.”

Joseph also highlighted how the manner in which aid is given is of paramount importance, and the way Tzu Chi volunteers deliver aid is commendable.

“I saw something with the Tzu Chi Foundation when they came to my town at South Toms River, New Jersey [after Hurricane Sandy]. I saw them giving out cash cards, blankets and food to the people. The quality of the food and the blanket was great, gluten-free and organic. The way they provided the cash card to the people, you see them bow with both hands giving, there's a sense of care and compassion... When you give, you're showing love, care and compassion to that person."

Another audience member, Annie Hilmes, a French teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, also had remarks about the importance of love, compassion and tolerance, especially in the context of discussing gender:

“One thing that I do believe is just because you're empowering women, that does not mean that you hate men. We need to stop blaming each other, saying ‘you're better’ ‘you're worse’ and just come together and work as one.”


As a Catholic woman who expressed that she does not condone intolerance of difference, Annie was also appreciative about the example Tzu Chi Foundation was showing with its path of religious collaboration and inclusion:

“To find out that there are … religious organizations out there that are supporting other faiths, it's extremely eye-opening and makes me very happy to know that. I think we need to stop the labeling and come together. I really, really enjoyed this session. I felt a certain peace while I was in here. I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how different faiths can work together to make the world a better place.”

In conclusion, the workshop proved to be stimulating and inspiring for presenters and guests alike.

Looking forward towards the future, Tzu Chi will continue to work with its partners to emphasize the importance of empowering women to become leaders. It is through empowerment that we can transform vulnerable populations and build thriving communities.

More News Stories