On March 12, 2016, just a few days after International Women's Day, more than 700 Lions, Leos, ambassadors and guests gathered at the U.N. for the 38th Annual Lions Day with the United Nations to discuss peace and gender equality.
The crowd that filled the floor and galley of Conference Room 4 consisted of a mix that was fitting of the U.N. with men and women from thirty-six countries and twenty-five states. Slightly unusual was the wide age range in the room from grade school children to adults well into their eighties. And yet every person in that room was engaged in what was happening.
Singer/songwriter Tennille Amor's upbeat pop music has a distinct reggae sound.
Photo: Lions Clubs International.
The day began with a live performance from singer/songwriter, Tennille Amor. Originally from Trinidad, her upbeat pop music has a distinct reggae sound. Her equally-cool young accompanist strummed his acoustic guitar while she sang her song "Lion" - how appropriate. In addition to being a performer - having worked with artists like John Legend, the Black Eyed Peas crew, etc. - she is the co-founder of the nonprofit E.P.I.C. (Everyday People Initiating Change), which provides clean drinking water to villages in developing countries.
Following Tennille's performance, the event's host, past international president of Lions Clubs International (LCI) and former Long Island police detective Al Brandel recognized a variety of Lions officers in the audience before introducing formal welcomes from under-secretary general for communications and public information, Christina Gallach, and deputy secretary of the State of New York for Economic Opportunity, Jorge Montalvo.
Brandel went on to introduce the current international president of LCI, Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada, a neurosurgeon from Japan. Dr. Yamada gave a brief explanation of the Lions clubs' seventy-year partnership with the United Nations, including how Lions Clubs' founder, Melvin Jones, helped draft the original U.N. Charter, before delving into how the agencies are both focused on gender equality - even internally, as Lions work to increase their percentage of female membership (27% of new members are women) and leadership.
He also dropped several shocking statistics about gender bias and injustices, including how 62 million girls around the world are not in school, one in three women will experience gender-based violence and, in the developing world, one in seven girls marry before the age of fifteen - with some child brides as young as eight. "Only when we understand that peace and gender equality are connected," said Dr. Yamada, "can we begin to find solutions."
Following this, Dr. Yamada introduced Permanent Representative of Japan to the United States, His Excellency Motohide Yoshikawa to address the topic from the perspective of the U.N. Brandel, the current Lions representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the United Nations Department of Public Information, then discussed how Lions involvement with the U.N. is constantly taking place throughout the year.
He introduced one of the other thirteen Lions U.N. representatives from around the world, Howard Lee, representative to the U.N. Office at Geneva, to discuss the Lions efforts to help Syrian refugees in Europe. The situation is desperate with millions displaced and more than 5,000 people already having lost their lives trying to escape to Europe. Lions are working with UNICEF and UNHCR to provide aid, such as blankets, sleeping bags, tents and more.
The 38th Annual Lions Day with the U.N. to discuss peace and gender equality.
Photo: Lions Clubs International.
Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Thomas Gass, came forward to introduce the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals. Given out as a handout later, the list of seventeen goals appeared like a Periodic Table of Elements for improving the planet, including #5 Gender Equality and #16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
LCI's past international president, Jim Ervin, discussed the relationship with the Carter Center (partner to both LCI and the U.N. Women) before introducing Laura Neuman, director of the Carter Center's Global Access to Information Program, who showed the impactful video, "I Know a Woman" and explained how the center is working toward peace through gender equality.
The morning session concluded with Youth Keynote Speaker Syed Mahmood Kazmi delivering a memorable speech about global youth, human rights and peace. At one point, the impassioned speaker who is active with U.N. Women and HeforShe, asked all the men and boys in the room to stand up and pledge to do their part in bringing equality to their female counterparts.
The group then broke for lunch with Syed joining Tennille Amor in speaking with the younger crowd in the South Dining Room and the rest of the guests going to the Delegates Dining Room to witness, in addition to great views and a good meal, a generous donation given to UNICEF's School in a Box.
The afternoon kicked off in high gear with the reveal of this year's winners of LCI's Peace Essay and Peace Poster contests. An excerpt of the essay was read by the writer himself, 12-year-old Joel Greek from South Africa. Raised by his mother who was also in attendance, the two live in a backyard in Cape Town. A brain tumor when he was six months old lead to chemotherapy and optic glaucoma (causing blindness in one eye and vision loss in the other). Doctors doubted he would live past the age of one. He has had tumors his entire life, including one that caused him to be hospitalized around the time he submitted his winning essay.
Japan's Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada presenting South Africa's Joel Greek his award.
Photo: Lions Clubs International.
Despite all of this, Joel wrote in his essay, "I myself am a young boy with a disability, the only one in my family. Yet they accept me knowing I am capable of anything. We have an opportunity to change the world."
After this, the winner of the poster contest, thirteen-year-old Yumo Zhu from China, was introduced. She and LCI International President Dr. Yamada pulled the piece of blue velvet from the easel to reveal what could easily be a professional illustration created by this young girl. It was easy to see how it was the grand prize and impressive that it was the first place of approximately 600,000 posters.
Next, we heard from the deputy director of U.N. Women, Ravi Karkara, who gave a rousing speech about intergenerational partnerships and gender implementation of the U.N.'s SDGs that had us literally arm-wrestling and holding hands by the time he was done.
The following well-orchestrated panel discussion about gender equality was a real highlight. The opening video, "Lions Empower Women and Girls," showed women and girls who had been lifted up through service projects and leadership opportunities.
Moderated by Pakistan Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar (LCI's first female international director and Pakistan's former Federal Minister for Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education - and Tourism), the panel incorporated a cross-section of leaders who had intense personal stories of gender bias and violence.
These panelists included: Jimmie Briggs of the New York City Mayor's Commission on Gender Equality/co-founder of the Man Up Campaign; Ratna Choudry, Lions Quest Senior Trainer from Delhi, India; seventeen-year-old Katie Jackson, president of her high school's Leo club in Alberta, Canada (last year, the club focused on gender equality projects); and Lion Debbie Cantrell from Missouri who survived an abusive marriage and overcame homelessness to become a community leader and board president of COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment).
Additionally, Tennille Amor participated on the panel and, after Ravi Karkara and several Lions officers signed a letter of intent declaring that the U.N. and Lions would combine efforts to fight gender inequality, went on to close out the day with her very catchy new song with a positive theme, "I am a Girl."
The success of the day was apparent in the reactions of the attendees. LCI's own Foundation Chairperson, Joe Preston, posted on Facebook, "I have to admit I did not understand why this was the featured topic at this Lions event. Six hours later I not only understand, but pledge to take positive action to address the important message of treating everyone equally, especially our women and girls." There was a strong call to action that was clearly heard.
Jim Luce, founding president of the N.Y. Global Leaders Lions Club (NYGLLC)
with Guillermo Perez, District Governor, Lions Clubs International Dist. 20-R.
Photo: The Stewardship Report.
In an email following the event, panelist Debbie Cantrell said, "First of all, participating in LDUN was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life! Several women after came to me in quiet tears thanking me for speaking up on this topic. Again, amazing."
With Kristopher Kempski.
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The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) supporting young global leadership is affiliated with Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), raising global citizens. If supporting youth is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.