Front Row Seat: A CBU Student at the UN

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UN headquarters, NYC. (Photo by User:Theodoranian (by myself) [CC BY-SA 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

UN headquarters, NYC. (Photo by Theodoranian, own work, CC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This past fall, I boarded a one-way flight to New York City with two outrageously sized suitcases, a backpack and a yoga mat. I had a faint idea about what I would be doing in the Big Apple, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead in the next three months.

I had decided quite spontaneously to leave my comfortable life as a student at Cape Breton University to pursue what I knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Near the end of the summer, I was offered an internship at Reaching Critical Will (RCW), the disarmament program for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

To give a brief background: WILPF is a non-profit, non-governmental organization and the oldest women’s peace organization in the world, established during World War I. The organization began in 1915 when women from across the globe met in The Hague to discuss ways to challenge the mindset towards militarism, capitalism and patriarchy, as well as possible solutions to the violent, ongoing world war surrounding them. Since then, the organization has grown to span 37 countries. Reaching Critical Will is a branch of WILPF that advocates for global disarmament and the reduction of global military spending with a special focus on the gendered impact of militarism around the world.

Working with Reaching Critical Will was an eye-opening experience. I sat in on meetings of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee (on Disarmament and International Security), wrote articles for RCW’s First Committee Monitor – reporting specifically on state and civil society discussions on ‘gender and disarmament,’ a theme of growing significance in the traditionally male-dominated world of disarmament diplomacy – and be part of an amazing movement towards gender equality, nuclear abolition and human security at a very special time in history.

 

The sun was beating down on me as I walked the 15-block commute, UN pass swinging around my neck, from my apartment to the United Nations headquarters. My first day was quite intimidating. As the colorful flags of the UN member states came into view, I began to notice diplomats and delegates striding confidently from their tinted SUVs to the front gates of the headquarters. The entire moment felt surreal.

Non-Violence, bronze sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, at UN headquarters in NYC. (Photo by Madison Goodliffe)

Non-Violence, bronze sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, at UN headquarters in NYC. (Photo by Madison Goodliffe)

I approached the gates, noticed the lineup of tourists waiting to get in — and panicked. I was going to be extremely late on my first day if I had to wait in that line. After surveying the scene for a minute, I decided to approach the gates – I did have a pass after all. To my surprise they waved me through. I couldn’t believe that I just had to flash my badge to walk into the United Nations. As I set my bag down on one of the cushy seats of the conference room, it finally sank in that I had a front-row seat to one of the most important and interesting global discussions: disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace affecting the international community.

As tension heightens to an all-time high in the political sphere, the divide between nuclear weapons-possessing states and non-nuclear weapons-possessing states has grown exponentially in recent months. The nine nuclear-weapon states (the US, UK, Russia, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) cling fervently, even self-righteously to their bombs, claiming they are necessary for national protection and military defense. The majority of non-nuclear weapons-possessing states have rebelled against them, adopting, on 7 July 2017, a momentous new accord, the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), finally declaring — after 72 years of nuclear terror and intimidation — the world’s most destructive and indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction illegal internationally.

 

One example of the extreme destructiveness of nuclear weapons are the effects, still felt, of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. First-, second- and third-generation Hibakushas (the Japanese term for atomic-bomb survivors) are speaking out about the consequences and discrimination they themselves, as well as their families and communities, continue to endure.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a side event at United Nations headquarters focused on the stories of three such individuals — and generations: Kimura Tokuko, an atomic bomb survivor from Nagasaki; Azuma Chizuru, an actress and nuclear abolition activist from Hiroshima; and Urata Shion, who represented the youth as a third-generation Hibakusha.

Surrounded by schoolchildren, a Hibakusha, speaks at a special UN event commemorating Disarmament Week (annually 24-30 October). UN Photo

Surrounded by schoolchildren, a Hibakusha, speaks at a special UN event commemorating Disarmament Week (annually 24-30 October). UN Photo

After hearing them, I understood both viscerally and intellectually that humanity cannot continue down the path of ‘improving’ and ‘advancing’ its capacity for atrocious nuclear self-destruction. The necessity to disarm was felt heavily and emotionally by those attending this event. As the three women spoke about their own experiences, the room was somber, and many delegates were visibly upset. It was heartbreaking watching the pain on the faces of the Japanese women as they recounted their stories. Scaling down the issue to single individuals made it obvious that the impacts and risks from a humanitarian perspective are unjust and unacceptable.

My experience at Reaching Critical Will taught me more than I could have imagined. Boarding that initial flight to New York in early fall, yoga mat in hand, I was definitely unaware of the immense impact this opportunity would have on the way I perceived the world. Tension is only growing, and it is clear with the current political situation that disarmament on a global scale is imperative in the fight for gender equality, human rights, global economic health and the protection of the environment.

I would also like to thank Lee-Anne Broadhead and Sean Howard, my supervisors at CBU, for encouraging me and supporting me in this endeavor!

Featured photo: UN headquarters interior, NYC, by Madison Goodliffe.

 

 

Madison Goodliffe moved from Toronto to Cape Breton in 2015 to attend Cape Breton University. She is now a third-year political science major at CBU and a member of the CBU Women’s Soccer team. She hopes to pursue a career in international diplomacy or law. In her free time, Madison enjoys playing soccer, going on road trips, working out and spending time outdoors. She may be contacted here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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