My Life – A Timeline

2014: The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the UN (CoNGO) and the NGO CSW/NY. I was elected the First Vice-President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the UN. I am also PastChair ex officio of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Status of Women in New York (NGO CSW/NY). I have told our members, “We are all volunteers so our work should bring us joy. I do a happiness check every year. If I’m still smiling, I continue this work. If I stop smiling — that will be a different story. How does the NGO CSW/NY organize 2000-plus women every year during the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting? At first glance, I’d say, “It is a miracle” and that makes me smile.


2012: Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, led the way to pass a resolution calling for equal representation of women in treaty negotiations. At a strategy meeting, I sat behind the government delegate from Bangladesh who supported the idea. She winked at me when the group agreed. How does a feminist advocate for women’s freedoms behave in a country that says women must cover up their legs in public? Christiana Figureres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, put on a light scarf at the opening ceremonies to abide by local traditions. The next day, I changed from shorts to long pants. Sometimes my anthropological instincts kick in and I conform to local custom.


2005: Ninth Women’s World Conference.  I joined the Korean planning committee for this world conference at Ewha Womans University—the world’s largest women’s university with 20,000 students.  We brought together international feminist scholars and activists, NGO leaders and policy makers to share ideas and research about gender equality and women’s empowerment. Lee Myung Pak, then mayor of Seoul, threw a gala dinner party on the Korean palace grounds for over 3000 participants. The event was widely publicized in the national media. He was elected President of South Korea the following year.  Did his public support for women sway the election?


1998: WHO and Tobacco. As a consultant for the World Health Organization Tobacco Free Initiative, I headed a team of scientists working on gender, women and tobacco. Dr. Jonathan Samet, Director of the Institute for Global Health at USC, and I edited the WHO Report on Gender, Women and the Tobacco Epidemic. It has been called a “stunningly beautiful” report (by me). We launched the WHO conference on women and tobacco in Kobe, Japan, by wearing Japanese jackets and hammering sake barrels. Dr. Gro Brundtland, then Director-General of WHO, gave the barrels their hardest blow.


AM-2 Timeline 1996
1996: EarthTimes. Pranay Gupte, editor of the EarthTimes newspaper, asked me to replace Bella Abzug as a columnist on social development issues. I started to wear hats in case there was some Bella magic in them. With the EarthTimes, I covered global conferences: Rio Plus Five (Brazil), Habitat II (Istanbul), the World Economic Forum (Davos) and World Bank meetings. At the Rio Plus Five meeting, I spoke at my first international press conference along with Maurice Strong, UN Secretary-General of the first Earth Summit (1992), and an impressive tribal chief representing the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.  They were both very supportive of the feminist agenda.


AM-2 Timeline NGO Forum team 1995
1995: The Fourth World Conference on Women. Irene Santiago, director for the NGO Forum on Women, asked me to be the UN Liaison for the women’s conference in Beijing. My job was to coordinate regional networks and work on an NGO Beijing Platform for Action document. Fifty thousand delegates gathered at the largest UN world conference ever. If we had all stomped on the earth together, at the same time, we would have knocked the earth out of orbit. On opening day, two angry Americans accused me of being part of a Chinese conspiracy to sabotage the conference. Did I really look Chinese?


AM-2 Timeline1989
1989: Our daughter, Song-Mee. Rick flew from New York to Seoul. I left from New Delhi and met him to pick up Song-Mee, our adopted Korean daughter. She turned out to be a beauty—inside and out. And she still is.


AM-2 Time 1985 WHO
1985: WHO in India. I accepted a job as a Social Scientist with the World Health Organization Southeast Asia regional office in New Delhi. That office covered eleven countries, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I got a hands-on crash course in HIV/AIDS, leprosy and other tropical diseases, child immunization, water and sanitation, tropical diseases like dengue hemorrhagic fever and maternal health. I have a large collection of photos from this phase of my UN life that I call my “statue phase.” I’m usually the stand-alone woman in a group of very serious-looking men standing in orderly rows. When I wore a sari for fun, locals thought I was from Nepal or the Indian hill tribes or Tibet.


1983: UNICEF in Senegal and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). I travel to do two case studies on women’s gardens in Senegal and women’s dams in Burkina Faso. Right after I left Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), there was a coup d’état. This contributed to the rumor among my husband Rick Smith’s friends at Newsweek that I was causing worldwide political upheavals.


AM-2 Timeline 1981
1980: Hoboken Home and UN Consultancies. Rick and I moved to Hoboken, New Jersey because I wouldn’t live in Manhattan. “We have dictators in Asia but our streets are safe. The same can’t be said of New York City,” I said. I learned to rollerblade but never mastered the art of stopping. Elizabeth Reid from Australia asked me to join the UN Secretariat for the UN World Conference on Women in Copenhagen, where we introduced the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to women ministers from around the world. After the UN conference, I returned to my research on Women’s Studies as a visiting researcher at Sarah Lawrence.


1978: Married by Nine Buddhist Monks. Rick Smith and I were married by nine Thai monks at the Marble Temple in Bangkok. I described my husband to my friends as my biological and cultural opposite—not a bad formula for an interesting life-long love affair. Rick, then editor of Newsweek’s international edition, flew back to New York. For two years, we had the world’s most expensive commuter marriage.


Am-2Timeline 1978 Unicef
1978: UNICEF.  I joined the UNICEF regional office in Bangkok as a Social Development officer and lived in Thailand. This was an amazing chance to put my anthropological theory into practice and learn about women and children’s issues, first hand. My travels took me to villages and development projects throughout Southeast Asia and Pakistan, where I met women leaders working to develop their villages and urban slums, feminist activist demonstrating in the streets, labor union leaders organizing peddlers, government officials fighting corruption, and UN defenders of women and children’s human rights. I stored up enough inspiration those years to last a lifetime.


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