When someone asks me “What is your job?” I usually smile and answer, “I work for the UN and sometimes I get paid”. Since I graduated from university, I have had different roles — anthropology researcher, professor, columnist, feminist advocate, UN official, and practitioner — but I always had the same job. Most recently, my unpaid job includes being the First Vice-President of the Conference of NGOs in consultative status with the UN and PastChair of the Non-Government Organization Committee on the Status of Women in New York. The NGO CSW/NY is a 99.9% volunteer-based organization that provides a forum for the international women’s movement to interact with the United Nations. I am also Chair of the Board at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization that stands for women’s human rights and integrity of the environment. I help my organizations weave the world’s women together during UN events such as the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the High Level Political Forum and the UN Economic and Social Council and General Assembly.
My “paid” UN work has involved travel to all regions of the world, working for UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and other UN agencies like the International Labour Organization and UNFPA. It is a dream job for an anthropologist whose subject matter is the study of culture and human evolution—past and present. Yes, that is pretty much the entire world and its people.
The UN has opened opportunities for me to be a participant observer in social movements, development projects, treaty processes and political change. I have contributed to creating UN documents like the Beijing Platform for Action — which is probably why I think they have something to offer. UN agreements help set international standards of governance, shift social norms, and express the civilized world’s consensus about how we should treat one another. My other “paid” job as an anthropologist includes writing, doing research and teaching at universities. I encourage all students of human behaviour to follow their curiosity even beyond their specialization. To see the big picture, a multidisciplinary eye on the subject matter is a great advantage. That explains my journey down many different paths. I have written papers and reports on gender and tobacco, climate change, rural women and microcredit, child labor, clean water and sanitation, traditional health culture, primary health care and HIV/AIDS. And I’m still learning.