2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women Report (CSW61)

The Temple of Understanding collaboratively organized three successful sessions and an interfaith service of remembrance during the 61st Annual Commission on the Status of Women

TOU board members and attendees at CSW61


For the overall proceedings, we suggest this report by colleague Kate Lappin, of APWLD and the Women’s Major Group, who assessed Four wins at CSW this year:

  1. Committing to gender responsive just transitions in the context of climate change
  2. Recognising the role of trade unions in addressing economic inequalities and the gender pay gap
  3. More detailed methods to ensure the redistribution of unpaid care work
  4. Referring to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)  [Read more]

Also recommended is the Report on CSW61 and Analysis of the Agreed Conclusions by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.


Interfaith Service of Remembrance, CSW61


This year’s interfaith service again remembered women murdered for standing up for their rights. Four months after the death of Berta Cáceres, her colleague Lesbia Yaneth Urquia was murdered for the same work: trying to stop a hydroelectric project that threatened water and land. The Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (Copinh) is quoted as writing, “The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with the courage and bravery to defend their rights.”


Roberto Mukaro Borrerro, Grove Harris, Betty Lyons


Our joint DPI/NGO session was entitled “Women as Roots of Change: Sustainable Food Production and Sovereignty.” Speakers included Sister Celine Paramunda, Medical Mission Sisters; Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation), American Indian Law Alliance; Roberto Mukaro Borrerro, International Indian Treaty Council; and Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief, New York UNCTAD. It was a pleasure to collaborate with DPI colleagues Hawa Diallo, who brilliantly introduced the panel, and the production team including Krystal Fruscella and Chioma Onwumelu (all pictured below).

Our full crew: Women as Roots of Change DPI/NGO Session at CSW61


The complete session can be viewed on UN Web TV by clicking the image below: 


Our session “On a Gender-Just and Sustainable Trade Agenda,” co-sponsored by UNCTAD and the Women’s Major Group, both highlighted the need for more advocacy towards a gendered understanding of trade policies, and commended women’s activism in pushing for it. UNCTAD has a set of online publications that are part of their gender initiative. They write, “Taking into account gender perspectives in macro-economic policy, including trade policy, is essential to pursuing inclusive and sustainable development and to achieving fairer and beneficial outcomes for all.”

This event, held in the Ex-Press Bar, was hugely successful. The room was filled to capacity (over 80 people) and the audience included a graduate class of women training in international affairs.

Grove Harris, Kate Lappin, Chantal Line Carpentier


Grove Harris moderated and showed the film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice. Speaker Kate Lappin was brilliant, explaining that development funding reverts profits back to the donor countries and further demystifying trade. Then Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier congratulated women’s activism, which has driven UNCTAD’s new gender and trade initiative. After the panel, Dr. Carpentier expressed appreciation for the opportunity to keep working with the NGO community on trade and financial concerns.

Speakers from the floor included Alina Saba, an Indigenous youth from Nepal who spoke to a community perspective, rather than an implicitly individualistic one. Nick Anton spoke on the new People’s Water Guide, and Ana Alvarez brought up the issue of corporate power. Theresa Blumenfield questioned UNCTAD’s uncritical acceptance of the corporate strategy of developing robots to avoid paying human workers.

Celine Paramunda, Crystal Simeoni, Grove Harris


Our session “Roots of Change: Reclaiming Economics for Women and Community” gave the audience an opportunity to exchange personal views and voice heartfelt concerns. We are especially grateful for the presence of speakers Crystal Simeoni of FEMNET and Sister Celine Paramunda of Medical Mission Sisters. Simeoni’s background in rural economic development and fighting inequality was coupled with clarity and insight. Sr. Paramunda offered heartfelt remarks on women’s leadership and spirit. She also led a brief meditation about breath and relationship, relating us to trees and the cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

FEMNET, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, offered a set of Red Flags expressing grave concerns about the direction of CSW61. Naming eighteen areas of concern, they warn, “The 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is heading toward a weak, even regressive, outcome that fails to address the current state of the world of work, let alone address future challenges.” These areas will require ongoing monitoring and activism.



The Women’s March on Washington in Pictures – January 21, 2017

From Grove Harris, TOU Main Representative to the United Nations:

This gathering of a million people was so large that actual marching was pretty limited. (With 600,000 confirmed people on public transportation, it had to be larger than estimates.) From the crowds on the metro platforms to the solid masses in the streets, it was a time to slow down and enjoy the thoughtfulness of people’s expressions. I enjoyed handing out cards about our online video, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, and listening to most of the speakers online later.

People came together peacefully to reclaim our democracy, to affirm women’s humanity and rights, and to celebrate reclaiming our streets and our capital. We found common ground for collective action.  It was a powerful affirmation of renewed civic engagement.


Enjoy these images from the march! Photo credits: Grove Harris

"Still Indigenous. Still Strong. Still Here." - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Still Indigenous. Still Strong. Still Here.”


"They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds." - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”


"Super Callous Fragile Racist Extra Bragadocious" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Super Callous Fragile Racist Extra Bragadocious”


"The oppression of women belongs in a museum" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“The oppression of women belongs in a museum”


"More Planned Parenthood = Fewer Abortions" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“More Planned Parenthood = Fewer Abortions”


"Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding." --Gandhi, seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” –Gandhi


"There is no safety. The dance has always been danced at the edge of the abyss." -Ursula K. LeGuin, seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“There is no safety. The dance has always been danced at the edge of the abyss.” -Ursula K. LeGuin


"Resistance is built on HOPE" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Resistance is built on HOPE”

High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred (Press Summary)

Grove Harris represented the Temple of Understanding at this High Level Forum at the United Nations on January 17, 2017.

A few key themes were discussed throughout the day.

There was a clear recognition of the rise of anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred in many parts of the world. The global migration crisis, the rise of xenophobic movements, identity politics, the spread of violent extremist ideology, and terrorist attacks around the world, along with misinformation and negative stereotypes disseminated through various forms of media, have contributed to the challenge.

Many speakers underscored the connections between anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred and other forms of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, including Antisemitism and anti-immigrant discrimination. In discussing possible solutions, there was broad recognition of the need to address all forms of discrimination and hatred, in particular on the basis of religion or belief, in all parts of the world by applying universal standards to provide equal protection to all individuals.

There was widespread consensus on the need for a concerted effort by all sectors of society to focus on solutions to this growing challenge. Three expert panels focused on key mechanisms to address this issue: i) Government Policies to Combat Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred; ii) Civil Society Coalition-Building; and, iii) Positive Narratives to Promote Pluralism and Inclusion.

Read the full report >>

Grove took the opportunity to share Chicago Police Diversity Training Videos with Mr. Treene.  These online videos include an overarching one on Security, Diversity, Respect, as well as brief videos on the following traditions:

Sikhism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.3)
Buddhism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.4)
Islam (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.5)
Judaism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.6)
Hinduism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.7)
Eastern Orthodox (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.8)

TOU India: Interfaith Harmony and Dialogue Report, 2015-2016

We pleased to share a report from our colleagues at Temple of UnderstandingIndia detailing their programs for 2015-2016. Highlights of TOUIndia’s activities include:

  • Participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions themed “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity” in October 2015
  • International Interfaith Dialogue on 9th January 2016 themed “The Influence of Religion on the Place of Women in Society,” jointly organized by Der Missionszentrale der Franziskaner, Bonn, Germany; the Center for Peace and Spirituality International; Temple of Understanding—India; and Bahá’í Community of India
  • Interfaith Dialogue for World Peace jointly organized by Temple of Understanding India and Focolare Movement on 20th January 2016 in honour of the visit of Madam Emmaus, President and Mr. Jesus Moran, Co-President of Focolare Movement
  • Round table Conference themed “Religion & Sustainable Development—Fostering Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” on 23rd November 2016 in collaboration with Woolf Institute, Cambridge and Georgetown University, Qatar. Some 27 outstanding scholars, including members of the Advisory Council of Temple of Understanding India Foundation, were invited by TOUIndia founder/President Hon’ble Dr. Karan Singh for deliberations surrounding the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the contributions of religious communities towards their fulfillment.

For a full description of TOUIndia’s 2015-2016 interfaith harmony and dialogue programs, please read the full report.

Resources on Women, Religion, and Rights from the UN


Realizing the Faith DividendRealizing the Faith Dividend: Religion, Gender, Peace and Security in Agenda 2030

This report focuses on the role of religious actors and religious considerations in the SDG agenda, particularly as they pertain to gender equality, peaceful coexistence and security considerations. The perspectives, ideas and initiatives discussed in these pages bring together experiences and policy analysis shared from the different realities of Donors, UN agencies and Faith-Based NGOs. The narratives build on and inform policies — required at a time when religion is predominantly viewed as an emerging challenge.


b1e2f580d5f9903ff82457c6bc548cc7Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunity

This white paper looks at the religious arguments around some of the most sensitive and contentious gender-related issues from the perspective of the major faith traditions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An article noting thisrReport and its launch in Oslo in May, was published in the Huffington Post, penned by one of the key consultants who compiled this for UNFPA and Norad. The article can be found here.

Meet TOU’s Summer #UN Interns!

The Temple of Understanding’s 2016 student interns have successfully completed their first two weeks at the United Nations! We are delighted to have such a talented and diverse group. Read on to meet our 20 interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.

Nicolas AlvaradoHi, my name is Nicolas Alvarado, and I am seventeen years old. I am American, French and Colombian, and I am trilingual in the respective languages of my nationalities. I am very interested in international relations and business, and so I decided that this internship at the UN could help me get a better sense of this. Furthermore, I wanted to merge myself into a community where the languages, cultures and beliefs present are endless, so what better place to go than the UN.

The project that I am going to work on during the internship will be about the reintegration of child soldiers in Colombia after the signing of the peace process. Having lived in Colombia for a while, this topic is very important to me because it has been very detrimental to the country. The conflict being resolved is an incredible feat for Colombia. Furthermore, my topic of the reintegration of children goes hand-in-hand with my non-profit, which donates bicycles to underprivileged schools in order to be able to create a healthy and fun environment for the kids. Finally, I am very concerned with finding ways that the Colombian child soldiers can really be re-accepted into society and for them not to be marginalized or discriminated against; maybe Bicy-Green, my non-profit, can be an initiative that can help.


Kieran DowneyMy name is Kieran Downey and I am a sixteen-year-old girl from New York City. I attend Convent of the Sacred Heart. Initially, I heard about this internship through my school and from friends who have participated in the program; I was inspired by the Temple of Understanding’s mission, which correlates with my eleventh grade yearlong religion project about Religious Violence in the Middle East and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the Church. I am interested to learn more about issues including human rights, environmental and global issues, international law, social justice, and counterterrorism. I aspire to be a global citizen and be informed and aware of how an NGO and the United Nations can work together to foster social justice. One of the goals in my school community is for students to be compelled to action; therefore, my interest to strengthen my ability as an educated and involved citizen to promote change in our world can be expanded with the exposure to global issues through the United Nations.

For my final project, I will be researching the history of Bangladesh as a secular country, despite its national commitment to Islam in 1977. Additionally, I want to learn more about the violence against non-Muslims and other foreigners within Bangladesh and discover ways in which to promote peace and unity within Bangladesh through interfaith dialogue. I hope to speak with a representative from the Bangladesh Mission to get first-hand information about the relationship between religion and politics within this secular nation. I want to research more about the goals of a secular nation, as many believe it provides a more inclusive environment. Violent extremism is a global issue, but has become notably present in Bangladesh recently, and I therefore look forward to the opportunity to delve into this complex topic.


Elzat ErkenMy name is Elzat Erken. I am sixteen years old and I was born in East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China). My priority of being an intern at the United Nations is to help people in need, especially refugees, and enable them to have better lives. Since there are many refugee communities in Philadelphia, I plan on helping them by building organizations and encouraging more people to get involved in them. I will also find ways to have the voice of underrepresented people heard at the United Nations, like the Uyghur, Tibetan and other minority groups. I hope to come up with solutions that can ease the human rights violation against those minorities.

My topic for the final project will be “Human Rights Issues in East Asia and the Middle East.” Many human rights violations are occurring in Asia because of government oppression against minorities. As a victim, I hope to let more people know about the underrepresented minorities and how they are suffering deprivation of human rights from the government. Human rights defenders are thrown into prison or executed due to their active human rights advocacy and their action of raising human rights awareness in the local community. I hope that United Nations can put more effort on human rights protections in Asia.


My name is Manuela Figueiredo and I am sixteen years old. I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but I moved to New York when I was five years old and have been here ever since. Studying at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls school in the heart of New York City, I have been extremely lucky to never experience much of the adversity that exists in the world towards women and other minorities. However, that has not prevented me from studying these adversities in the hopes of someday making an impact myself.

For my final project in this internship, I will be researching the impact of climate change on the Syrian Civil War and sequentially, the Syrian refugee crisis. Many studies have demonstrated that the drought, which occurred in Syria from 2006-2011, was one of the factors that contributed to the social unrest that led up to the civil war. I will also focus my research on how the current climate situation is unsustainable when considering the large influx of Syrian refugees migrating to both developed and developing countries. In my research, I hope to brainstorm more sustainable methods of accepting new migrants with respect to the impact of climate change.


Grant Gelles PictureI am Grant Gelles, a student at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, Connecticut. I love everything business-disciplined and am incredibly passionate about health and fitness, cars, and especially civil liberties and human rights. My interest in a UN internship spawned from my access to the UN at a young age via my older brother (a past intern at the TOU), and father, both infatuated by the consciousness and awareness of the United Nations and Temple of Understanding. My interests include and surpass consciousness and awareness, and I’m particularly interested in maintaining liberty and ensuring that I make a positive impact in the world, both with positive thought and action. I pursue this passion in everything I do by seizing opportunities, educating people, and being educated by all that surrounds me.

During my time at the United Nations, I plan on seeking information regarding the effects that education has on maintaining peace and stability. This broad topic explores how education can be used as a vessel to prevent terrorism, promote equality, and ensure a sustainable future. In pursuit of this topic, I plan on working closely with UNICEF and many other organizations who protect the rights of students and spread their abilities to learn and grow as members of society and as global citizens. My philosophy is to ensure that education is not only the greatest weapon, but will promote a higher functioning society that will yield a more stable and enhanced future in the worlds of science, technology, arts, infrastructure, etc.


Dylan JunkinMy name is Dylan Junkin and I am seventeen years old. I live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1 hour from Philadelphia) and attend a public high school called Central Bucks East. Throughout the last four years, I have grown more interested in social justice and pursued this interest through documentary filmmaking, writing, and currently, this internship. During my 9th grade year, I made a documentary about the Armenian Genocide for a research project, but decided to continue my research into the subject after finishing the project. I was fortunate enough to interview survivors of the event, whose stories both captivated and sickened me. The following year, I did another project on the Cambodian Genocide and made a documentary and website featuring the testimonials of the survivors I interviewed. In the moment, I did not realize the tremendous impact these experiences had on me, but during the last three years I have been exposed to ideas and events I would not otherwise understand, I have learned about different cultures, and most of all I have realized the need for a connected and cohesive world when confronted with war and genocide. These are the reasons I have decided to pursue my interests through this internship.

Recently, I was able to travel to Israel and the West Bank as well through a program for Israeli/Palestinian youth called Writing Matters. While abroad, I gained a better sense of the everyday conflict that exists in the region. It is not always dramatic like the newspapers portray it, nor does it feel dangerous, but there is an unspoken tension and a sense that people on each side of the debate yearn for something different—a solution. I decided to do my final project on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is that sentiment I wish to capture to fully analyze the differing viewpoints of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the history of the conflict, and what the future may hold for the region. Specifically, I believe the best way to showcase this emotionally charged situation is a documentary. The people I interview will be able to speak for themselves and none of the passion, feeling, and meaning in their words will be lost. My main goal is to interview as many people as possible during these five weeks so that my final project encompasses many viewpoints and I am able to accurately portray all perspectives. I also want to speak to a mixture of government delegates and everyday citizens of each region, so that I am able to highlight the contrast between the wishes of the politicians and the wishes of the people. In conjunction with the Temple of Understanding, I am additionally hoping to speak to religious leaders of Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish organizations to gain perspective on each group’s attitudes surrounding this topic.


Meher KaurMy name is Meher Kaur. I am seventeen years old, and I am from Maryland. I am here to explore my interests in the field of international relations and to find ways to provide long-term and short-term humanitarian aid. During my junior year of high school, I completed an extensive research project on the conflict in South Sudan, with a focus on the UN’s role in resolving the conflict. This project sparked my interest in the UN and inspired me to apply for the internship program with the Temple of Understanding.

During the course of this internship, I am researching the conflict in Punjab and how the UN and various international organizations can contribute to provide aid. Currently Punjab struggles with large unemployment rates, poverty, disregard for human rights, and a massive youth substance abuse problem. I believe something needs to be done to save the young generation of Punjab. Throughout my research, I am focusing on the root causes of these problems.


Grace KimGreetings! My name is Grace Kim and I am from Montrose, one of the (many) sunny suburbs of Los Angeles, California. I am a seventeen-year-old with a passion for humanitarianism that stems from my travels to Bolivia and China. Interacting with the locals exposed me to the various problems existing in underdeveloped communities. Having grown up in a sheltered neighborhood, I was shocked to see first-hand that issues that I had read about in the news were very much a reality. That initial shock has stuck with me to this day and motivated me to apply for the Temple of Understanding internship.

Through my internship at the UN, I hope to delve deeper into the topics of youth empowerment and youth participation in humanitarian efforts. My decision to focus specifically on the role of the youth comes from my personal involvement back home – I had the opportunity to co-found Give2Friends Foundation, a student-run non-profit organization that proactively fights to better the lives of the homeless, disabled, and foster children in my local community. In conjunction with Give2Friends, I am also the Corps Commander of my high school’s Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Corps, a student-run leadership program that aims to create better citizens of America by promoting service before self. As I am heavily involved with youth-run programs, I hope that the TOU project and the UN internship will provide me with not only a wider knowledge base, but also a network of NGO leaders and like-minded students that can promote youth involvement in the local and global community.


Hyukjin KoMy name is Hyukjin Ko, and I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior at Bishop TK Gorman High School in Tyler, Texas. I am currently attending high school as a foreign exchange student from South Korea. While living in South Korea, I frequently heard the news about military tension, political conflict, and stories of separated families, which prompted me to pay attention to international affairs. Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon was elected as the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, which sparked my interest in the United Nations and international relations. Eventually, my interest in international relations and the event discussion club at my school led me to want to intern at the UN. My main goal is to engage with people from different countries and ethnicities at the United Nations. I strongly believe that religious extremism and political conflict most likely come from the lack of understanding and overall misconception; therefore, I have aimed to interact and share viewpoints with people so that I can contribute and change real problems.

During my internship at the United Nations, I want to focus on the relationship between religion and politics and also analyze different religious perspectives towards religious extremism in the Middle East. Religious radicalism has influenced and threatened people’s rights and lives for a long period of time, which is why I expect to break the misconceptions people have about religions and argue that the only way of solving the problem is to negotiate and engage everyone, because this will minimize the damage and will enable us to figure out the solution to this problem.


My name is Ava Levin and I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I am seventeen years old and will be a senior in high school in the fall. During this internship, I hope to learn more about the world from less of a Eurocentric viewpoint, attend a variety of meetings and side-events, and explore New York City. I hope to accomplish all of these goals alongside the other interns as we create lasting friendships.

I am going to focus on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which is “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.” I also hope to delve into the intersectionality of this goal and SDG 5, or “Gender Equality.” I plan to do a case study on at least one country in Africa, likely Liberia, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although I will focus on one place, I will look into Rule of Law practices in surrounding countries to see how successful projects there could be applied to the place in which I research in depth. I want to specifically look into access to justice (especially for women) and especially creative institutions and programs. I cannot wait to learn more about this topic and share what I learn with my peers.


Savanna LimHi! My name is Savanna Lim and I am eighteen years old. I grew up in Singapore, but I now reside in Houston, Texas. I am excited at the prospect of being able to meet the people in the foreign service whom I want to be in the future, and to observe the day-to-day life at the United Nations.

For my project, I will be doing a comparative analysis of sustainable development goal #4, or quality of education, between Southeast Asia and Latin America by using two case studies from each region. I will also be looking at root causes for any disparities and similarities between the regions. In addition, I am looking into how the teaching of the English language affects the quality of education and in turn the development of the country as a whole. Since the SDG’s are fairly new and are still fresh in the minds of other delegates, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask representatives from different countries how they will develop SDG #4 and what tools they will use to ensure the continued stability of their respective projects. I am very passionate about education and the two regions and am excited to present my findings!

Here are some links that I am using to assist my research: Report Card on Education in Southeast Asia; Education and Poverty in Latin America; Education in Indonesia; How Education Shaped Communist Cuba; Educational Quality and Inequality in Latin America


Lauren LiottiMy name is Lauren Liotti and I am seventeen years old. I have lived in New York City my entire life, but I will be moving to Scotland in September for University. I decided to be an intern at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding after cultivating an interest for international affairs throughout high school and three years of Model UN.

For my final project, I will be studying the destruction of religious and cultural sites that have been destroyed in the recent conflicts in the Middle East. Specifically, I will outline not only what has happened to these sites thus far, but also the steps that have been and will be taken to prevent the further loss of sites of historical importance. I will also be looking at how the United Nations and the UN Organization UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) have been combatting the losses of valuable historical, cultural, and religious artifacts and locations. I hope to interview someone from UNESCO to have a deeper understanding of what can be done to protect these important sites for future generations. I am very excited to research this very interesting and pressing topic over the next few weeks, and I look forward to utilizing the resources of both the Temple of Understanding and the UN.


Elena Younhye OckHello! I am Elena Younhye Ock from South Korea. I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior who has been studying in the United States for the last two years. I decided to study in the United States in preparation for the global career I have dreamed of, which I am very excited to begin with the United Nations High School internship. In the future, I want to fight for the rights of the marginalized, refugees, or any victims of discrimination and injustice.

For my final project at this internship, since I want to become an international human rights lawyer, I want to broaden my understanding of the complexity and magnitude of the human rights violations in North Korea. The project will cover different areas, including: the measures that the regime employs to keep the freedom away from its people, the violations on the human rights of North Koreans, and the history of the condemnations and sanctions from the international community and their impact on the lives of the North Koreans and its government’s policy. In addition, I will also examine the human rights violations of the North Korean refugees.


Elle ParkMy name is Elle Park, and I am eighteen years old. I am currently an upcoming senior at Syosset High School on Long Island, but I moved from Seoul, South Korea in 5th grade. At an era when violence prevails the earth and global conflicts as well as cultural differences lead into wars, peacekeeping efforts are needed more than ever. Ever since I was a child, I have always looked up to the work that the United Nations has been doing to improve international relations, whether it be on nuclear weapons and border control or on improving lives of the oppressed population.

When I saw the opportunity to be part of that workforce in the summer, I became interested immediately. It is saddening to see the lives of civilians ruined forever due to war, oppressive regimes, and hunger. I am interested in providing education for developing countries, especially for women and children who never had a chance for a formal education. I hope to work on a solution to provide education by supplying wireless internet in regions that lack them and cannot be part of the global conversations online.


Diana PaulsenMy name is Diana Paulsen. I am seventeen years old and I am from Houston, Texas. I applied for the Temple of Understanding Internship Program because of a conviction instilled in me by my parents, my faith, and my school: that all people have a moral obligation to create positive social change. The UN provides an amazing forum for affecting social change around the world, one which I hope to be able to utilize.

For my research topic, I would like to examine the links and connections between environmental justice and gender equality. Women are uniquely affected by climate change and are uniquely situated to be part of the solution. Also, underlying gender inequalities exacerbate both the factors leading to climate change and the kind of effects that it can have. To learn, check out these resources: UN Women: Sustainable Development and Climate ChangeWomen and the Environment; and UN Resources on Gender and Women’s Issues: Women and the Environment


Evan SchlosserMy name is Evan Schlosser and I am a sixteen-year-old from Pennington, New Jersey.  I have developed an eager desire to pursue a career as a political economist contributing to the UN’s efforts on international development through the following experiences: member of the coordinating committee at a soup kitchen in Trenton, NJ; serving as an officer of the Model UN Team and Co-Captain of the Debate Team at my high school; writing articles on international cooperative organizations; reading of The GuardianThe New York Times, and The Economist; and independent readings on topics including the UNESCO, the ILO, and the discussion of a global tax on wealth.

During my internship, I plan to explore ways in which international, national, regional, and local actors, while keeping in mind the general goals outlined in the SDG’s, as well as the progress made through the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit, can work collaboratively and increasingly horizontally to foster a holistic approach towards the long-term goal of economic self-reliance for protracted internally displaced persons by breaking down silos that dominate the humanitarian-development nexus to implement an integrated policy approach. To paraphrase the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, the new development agenda must leave no one behind and help those furthest behind first. As was stated repeatedly during the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of ECOSOC, no sect of the population of our global society is further behind than protracted IDP’s.  This topic focuses on merely one of the avenues to bring economic self-reliance to protracted IDP’s: by establishing coordination between humanitarian and development actors at the international, national, regional, and local levels. My final research statement will by no means be a definitive and all-encompassing solution, but will aim to be a contribution to the possible solutions of the multi-faceted challenges facing protracted IDP’s.


Ashwini SelvakumaranHello! I am Ashwini Selvakumaran. I am sixteen years old and I’m really passionate about women’s rights issues, especially concerning global education and empowerment. I’ve had the privilege of being brought up in five different countries: Kazakhstan, Yemen, Malaysia, America, and Canada, where I currently reside. Moving all around the world has helped me gain a broader perspective on the important issues surrounding the world today, especially regarding the unfair treatment of women. Witnessing this conflict really sparked an interest in me to come up with a solution, hence igniting my passion for women’s rights. I can’t wait to impart my knowledge and gain new experiences during my time here at the United Nations!





Rhea SomanHello! My name is Rhea Soman, and I have been in this world for seventeen and a half years now. Most of those years I have spent residing in Sayreville, New Jersey. From a very young age, I was deeply interested in discussion. I lived for the transferring of ideas, the enlightening of the mind. I just always hungered for a deeper human understanding of concepts and events. Honestly, the communicating of different thoughts, the offering of different angles to perceive things, a new inventive insight, thought-provoking questions and answers are all very thrilling to me – and what better place to find such a collaborative discussion than the United Nations, an organization representing people of different countries, different lifestyles, different ideals? Through my experiences at the UN and my work on my project, I hope to continue to broaden my perspective and invite further discussion and reflection among people I interact with.

For my project I specifically hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between religion and politics. Religion and politics are both undeniably strong forces that govern people’s lives. I think studying the connection between the two is vital to further understanding human nature and conflicts that are affecting people’s daily lives in connection to those two powers. We cannot hope to solve the world’s biggest problems without looking within humanity and its deepest influences.


Christian YoonHello! My name is Christian Yoon. I’m seventeen years old and am from Mclean, Virginia. Since the beginning of high school, I have been passionately involved with my school’s Model UN club. From researching a variety of countries and topics, cooperating and applying diplomacy, and learning how to speak and write professionally, Model UN has truly been a blessing upon my high school experience, and one that has pushed me towards interning at the UN. I hope to apply my enthusiasm and creativity for Model UN to actual issues in the UN itself.

During my time here at the UN, I plan to research and prepare a presentation and essay regarding the influence of formal education on standards of living in developing countries. Through this topic, I want to analyze the current models of labor and education in developing countries, impediments to establishing lasting forms of formal education (such as child labor), and the effects that education can have on the factors that determine the standards of living. As established by the United Nations Development Programme, the Human Development Index (HDI) stands as the most accurate tool for gauging standards of living throughout the world. Not only do I hope to evaluate the standards of living in current models and conditions through the Human Development Index, but also the standards of living in countries that are of similar backgrounds, but utilize formal education systems. Throughout this endeavor, I hope to be able to assess the value of education, whether or not it is universally effective, and if it can influence the individuals at a communal and global level.


Kayla ZhuMy name is Kayla Zhu. I am sixteen years old, and I was born and raised in metro Detroit. My work with youth voices at the UN, as Chief Programs Officer of American Programs at the International Youth Council, has led me to pursue this internship. The youth of the world have the responsibility of creating a collective voice to challenge global issues that will shape our generation’s future. I hope to use this experience to serve as a youth advocate at the UN, as our generation looks ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals as a long-term development road map. Youth voices must always be at the table when developing policies for the present and long-term, and I would like to thank the Temple of Understanding for investing in youth and presenting us with the opportunity to become global change makers. My interests at the UN include sustainable urban development, food security, and development finance.

I will be focusing my research on the financing of humanitarian aid. The current system of humanitarian aid is widely accepted as unsustainable by all parties involved in the aid process and, as a result, the sector has been working towards developing a long-term approach to financing. The complexity of balancing reform with the reassurance of donor confidence is a challenge both governments and NGOs face on the path of developing a holistic development approach. The commonalities in reform suggestions include multi-year financing, multi-year planning cycles, and the analysis of comparative advantage. Many of the issues requiring humanitarian aid, such as food security and infrastructure development, are not short-term issues and are not effectively addressed by single-year initiatives. Humanitarian aid will always be necessary; therefore, it is crucial that we reform the system in which we work and look towards long-term planning.

Women, Faith and Human Rights Report – New from UNFPA

Gathering honest and critical thinking by women and men of faith and human rights actors, the new Women, Faith, and Human Rights report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Church of Sweden has the following goals:

  • To contribute to a broader and deeper understanding of the relation between faith and human rights, particularly around issues of SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] and population dynamics.
  • To challenge the notion that there per definition is a conflict between faith and human rights in general and women’s rights in particular.
  • To make the positions of faith-based women in leadership visible and to convey their experiences and views to UN missions and UN agencies.
  • To inspire women in leadership to build networks that add an important voice to the global women’s movement engaged in active UN advocacy around gender equality and women and girls’ rights.

Download the full-color Women, Faith, and Human Rights report here >>





TOU Statement on Human Right to Food at UN Human Rights Council

In collaboration with the Mining Working Group and Franciscans International, the Temple of Understanding is honored to contribute a statement on the Human Right to Food for the thirty-first session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Special thanks to Sylvia Rossini for delivering the statement, entitled “Human Rights: Foreign Debt and the Right to Food.”

Watch the statement on UNTV >>


TOU-logo NGO-Mining-Working-Group-logo Franciscans-International-logo

Oral Statement delivered to the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Agenda Item 3: Clustered Interactive Dialogue
Independent Expert on the effects of Foreign Debt on Human Rights
Special Rapporteur on Food
March 7, 2016

Human Rights: Foreign Debt and the Right to Food

The Temple of Understanding and the NGO Mining Working Group appreciate these reports on Foreign Debt and on the right to food.  We echo the urgent need to transform patriarchal social structures and practices in agricultural and other extractive industries that make women and girls—across the globe and across their life spans—particularly vulnerable to deprivations of their right to food.  Local, smaller scale agriculture must be supported, as opposed to the industrial monocultures that are destroying local autonomy and fertility.

We are concerned about global economic structures including the role of foreign debt that undermine the right to food. The industrial agricultural sector fosters deprivation through its bias for inefficient food sources such as meat, GMO foods and seeds, pesticides, and in many countries the subsidization of corn and other high carbohydrate, low nutrition foods.  Increasingly extractive development including hydraulic fracturing further threatens agriculture and water at the expense of more life enhancing local agriculture.  Even in highly developed countries, people suffer in “food deserts” where adequate nutrition is not available.

On these points we draw your attention to the 2013 Trade and Environment Review, “Wake Up Before its Too Late”, published by UNCTAD, which urgently emphasizes the need for regional and rational agriculture not based on extractive industrial practice.

Especially in the context of the SDGs, we urge States to:

  • Protect food sovereignty and requisite natural resources such as water, land, and biodiversity from private profit motivations of agribusiness, extractive and natural gas sectors
  • Shift governmental subsides towards smaller scale/ local farming, and away from unsustainable industrialized agriculture;
  • Ensure that development aid or loans are not conditioned on forced privatization or liberalization; and
  • Guarantee that the State and non-State actors involved in global partnership for development respect, protect, and promote the human rights and knowledge of local food producers.

Report from TOU’s UN Main Rep, Grove Harris – May, 2015

The Mining Working Group (MWG) at the UN is a coalition of NGOs, mainly religious, that are collaborating effectively to raise environmental issues at the UN.

From overturning the extractive Industry model through a human rights approach, to the human right to water, and to human rights as a framework for corporate accountability (there’s work towards a binding agreement on this in Geneva), we’ve been addressing these issues for about a year and half.  Advocacy has been vigorous, from a postcard visual campaign, to letter campaigns, the most recent with 621 signatories (organizations) then sent to all UN missions, first by email and then by snail mail.

Our contribution for the Temple is to link with the Women’s Major Group (WMG), where I’m one of a smaller set of environmental advocates, but where the international organizations are happy to endorse the MWG’s efforts.  This is how I’ve had opportunities to speak on environmental issues at the UN, representing the MWG, the WMG and other major groups.

Coalition is the only way to go.  I’m so relieved to work with so many others, where my contributions count and add up to something much larger. The focus of this is environmental; one of my value adds is in networking between the Mining Working Group and the Women’s Major Group for opportunities.

–Grove Harris

Interfaith Harmony for Peace & Nonviolence Conference 2015 Reports

Reports on the International Conference on Interfaith Harmony for Peace & Nonviolence; India International Centre, New Delhi, February 6-8, 2015

Report by A. K. Merchant

A two day conference of Temple of Understanding USA & India was held in the backdrop of the United Nations interfaith harmony week which is commemorated every year in the first week of February. Scholars and interfaith practitioners from the US and India representing different religious communities addressed the topics of contemporary relevance particularly focusing on Peace and Nonviolence in their respective countries and the world, largely from a Gandhian perspective.

The event began with a gala reception and screening of the documentaries featuring the activities of The Temple of Understanding worldwide centered the life-journey of Juliet Hollister, its founder, who established this global interfaith association in 1960 at the Cathedral of St. John in New York.  Hon’ble Dr. Karan Singh, MP and President of Temple of Understanding—India along with Dr. Anindita Balslev and Dr. A. K. Merchant, both members of the Executive Committee and the latter, its General Secretary, as well as Ms. Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding—USA, warmly welcomed all the guests at the Reception with Dinner on 6th February evening. (more of report)

Keynote Addresses:


As I stand in front of you, in the midst of (thought) leaders of spirituality and faith of the highest calibre, there is a feeling of deep humility within me and also to feel nervous as how I will add value to this August gathering.

To begin with I most sincerely thank Respected Alyson and Respected Laxmiben who have responded to this little booklet, which was prepared with the help of Respected Munishri Kirtivijayji and Respected Vivekji. Also My Pranams to these Respected Saints. (more of report)

               Dr. ANINDITA N. BALSLEV-

               In a world which is so divided, so full of strife and conflict, where nations compete with each other in the                                mastery of the art of violence by innovating ever more advanced forms of lethal weaponry and that too with the                      help of cutting-edge scientific research, it seems to me to be nothing short of a miracle that the concept of                              Ahimsa, nevertheless, has been with us from time immemorial. (more of report)