Dr. Kristie Holmes, Professor at the University of Southern California and 2014 Candidate for the United States Congress, has been elected to the Board of Directors of UN Women US National Committee. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women as the entity to address Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women globally.
Unemployment, wage gap, access to education, poverty, reproductive health and medical care, and violence are just a few of the issues women around the world are facing in effort to create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
According to the UN Women’s website,
Empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth. Yet gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women lack access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. They are too often denied access to basic education and health care. Women in all parts of the world suffer violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. – Read More
Since connecting with Dr. Holmes last year during her electoral bid for Congress, we remained in contact and have collaborated on several projects. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Holmes about her appointment and work with UN Women.
SWH: Tell us about your work with UN Women, and what led you to begin working from the international perspective.
Holmes: UN Women is an arm of the United Nations working in partnership with UN Women Global. I felt myself moving from Micro to Macro when I began my dissertation. Without going too much into it- I was curious if clinicians in other countries interpreted ethics the same way we do here in the United States and how it affected their practice. Since it was Domestic vs. International, I started getting invites to places other than the United States to talk about it at conferences. About 5 years ago now, I met Dr. Veronique Thouvenot at a Medetel Conference in Luxembourg, Germany. Her presentation was before mine, and she stayed for mine.
We did a quick “I loved what you had to say–we’ve got to talk soon!”. Unlike most of those networking moments, we actually did and have been working together ever since–First on a global health project for women & technology and now Zero Mother’s Die (ZMD). When I first met her, she was involved in something with World Health Organization and Millennia 2015. Zero Mother’s Die came from the Millennia project.
This was my entry into a more global perspective, both in how we see issues, and work with others from different cultures. We all see each other perhaps a few times a year and utilize Skype and email in between. I think we have been doing that when no one else thought it was a very good idea. Now so many run their teams from afar this way.
SWH: What are some of your most memorable experiences while working with women leaders around the world?
Holmes: I was invited to be a part of the Women Leaders Forum during the UN General Assembly this past September, as well as the September prior, as an invited panelist. Once you are involved in one way, you tend to end up in a circuit. I also remember after one of my first UN events, being on a group email with a few “VIPs”, one of them being a First Lady of another Country and thinking to myself…”Do they really use a Yahoo email address?” Anyway, I have found that much of what we learn in our programs and out in the “clinical” field adapt and translate well, even though at times there is a crisis of confidence–especially when I struggled in that “Intern Mentality”, not believing that I had enough experience in X or Y to make helpful contributions, or be seen as an expert in anything.
After a few events there, however, I came to learn that almost nothing runs on time and things constantly change. Being well prepared for my panel was a relief, until everything changed and two speakers had to be moved to another slot due to country crisis they were called out for. I was moved to an entirely different panel, and I literally wrote down my speech on 5 post it’s from the man sitting next to me 5 minutes before I went up. I had spent ages figuring out how to pronounce panel member names, and I also learned that humor does translate well for most.
SWH: What do you think are the biggest barriers for social workers to engage at the policy level on either the domestic or international stage?
Holmes: One thing I have noticed and lacked for me in the beginning of my career were mentors- especially women- who were willing to take me around and show me how to navigate various systems until I met Veronique, who wasn’t a Social Worker. I know there are plenty of social workers out there that mentor newer social workers. However, I just don’t think we see it as much as we should outside of that crash & burn training one gets at a new agency. I’ve always made a point to bring along who I can if there is an opportunity to do so. It’s an easy way for us to open a new world to students or younger professionals that may not have otherwise had a chance to head into this area of practice.
Also, I think as social workers we undervalue our skills and abilities on our resumes. It wasn’t until Veronique wrote my nomination letter for the United National US National Committee elections that I realized that she was valuing many of my skills in a way I did not, and that she actually spoke to me sternly about what I had missed in another list I had written about myself. But to me, and probably to most Social Workers, writing in that way made me feel like I was bragging when I was just trying to say in a bunch of different ways that I wanted to help and do something meaningful. Timing wise, the election for the Board of Directors worked out great. They were within the same month as the Congressional Primary was, so I didn’t even have a chance to get stressed about it. I was extremely excited to find out I had made it through!
SWH: How can social workers engage with the United Nations and/or the work you are doing with UN Women?
Holmes: UN Women has local chapters through the United States, and overall it’s a fairly new program, and I believe it’s a great way for social workers and students to get involved in the UN in the following ways:
Join a local UN Women USNC Chapter- student membership rates are very low. *If there isn’t a chapter nearby, new ones are being formed and our board in the process of discussing a virtual chapter for those to be involved anywhere in the US. University Clubs have also begun.
Organize a race/ walk to raise awareness/ funds. This year our focus is on Cities for the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and last year it was Violence Against Women.
Get involved in the He for She Campaign heforshe.org– I’m working on it domestically. Whoever is interested in this can contact me directly and I will put them to work!
Zero Mothers Die- for those interested in the Pink Phone (Mum’s Phone) project I can also see how to connect you for impact.
Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.