CWGL Hosts Dr. Natalia Kanem for event:Transforming our Future: Human Rights, Equality, and Peace

Written by  Alexa Russo (Research Assistant)

Photographed by Sarah Ragsdale (Communications Intern)


On April 2nd, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) had the opportunity to host Dr. Natalia Kanem, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), at Rutgers University.  After engaging conversations with CWGL and Rutgers Global Health, Dr. Kanem was graciously hosted by Rutgers President Barchi and Mrs. Francis Barchi at a reception with professors and students across Gender Studies, Global Health, and various other disciplines. Dr. Kanem drew many distinguished guests including Abena Busia, Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil.

 Natalia and Group2

Pictured left to right: Krishanti Dharmaraj, Dawn Minott, Melissa Upreti, Soeurette Germain, Yakin Erturk, Dr. Kanem, President Barch, Radhika Balakrishnan, Aretha Oliver Crayton

At the keynote event, Rutgers Chancellor Dutta began with introductions, followed by CWGL’s showcasing of its project on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A panel discussion moderated by Radhika Balakrishnan (CWGL Faculty Director) allowed for a conversation among Krishanti Dharmaraj (Executive Director of CWGL), Yakin Ertürk (former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and CWGL Visiting Global Associate), and Alexa Russo (CWGL Research Assistant) on the project’s aim to bring together an analysis of economic structures, underlying gender-based violence, as well as a human rights framework into the implementation of the SDGs.  As the panel noted, the SDG’s aim to transform society can only be achieved by confronting the many gendered systems of power that run through the economy, and by utilizing human rights as an evaluative framework and as a set of mechanisms for social change.

 Natalia ChancellorNatalia at podium left

Pictured above: Rutgers Chancellor Dutta and Dr. Natalia Kanem

Following the panel, Dr. Kanem’s keynote address discussed how human rights, equality, and peace provide the foundation for UNFPA’s work.  While considerable improvements have been made in the realm of sexual and reproductive health, UNFPA’s area of focus, there is still considerable work to be done. For example, globally more than 300,000 women die each year from often preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, adolescent girls continue to lack sexual education, and women and girls’ vulnerability to sexual abuse and assault leads to, among other issues, an increased risk to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. There are also inequalities within countries that perpetuate these issues among those who are more vulnerable—such as in the United States where African-American women in New York are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than while women.

 Natalia and staff

Pictured left to right: CWGL staff Rasha Moumneh and Michelle Sucameli, Dr. Kanem, CWGL staff MaryBeth Bognar and Magali Brosio

Panel with audience

Pictured: CWGL opening panel, left to right: Radhika Balakrishnan, Alexa Russo, Yakin Erturk, Krishanti Dharmaraj

Dr. Kanem outlined UNFPA’s plan to promote and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly for those most marginalized, by 1) making concerted and collaborative efforts to collect data from marginalized populations 2) addressing the social, cultural, policy, and legal barriers to sexual and reproductive health, and 3) empowering marginalized groups to claim their rights.