Outgoing Chapter Vice President Says the Future Isn't Bleak
As our vice president of the Metro NY chapter, Kathie Bolognese, steps down at the end of her term, incoming board member Giselle Bowyer chatted to her about her career, her journey with the USNC-UN Women, and her hopes for the future.
Giselle Bowyer: Tell me about your career in strategic communications. What made you want to enter the field and how has your career evolved since?
Kathie Bolognese: I was fortunate to have a boss and mentor early on who saw that a career in communications would be a good fit and helped steer me in that direction. The field offers many options and allowed me to work in different industry sectors and also as an independent consultant for several years. After that I decided to go work for a NYC-based PR agency that offered the international experience I felt was an important next step for my career. My client work took me to many parts of Europe and Asia, and I lived and worked four years each in London and in Brussels, doing European public affairs in the latter. It was a great professional and life experience that gave me a valuable perspective on important global issues. A lot of my work as a strategic communications consultant has centered on advising corporate, association and nonprofit clients on issues and reputation management, and CSR activities as well as public affairs concerns, including influencing UN policies. As a cause-oriented individual, I’ve especially enjoyed working at the intersection of business and society on complex global issues that have social impact, including sustainability, fair labor, ethical manufacturing and marketing, women’s and children’s health and nutrition. I’m currently based in Washington, DC, working as an independent consultant again and concentrated on working with socially responsible organizations seeking to make a positive impact.
How did you first get involved with the USNC-UN Women Metro NY chapter?
I became involved through a former board member and colleague, Suzanne Harvey, who recommended that I check out the organization. I attended a Young Professionals happy hour event to meet some board and chapter members, and learn more about the organization and its volunteer opportunities. The organization aligned with my interests and I saw there was a real opportunity to make a contribution and so decided to join the program/advocacy committee. Later, another former board member, who saw my dedication and contributions to the chapter’s activities, recommended I join the board. I was selected as a board member and also nominated as vice president.
Which of UN Women’s key issues are you most passionate about?
Women’s economic empowerment and ending violence against women are both issues with which I have personal a personal affinity. One of my early positions was as the training administrator with the American Women's Economic Development Corp, which provided training and counseling for women entrepreneurs. This experience significantly contributed to my consulting work and the women’s empowerment- and sustainable development-related causes I care about today.
What would you say are your greatest contributions to the chapter and UN Women?
That may be for others to decide. For my part, I enjoyed and am proud of some key contributions such as collaborating with past and present leadership to advance the organization’s development, and rewriting the chapter bylaws to improve its functioning and transparency. Also, increasing the organization’s brand recognition, engagement and fundraising through program event ideas and implementation. The Ad Hoc Communications Committee I established provides important strategic communications planning and guidance, which allows chapter representatives to speak with one voice. The website content I rewrote and updated for the recent relaunch of the chapter’s site helps to better inform and engage our audience. On the advocacy side, in my role as the chapter’s UN-accredited NGO representative, I had the opportunity to influence the Commission on the Status of Women’s gender-related policy positions during its consultation process on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda addresses the root causes of poverty and inequality and offers a real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights.
What are the greatest changes you have seen in UN Women since it became an operational UN agency in 2011?
I became involved in 2013. Prior to that, UN Women actually merged and built on the work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
UN Women has a clear mandate and now serves as dedicated resource for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment through the UN system and national government policies. It has stepped up the collection of gender statistics that are vital for supporting evidence-based policymaking and monitoring international agreements. Prior to this, governments could claim they didn’t have the data that justified changes in policy positions, which is now much less the case. For example, UN Women’s forthcoming report, “SDG Monitoring Report and Gender Equality”, will examine the status of gender equality across the 17 SDGs, using available data to show where we are today and where we need to be to achieve gender equality by 2030.
UN Women’s current Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is an outstanding and tireless advocate who has put a public face to the cause for gender equality. She has also helped to make UN Women a more relatable and relevant UN agency to youth by appointing a celebrity like Emma Watson as one of its ambassadors.
Unfortunately, UN Women is one of the lesser-funded UN agencies and this has become an even more critical issue as European and other governments divert resources to manage the refugee situation and other humanitarian issues. More public support is needed so UN Women can continue to carry out its programs aimed at improving the economic, political and social status of women in 100 countries. I would strongly encourage every non-member to consider joining our organization at a basic membership fee of $50, which will go directly to a fund for UN Women.
What do you see as the future/direction of the women’s movement, especially given the last 100 days?
Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, and unleashing of misogyny, I’m very optimistic about the future of feminism. Having participated at the Women’s March and monitored the ongoing activities, I can confidently say that women worldwide have found their collective voice and will no longer be silenced. This movement is bigger than any one administration or government. While progress may be slowed, it will not be stopped.
I also believe the current focus on intersectionality, and broadened definition of feminism, which incorporates women’s other struggles and identities – such as race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation – will be an effective tactic for tackling oppression and discrimination going forward. There are now thousands of allied organizations working together to fight inequalities. Modern technology will definitely continue to play a crucial role in driving connectivity and rights advocacy, and giving a voice to women everywhere.
Men are also increasingly recognizing the economic and social benefits of gender equality and stepping up to help empower women. While the rates of violence against women have increased, and women’s advancement in politics and business leadership positions has been slow, male role models and champions are emerging. As of today, 1,303,184,502 men have signed up to support UN Women’s HeForShe initiative. Progressive political leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and President Emmanuel Macron of France have appointed cabinets that contain an equal number of men and women ministers. And savvy business leaders like Blake Moore, UBS Head of Asset Management Americas, are advocating for the appointing of more women to company boards. Furthermore, the Millennials are also twice as likely to describe themselves as feminists than their parents.
Despite the backlash, and for the sake of society’s wellbeing, we must finish the job our sisters started 50 years ago. That means deconstructing the current patriarchal power structure that has led to so many planetary crises, in whatever way we can. It also means feminism will need to go beyond reversing the current power balance to dedicating itself to recreating the entire system in order to make the changes that are needed to meet the world’s challenges, while working in full partnership with men.
What strategic direction do you think the chapter should take/accomplish over the next 3–5 years?
As the USNC is currently a volunteer-based organization as a whole, we need to work on securing the necessary resources to institutionalize our operation over the long term, same as our counterparts with other UN agencies. Otherwise, limitations will remain as to what we can accomplish. Given the reductions in government funding to UN Women, there is increased pressure on USNC chapters to step up fundraising efforts in a big way. Without dedicated meeting space and support staff, this remains a challenge.
Our chapter president, Mary Luke, has put together ambitious program of events, including plans for the 30th Anniversary awards event this October. And she has helped to cultivate some high calibre new board members who bring impressive new skills to the table. These actions, combined with continued outreach to new organizations that support our mission, will all help to move the Metro NY Chapter chapter in the right strategic direction, so I expect to see a lot of short-term progress.
As you step down as vice president, what involvement will you continue to have with the chapter?
I will remain on the Executive Committee and continue to have some strategic input, while keeping a hand in shaping the communications activities and programming ideas, since this is where I can make the most effective contribution. Since I’ve relocated to Washington, DC, I will also travel back to New York for the big events. In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the chapter leadership for the privilege of serving on the board with them and encourage like-minded individuals to connect via LinkedIn.