Memories of the founding of IAWRT-USA.
Written by: Arshiya Ahsan Past Chapter Head, IAWRT-USA 2011.
IAWRT-USA held its founding meeting on 24th May 2010, with a core team in New York to work on the chapter formation modalities. Ultimately, the work would envision and participate in advancing the rights of women in media in the United States and globally. According to the Women’s Media Center, “Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media.”
Being a recent immigrant to the country, I found it all the more timely and interesting to be part of such a conversation to advance women’s rights in the media in North America. It was a year of amazing chapter formation activities, ups and downs, organizational challenges, and achievements. I hope this story provides motivation and inspiration to media women who dream of forming IAWRT chapters in their respective countries.
IAWRT-USA’s seven member core women’s team is extraordinary—a diverse group of former, current, and aspirant media women from all generations and cultures. Leila Doss and Catherine White provided institutional memory and the support necessary for the new group and organization. Diane Bailey and Kelly Matheson have been the intellectual backbone. Their insights and encouragement were instrumental in bringing the vision so far. In my most difficult organizational and operational challenges, Diane reminded me to focus on the ultimate goal. I was introduced to the famous quote, ‘eyes on the prize’ which motivated me to keep working on and not give up. Ivy Abraskin and Dorothy Jean bring to the table the energy, perception, and interest necessary to focus on young media women in the country and the challenges they face. I had started to build a diverse team with many challenges—it was not easy to organize monthly meetings in a city like New York. But we did. Due to our regular monthly meetings, since May, 2010, in six months, we were able to submit the chapter formation documents and application to the international board for approval. IAWRT-USA, the US Chapter of IAWRT, was approved in the IAWRT regional meeting in Cameroon in November 2010.
Since we became a Chapter, we took the opportunity to work on several chapter promotion activities. The very first event that we organized in collaboration with IAWRT international was the side-event, Engendering Technologies-Women Take Charge at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW55) in Spring 2011. It was a hugely successful event; it got us wide visibility and gave a perfect platform for bringing more members and media alliances in the future. We introduced IAWRT-USA, distributed flyers and information about the new US Chapter, and participated in informal meetings with the international board. Overall, it was a wonderful introduction for the chapter--to participate, share, and invite committed media women to our activities in the future. We may have faced personal and professional challenges in our lives in the last few months, but it’s our commitment to the cause that keeps us going. Volunteerism is at the heart of this media initiative.
IAWRT USA Core Members
Spearheading the chapter provides both a challenge and an opportunity for me personally to integrate some of the skills that I have acquired over the years, from partnership building and communication, to video production and film festival organizing, to field research. As the US Chapter Head, and the new representative of IAWRT at the UN, I was assigned several tasks by the board since January 2011. To strengthen our relations and advocacy work at the UN; to represent the organization at various relevant media and partner events (like the Fokus side-event during the 1325 Peace Fair last year, where I showcased the five-minute documentaries); to build new relations with NGOs from around the world; and to continue building more diverse relations with local organizations.
To that end, I have worked towards introducing IAWRT to my former UN Internship office at UNHQ that works on building media partnerships with radio and television broadcasters worldwide. We are now working toward drafting a partnership document to incorporate some of the ideas discussed and further our partnership with the UN Multimedia department. I have also attended the famous civil society DPI-NGO meetings and also gained insights into the workings of the DPI-NGO Executive Committee. I witnessed the hard work of one of our founding members, Catherine White, during the communications workshop. I learned so much from it and am so happy that one of us is part of organizing such inspiring civil society events at the UN. I continue to work toward forging creative alliances and connections for IAWRT international and for IAWRT Chapters.
In New York City, I have worked on building partnerships with women’s groups and institutions. Leading media women from Women’s Media Center (WMC) have given support and made presentations at IAWRT side-events in the last two years. Being a graduate of Long Island University, I have also started to build academic partnerships with media and film professors and invited them to participate in our side-event. The long-term goal is to develop insights from academic research to further our advocacy and policy work. Another founding work that I am interested in expanding is the collaboration with NYPL, New York Public Library, and The Foundation Center. We managed to graduate from having monthly meetings inside Starbucks (nicknamed, star-meetings) to using The New York Public Library, a historic landmark in New York, which had resources for start-ups and provides free meeting room space for new groups looking for starting a non-profit. I am concerned that the budget cuts due to economic crisis may affect the work of public libraries.
We may have many challenges ahead that we may not foresee. But with resilience and hard work we move forward. Without the support of IAWRT board and members this personal journey and amazing team work would not have happened. Our journey so far has been monumental, historic and inspiring. We are grateful to everyone who has given us support and encouragement.
Past Chapter Head, IAWRT-USA
Treasurer - Diana Nastasia
Dorothy Saint Jean
Arshiya Ahsan (former president)