The following reflection is from Mary-Lynn Hearn ’19, a Pace University undergraduate who participated in the POL297L Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class in Fall 2018. Students were given with service learning assignments with disarmament advocacy organizations working in and around the UN General Assembly First Committee (International Security and Disarmament). For more on the class, click here.
This semester I did my service learning project with Peace Boat US, an NGO working for peace, human rights, and sustainability, at their office opposite the United Nations in New York.
One of the most rewarding experiences of the semester was helping with a Peace Boat event at Rutgers University, in which I heard the testimonies of Tsukamoto Michiko and Sora Tamiko, two hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Despite what they had endured, they communicated no animosity for what happened over 70 years ago, only a call to action for nuclear disarmament. The resilience of Tsukamoto Michiko and Sora Tamiko was inspiring and a true testament for how there is a possibility to rebuild.
I think there is a large misconception in a time of crisis that there is no way to help a community with whatever has happened. After the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were a lot of questions with no definitive answers. However, the cities were, in fact, able to rebuild.
My service learning assignment has sparked my interest in the intersectionality between gender and disarmament. I had the opportunity to attend the Humanitarian Disarmament Forum at the UN Church Center, 13-14 October. Listening to advocacy NGOs talk about their work, I learned how weapons affect marginalized communities, including women.
But listening to Tsukamoto Michiko and Sora Tamiko, I also saw how women play a crucial role in advocacy for disarmament.
Attending side event panels during the UN General Assembly First Committee, I also saw that the traditional exclusion of women from disarmament discussions is beginning to change. Member States and NGOs are beginning to see that this is a pressing issue.
For example, I was able to attend an event on “How to Use the Arms Trade Treaty to Address Gender-Based Violence”, in which panelists urged the international community must think and act collaboratively to prevent weapons being sold to armed groups and military forces that systematically abuse women’s human rights.
Throughout this entire process, I learned much about myself. I learned how I work in a highly professional environment outside school. Most of the time, especially at the UN, I felt so out of place. I dressed up to elevate myself, but even then I felt too young and not experienced enough to be in the same space as ambassadors.
One thing my supervisor, Emilie McGlone, told me at every event was to socialize and introduce myself. In all honesty, the first two side events I stayed in my chair and kept to myself. I could not seem to find a reason to approach all of these important dignitaries. However, I quickly learned that I was not doing Peace Boat or myself any good by sitting in my chair. I had to be proactive in order to get something accomplished.
This is similar to what happens in the international community. There are problems in the world and ways to fix them. But nothing will be solved or accomplished if people in a position of power sit in their seats and keep to themselves. Thinking about this comparison motivated me to get up and introduce myself and exchange information.
I am so glad to have been placed with Peace Boat. I think involving youth to learn more about disarmament, peace, and sustainability is commendable. I hope to continue to assist in their mission for a peaceful world.
To read an article Mary-Lynn co-authored with fellow Pace student Matthew Thomas ’20 on the role of academia in the UN, click here.