I am the NGO Representative of the US-based Dominican Leadership
Conference (the DLC) to the UN. It is my responsibility "to create
effective means of collaboration for creating a new world order in
which justice and peace prevail." I attempt to do this by bringing the
Dominican perspective to the UN/NGO community; by collaborating with
other NGO representatives to focus attention on UN issues and
initiatives dealing with the concerns of families, women and youth, the
environment, the refugee crisis and peace-building, among others.
Margaret, may I ask you to introduce yourself?
Yes… I am Margaret Mayce, a Sister of St. Dominic from Amityville, New York. Prior to my present position at the UN, I served on the Leadership Team of my Congregation, as Councilor for Ministry. I do believe that this experience in leadership, as well as all my previous ministerial experience, has helped to prepare me in some way for what I am doing now. To give you another example, I served for six years as Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York; and I also served as part of the Rockville Centre Diocesan Mission Team in the Dominican Republic. I lived in Hondo Valle, a small village on the Haitian border, for three and one-half years. This provided me with first-hand experience of the poverty and powerlessness experienced by so many people in our world, who live the consequences of our lifestyle and our economic policies here in the West. Working with our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters has been a great gift in my life. They patiently helped me learn a new language, and have helped me to appreciate the gift of culture as a wonderful manifestation of God's diversity.
What's your mission at the UN? Are you happy with it, do you enjoy it?
When the UN was established, it was done so with the hope that it would be a forum for both governments and civil society. Non-Governmental organizations (NGO's) represent civil society, and they accountable to the organizations which they represent. They are not aligned with any government, nor have they any "special interests."NGO's are at the UN solely for the people; helping to make sure that the needs of the world's people for peace, security and the realization of their human rights are priorities on the agendas of the member states.
The DLC is comprised of the women and men who serve as leadership in the various US Congregations and Provinces. The Dominican Leadership Conference is the organization with NGO status.
I am the NGO Representative of the US-based Dominican Leadership Conference (the DLC) to the UN. It is my responsibility "to create effective means of collaboration for creating a new world order in which justice and peace prevail." I attempt to do this by bringing the Dominican perspective to the UN/NGO community; by collaborating with other NGO representatives to focus attention on UN issues and initiatives dealing with the concerns of families, women and youth, the environment, the refugee crisis and peace-building, among others. Another significant part of my role is to educate the Dominican Family here in the US about the UN, and to top priorities are the progress of the Millennium Development Goals, especially as they impact the future of Africa; and, the escalating reality of violence against women and girls worldwide. I hope to build awareness here in the States about these issues, and encourage advocacy when appropriate.
I also see it as part of my mission to maintain good communication with my colleague, Olivier Poquillon, in Geneva, as well as with Toni Harris and Carlos Linera Rodriguez, our Justice and Peace International Co-Promoters; and Dusty Farnan and Chuck Dahm, our US Co-Promoters. The more we are in communication with one another, the better the Dominican Family will be served, worldwide.
And, yes… I am happy here! The task is a bit daunting at times, and I know that I still have a great deal to learn. But I believe that this is where I am called to make best use of my gifts for God's people at this particular time.
What are the difficulties that you encounter most in your ministry/job?
The UN agenda is quite overwhelming, especially right now, as we witness a global economic crisis that has literally thrown the world into chaos. So "staying- on- top- of- the agenda,"and doing the necessary reading required is quite a challenge. I attend as much as I can, in terms of NGO Committee meetings, as well as special conferences… but it is quite impossible to attend everything. There is also the feeling that "the problems are so enormous… what difference can I possibly make???" And I think many people feel the same way. But I do believe that we should never underestimate even the small things we do to help bring about change; and, for me, raising consciousness about the UN is one way in which I feel I can foster the transformation which we so desperately need.
Another "difficulty" for me, is the negative perception that so many people have about the UN, assuming that it is just another ineffective bureaucracy. On the one hand, I can understand this. But on the other hand, I do believe that the UN is our best chance for peace. However, the UN can only be as effective as its member states allow; and the sad fact is that the United States has more often than not been an obstacle to UN processes. With the election of Barak Obama, and the appointment of Susan Rice as US Ambassador to the UN, the tone has changed significantly. There is openness to "working with" the international community that has been sadly lacking in our recent history. So, despite the difficulties, I am grateful to be here now, to participate in this renewed sense of hope.
Why is our presence within the UN system so important?
While it is true that as an organization the UN is a "bureaucracy," and as such is fraught with the limitations that plague any organization, I nonetheless believe that the UN is one of the most noble agents of peace and global transformation that is available to us all. Our presence as Dominicans within the UN system, in New York and in Geneva, is vitally important. We believe that "truth" has transforming power; and that it sets people free. It is our responsibility, then, to uphold the "truth" that "people" and their human rights are the absolute priority; and that policies are to be such that they are in the service of "people," especially those who are most in need.
Could you please explain to us in which commissions or committees of the UN we participate in?
Here in New York, as well as in Geneva, the Dominicans relate to the UN through Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and in New York, we are also in association with the Department of Public Information (DPI). Our Consultative Status with ECOSOC allows us to submit and circulate through the UN system statements related to the work of the NGO, and to speak to the Commissions.
Here in New York, I participate on the NGO Committees associated with the UN Commission for Social Development; the Commission on the Status of Women; the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Commission for Social Development, which met in February, has been considering the topic of "social integration," reviewing governments' "best practices" in terms of engaging the most marginalized groups within their respective societies; the Commission on the Status of Women , which meets in March, is considering the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS; the Commission on Sustainable Development will meet in April, and focus on the crisis of climate change.
Besides these Commissions, I am also a member of the NGO Committee for Financing for Development, whose goal is to advocate for "people-centered," not "profit-centered" development; the Working Group on Girls, which deals with issues such as human trafficking, and the importance of education for girls as a way of lifting societies out of poverty, and countering the plague of violence against girls; the Working Group on Iraq/Middle East, and the NGO Committees on Migration and Human Rights.
What kind of impact may our action have towards a more just and compassionate world?
This is a difficult question to answer, because often we never see the impact of our actions. However, I believe the persistent efforts by the NGO community to place PEOPLE at the center of the member states' agendas, is, in fact, helping to create a more just and compassionate world. Also, any attempts on my part to raise consciousness about the UN, its agenda, its commitment to the asceticism of non-violence in its approach to conflict situations, are contributions towards building a more just and compassionate society right here in the United States.
What would you suggest to a Dominican sister who witnesses violations of human rights in her country of mission? How can we connect the grassroots and the global level?
My thinking is that she should make immediate contact with Olivier, since the major work of the UN regarding Human Rights takes place in Geneva. Then, since Toni Harris works closely with DSI and has visited our Sisters around the world, I would think it would be important to contact Toni, as well. I would rely on Olivier and Toni to notify me, so that I might take any appropriate steps here in New York to bring pressure to bear on a particular government. Of course, Olivier, Toni and I would have a conversation about the proper approach to take.
I think this is a very good question, because we need to consider how to enhance the lines of communication among us all. Olivier, Toni, Carlos and I need to know what is happening "on the ground", so that we know where to focus our attention in an appropriate manner, and how to coordinate our efforts.
Could you please explain as simply as possible what lobbying and advocacy actions are?
"Lobbying" is an attempt to influence a public official in favor of something. For example, there has been a great deal of "lobbying" here in Washington, DC on behalf of Iraqi refugees, in an effort to get the US government to increase its quota.
"Advocacy" is speaking or writing in support of something. For example, many NGO's here at the UN wrote letters to President Obama, US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging them to adopt a more collaborative approach in regard to the UN.
In our globalized world there seems to be a lack of hope that things can change: people think that their actions at the grassroots level cannot change the decision making process. What do you think?
I don't mean to be simplistic, but I think we have a responsibility to be a people of "hope," in the midst of what we may perceive to be impossible situations. "Hope" gives us the energy and the incentive to keep going… and it ultimately builds on the good will of people all over the world. I think every action at the grassroots level, regardless of how small, is terribly important, because it is a very clear option for "life."
I'm often reminded of Vaclav Havel's wonderful words on "hope…"
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world,
Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul….
Hope is not the same as joy that things are going well…
but rather, the ability to work for something because it is good,
and not just because it stands a chance to succeed
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
I wonder how aware the Dominican family members are about our work at the UN in New York and Geneva… What do you think about it?
My sense is that there is not great awareness, nor is there an appropriate understanding of the workings of the UN and its great potential to facilitate a more just and peaceful world. It is my great hope that in my present position I might help to change this in some small way for our Dominican Family.