Little did we know in August 2008, when the General Chapter in Lima made the decision to apply for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations (UN), that it would take us six full years to reach the goal. But this summer we were finally successful. From now on the Society of the Sacred Heart is not only associated with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), but also has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council at the UN. But what does it mean? What difference does it make to the close to 2,300 RSCJ around the world and our partners in mission? What new opportunities have opened up to us as we continue our presence at the UN?
The image to the right illustrates maybe best what the difference is between “DPI status” – being associated with the UN Department of Public Information – and “ECOSOC status” – having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN.
With “DPI status” we have committed ourselves to spread the word about the UN and UN issues, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or environmental and women’s issues. The NGO office has done this for ten years, largely through its website www.sacredheartattheun.org. No matter how important that information sharing has been, it has remained a “one-way street,” a one directional stream of information from New York to the Provinces, with little reciprocity.
This is going to change now that we have obtained “ECOSOC status” because our additional status allows the voices from the grassroots to be heard in New York in a variety of ways. From now on our presence at the UN is a two-way avenue where information is freely shared between Provinces and the NGO representative, and vice-versa, with the aim to contribute our reflection, analysis and experience to the UN and UN Member-States (governments) at the international decision-making table in New York.
No, we have not become members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) itself, only governments can be a member, but the Society of the Sacred Heart can now actively engage with ECOSOC, its subsidiary bodies, and the UN Secretariat. The basis of our engagement will always be our experience and wisdom of lived realities in different countries. The Society’s commitment to Mother Earth, people living in poverty, women, migrants, and children, lived out in multiple cultural, religious, socio-economic and socio-political settings around the world, is our strength. Our new status calls us to use that strength at the international level.
Concretely, our new consultative status gives us the opportunity to:
- lobby with UN Member-States (governments) and the UN system at large. Conversely, ECOSOC or one of its bodies may seek expert information or advice from us in the area of our expertise: education. More details about this can be found in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996.
- designate members to attend certain events, conferences and activities at the UN. For example, we could have a delegation of members of the Sacred Heart Family to attend the Commission on the Status of Women (in early March of each year) or the Commission for Social Development (each February). Application to attend any of such events at the UN has to go through the Society’s NGO representative by emailing her four months prior to the session at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- submit written statements on subjects that are relevant to ECOSOC’s work and in which we have a special expertise. Subject to the requirements in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, we can also make an oral presentation to ECOSOC. For all of these statements, the NGO representative relies heavily on the members (all RSCJ) to provide reliable and true input. In other words, your active participation in our mission at the UN is indispensable.
With our new, additional, status, we have also acquired some responsibilities and obligations. One is that we need to engage actively with the work of ECOSOC and the UN. We also must submit every four years a report on our work in support of ECOSOC and the UN.
Lastly, it is good to reiterate that there are strict prohibitions against misrepresentation of our status at the UN, be it consultative status or DPI status. For example:
- We are NOT a part of the UN system! NGOs are not representatives or staff of the UN. As a consequence we cannot portray ourselves as being a UN member. The NGO representative has no office at the UN. We can neither bind the UN in any business arrangements, nor misuse the UN’s name or logo while endorsing another organization’s activities.
- We are forbidden to use the UN logo on any of our stationery, business cards, websites, meetings banners, cars, office buildings, etc. This prohibition applies throughout the Society of the Sacred Heart as all RSCJ are members of the NGO.
It is exciting to have finally obtained consultative status. After ten years, our presence at the UN has matured into full engagement, an engagement that wants to work for the Kingdom where all peoples are equal and welcome as children of God.
Cecile Meijer, rscj