Women's award to Baha'i representative

11 February 2004

NEW YORK — The Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, Bani Dugal, has received a "Women Helping Women" award from Soroptimist International.

The award came in the weeks leading up to International Women's Day on March 8, an occasion which is widely observed by Baha'i communities throughout the world.

"Women Helping Women" is one of three awards offered under an umbrella program, "Making a Difference for Women," established in 1986 by the Soroptimists to acknowledge those who work to improve the status of women in society. Soroptimist International is a 70-year-old volunteer service organization for women.

Ms. Dugal received the award on 11 February 2004 at the Williams Club in Manhattan.

"Her sensitivity and success at gender and intercultural relations are at the center of her ability not only as a woman helping women, but also helping women, collaboratively, to help other women," said Linda Stillman, chairperson of the awards ceremony.

Noting that Ms. Dugal was recently selected to chair the NGO Committee on the Status of Women at the United Nations, Ms. Stillman called her "a testament to diplomatic decorum steeped in her spiritual soul."

Ms. Stillman is the representative of Soroptimist International to the United Nations. She nominated Ms. Dugal for the award, which honors "women who consistently and effectively use their resources, talents and influence to help other women achieve their potential."

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At the podium...Bani Dugal at the award ceremony.

Ms. Dugal accepted the award "in the name of all the women in the world that are working to assist one another to advance and enjoy an equal status with men."

She spoke about the importance of using international mechanisms of human rights to assist women in their advancement.

"Many women are unaware of their human rights, and others see them as abstract and unattainable," said Ms. Dugal. "Thus, while activism in past years has drawn attention to women's rights, the challenge is now to make them more accessible by implementing agreed strategies and commitments made by governments."

The key to improving the rights of women, said Ms. Dugal, lies with an educational process that also promotes a "conscious awareness that the interests of men and boys are linked with those of women."

"I quote from the Baha'i writings: 'As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibility, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.'"

"Our task is clear and, together, helping one another, we can realize our dreams for a better tomorrow for women and men," said Ms. Dugal.

Two other awards, "Advancing the Status of Women," and "Woman of Distinction," were also presented the same evening.

Yannina Varvitsiotes, who heads a group called Face the Challenge, received the "Advancing the Status of Women" award, also part of the "Making a Difference for Women" program. Face the Challenge seeks to improve the self-image and self-esteem of disabled people, said Ms. Varvitsiotes, a social worker affiliated with the Jerome Bellson Center in the Bronx, who is herself a person with cerebral palsy.

The "Advancing the Status of Women" award "recognizes businesses and organizations that have helped advance the status of women, and have used their positions to promote recognition of women's issues."

The "Woman of Distinction" award was given to Eva H. Richter, a retired university educator who speaks five languages and now serves as UN representative for the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.

"Women of Distinction" honors "women who have made outstanding achievements in their professional, business or volunteer activities" and who are "ideal role models."

[Report and photos by Veronica Shoffstall.]