In March I had the privilege of attending UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women. This pandemic has led to many unexpected events and never did I think I’d be tuning into a global women’s conference from my bedroom, but stranger things have happened!
And in a weird way it’s thanks to this campaign. Our social media girl, Josie, spotted the opportunity on UN Women UK’s Instagram and told me about it. Normally, they take a handful of delegates to New York every year, but were able to open up the opportunity to 1000 members of civil society (AKA you and me) because the entire conference was going to be online. To apply, we had to email them and summarise why gender equality is important to us in one sentence. I wrote“if some of us aren’t equal, then none of us are equal.” Then I forgot about it. It’s such a big deal, I didn’t think I’d get it. To my surprise, I was chosen and able to attend a huge variety of events.
What is CSW?
Every year, UN Women hosts the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. This year was its 65th event. The aim is to bring together the UN Member States, entities, NGOs and gender equality experts to discuss the big issues facing women today - gender-based violence, education, discrimination in the workplace, leadership, healthcare, migration…
This year’s main theme was ‘Women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’
What are the different events?
There are three types. There are the Official Meetings between Member States, where they discuss the theme and work on a final document, called their Agreed Conclusions. This document is an action plan, outlining what Member States need to do to achieve gender equality. You can watch these on UN TV.
Side Events are hosted by Member States and UN entities. For example, UN Women UK co-hosted a Side Event with UK MPs from different parties and I attended another one about Feminist Foreign Policy, co-hosted by Mexico and the International Center for Research on Women.
Finally, there are the Parallel Events. These are hosted by NGOs alongside the official talks with over 800 to choose from.
What did I learn?
So many things! It was incredibly hard to narrow them down, but I thought I’d share are my top ten takeaways and reflections:
Women’s experiences are not universal. It is vital to consider the local context and intersecting factors such as gender, race, social class, disability, level of education etc.
Adopting an intersectional approach to gender equality is essential, to include everyone in the conversation.
Men play an important role in gender equality. This came up on numerous occasions and feels particularly pertinent given the dialogue surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard and how women often feel unsafe in public spaces.
The UK has signed but not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention. This is a European agreement designed to safeguard women’s rights and the UK hasn’t officially adopted it yet because we still need to bring some of our laws into line with it. That said, Charles Ramsden of the UK’s Government Equalities Office was very confident this would all get sorted out soon.
Speaking of the Istanbul Convention, Turkey withdrew from it last week. This means that women in Turkey have limited legal protection against their abusers. The event I found most inspiring featured Turkish women talking about their experiences of police brutality and gender-based violence. It was such a privilege to listen to these women and an important reminder of why we urgently need a cross-national approaching to tackling violence against women.
I also learned that women protesters in Mexico have faced extensive police brutality for speaking out against femicide. This was interesting, albeit heartbreaking, as Mexico has recently adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy, in efforts to make its international relations more inclusive. Whilst this is important, I can’t help but think that Mexico, as well as other countries, should ensure there is progress for internally as well as internationally.
Colonialism has had a huge and lasting impact on current affairs. Even after countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean have gained their independence from Western European colonisers, former colonies tend to be poorer and considered “underdeveloped””.
Protecting female journalists from harassment protects everyone’s freedom of speech. This enables pluralism and means that people can exchange different ideas and disagree with their governments without fear or persecution.
Speaker Judicaelle Irakoze, Executive Director of Choose Yourself, said that working towards gender equality is continuous. Activists are building on the work of their ancestors and most won’t live to see the impact of their work. However, they believe their work will eventually bring about change, which is why they do it.
I also learned a lot from my fellow delegates. One comment that stayed with me was the the importance of engaging people in an open conversation, rather than being accusatory and confrontational. Another emphasised the importance of sustaining these conversations outside of CSW. I couldn’t agree more!