UN Women: 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

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WOLFBy Annika Wolf, MW Fellow 2013-2015 (*)

As the delegate of an NGO I participated in the CSW at the United Nations headquarters in New York, USA from 16 March to 20 March 2015. The conference brought together world leaders, advocates, policymakers, journalists, researchers and young people to strategize and discuss how much – or how little – progress has been made since the first declaration on the status of women made in Beijing in 1995. Though I have visited the headquarters before, it was different to actually participate in a session and speak with women from around the world, to hear their views and listen to the experiences from their specific countries.

Most women in the Western, developed world enjoy full rights of citizenship, and discussion in recent times has been about getting more women into management positions and for equal compensation. Though I consider myself an educated and well-informed person, it is different to read a story in a paper and to hear it first-hand from someone who has experienced it. It is only on occasions like the CSW one realizes that equal access to education, maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights, and other basic liberties like marriage and a fair voting process are not enjoyed in many countries. For women around the world to be presented at the CSW means to be humanized, they have a representative speaking up for them. The delegates fight to bring about change for girls and women in their communities, in their countries and internationally. The conference offers the opportunity to build capacity, share solutions and forge partnerships, together creating coalitions, communication and actions that spark political commitment and investment in girls and women around the world.

The one person that struck me most with her speech in the opening session was Ms. Alaa Murabit, a 24 year old medical doctor from Libya. She was put on the Libyan regime’s “most wanted” list for providing health care and information to revolutionaries and survivors of sexual violence during the Libyan uprising. She founded The Voice of Libyan Women (VLW). Her speech addressed the issue of gender equality through both communication and education, and only with a dialogue not among women alone but together with men will the goal of gender equality be reached (unfortunately there were not many men present at the meeting). She is one of those young people that has the potential to be a powerful spokesperson for the needs of people, as well as an agent of change, transforming policies, programming, and society for the better – sometimes at the risk of her own life.

That the CSW is also part of a political arena became obvious when one representative from a large Asian country talked about gender equality and women’s rights in its country. For this country that has general issues with human rights, I find it striking how it points out the achievements it has made with women’s rights in recent years. Where does it draw the line between human rights and women’s rights? Some delegates also provoked criticism on the street when they were met by large black limousines, hiding their expensive clothes and jewelry from the view of the curious public. One may ask how this contributes to the underdeveloped and poor countries they are sent to represent.

Overall, being a delegate for this CSW was a valuable and worthwhile experience. It opened my eyes to the achievements that have been made in the last 20 years, since the Beijing meeting, and the numerous aims that still lie ahead of us to achieve an equal status for women in the world – and for all human beings for that matter.

(*) The MWPBlog is a platform for MW Fellows to address scholarly topics and comment on current affairs. The thoughts expressed in the posts represent solely the views of the posting Fellows and not of the Max Weber Programme