Working in the non-profit sector and being passionate about women’s rights issues; I had wanted to attend the CSW ever since I learned about it. For people working in and genuinely interested in gender space, ‘CSW’ needs no further explanation or spelling out its full form. But being a communications professional, I know how annoying these acronyms can be for the people who are not well acquainted with it.
CSW – the Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is a functional commission of the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which was established in 1946 as a mechanism to promote, report on and monitor issues relating to the political, economic, civil, social and educational rights of women.
In its long history of existence, the CSW has been instrumental in promoting women’s rights and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The CSW conference takes place every year in New York, as a two-week long session where women’s rights activists, organizations and governments around the world gather to discuss the important issues revolving around gender and women’s rights. The main event takes place inside the UN headquarters – but CSW is a lot more than what happens inside the UN building. Large and small non-profits and many grassroots level civil society organizations working in the women’s rights issues across the globe host their own parallel events at different venues around the UN building through the NGO Committee on the Status of Women.
In the formal discussions inside the UN, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women. Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s rights.
The parallel events hosted by the NGOs are of wide variety in terms of issues, participants, speakers, and content. While the reports presented by the government representatives may paint rosy pictures, the NGO parallel sessions are mostly honest, intriguing, challenging and thought-provoking. In the hustle and bustle of all these events, women (and men and others) gathered from different parts of the world participate at these panel discussions, design strategy, hold caucus meetings, network about the various agenda items being negotiated in various committees, and work as informed lobbyists.
This year was the 63rd session of the CSW with the priority theme of “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” For me being a part of this historic session was a dream come true – the excitement of finally being able to visit New York and to get into the UN headquarters – only added to my overall zeal. I was a part of the delegation from International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law (IANGEL) and attended the first week of the session. I attended different events organized by other organizations and we hosted two events of our own. Being a part of the host team and managing the promotion and social media for these CSW events was an intriguing experience in itself.
The titles and the profile of speakers that were listed out in each day’s session were so impressive that I wanted to be at several places at a time. Of course, not all the sessions were as remarkable as the titles sounded. Nonetheless, it was an amazing opportunity to listen to high ranking people like the UN secretary general, chief of different UN bodies and other international organizations, and also the activists, youth envoys, survivors of gender-based violence, conflict, trafficking, and other passionate and brave people from around the world.
Sometimes the speakers motivated me to look into myself and take certain actions in a particular area, sometimes the conversations were emotional, just to learn about the injustices and violence that women around the world still face – which few times kept me awake at night. And sometimes, I could see through the hipocrisy of the people speaking, how their own or their organization’s actions were contradicting the very things they were saying. It was an insightful one week!
The session was also a great opportunity to network and meet with likeminded individuals and activists from different countries. And it was in these small meetings, round tables, networking dinners that I was able to hear and share the underlying stories of people’s struggles, efforts, challenges, and achievements. To see so many young and not so young people passionate about a cause, working towards achieving that goal, fighting to make better things happen – all to create a world which is more equal and accepting of everyone – was a remarkably beautiful experience.
Listening to all these conversations made me realize that there is astounding work happening around the world, but yet there is so much more to do. Many of the social evils that we were fighting decades if not centuries ago; like human trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), gender-based violence, gender pay gap, discrimination against minorities including LGBTQ people, child marriage and many more still happen at an alarming rate. The conventions and sessions can help to ignite the discussions but things will not change unless we as individuals and society take actions. Concluding this piece, I would like to borrow words from African Union Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi, who was an excellent moderator in a CSW panel I attended in UNICEF headquarters. She had mentioned, ‘We need to move with the same scale and speed as we tweet – every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter, which corresponds to over 350,000 tweets sent per minute, 500 million tweets per day and around 200 billion tweets per year.” Only if we took some positive action in the same ‘scale and speed’ that we tweet – world definitely would be a better place!
Swarnima is a Development Communications specialist and women’s rights advocate currently serving as an Atlas Corps Fellow at International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law (IANGEL).