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MU @ UNCSW June Butler Blog: Day One
Mothers' Union Trustee June Butler, reports on her first day attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women
Monday 11 March dawned bright and cold in New York City and the sunny glow continued inside and out the UN building as UNCSW63 got off to a fabulous start. There were people everywhere, inside and out, and the noise level of thousands of people in the public spaces was incredible!
Mary Santo (MU Policy Adviser) and I attended the morning briefing for UK NGOs which was a great opportunity to get to know some of the others attending UNCSW. Everyone was asked what their focus would be for the two weeks and the replies were so varied, from youth violence to care for the elderly. I said that my main areas of interest were the empowerment of women and girls, gender based violence and widows. In that context, at the end of the session one delegate gave what may prove to be my quote of the week: “All women are part of the future- no matter what their age”. That could be a maxim for Mothers’ Union!
The next of the six sessions I attended on Day One was an event called “Women, Peace and Security Networks”. The reports were from the Global Justice Centre, Cameroon and Libya and covered the impact of conflict on women and girls not only in those specific countries but worldwide. My particular interest was on the actions taken post-conflict to help women back to some type of normality, usually having to take on male-stereotype roles as the male population had been decimated, as well as learning about some of the work underway in refugee camps. The focus across the board was on providing a safe, open environment for women and encouraging them to become more politically and economically active.
Over lunchtime Mary and I were invited by Dame Karen Pierce, the UK Ambassador to the United Nations, to attend a reception at the offices of the UK mission. In effect, this was to celebrate the opening of UNCSW63. The guest of honour was Her Royal Highness, The Countess of Wessex, and she made such an effort to meet as many of the guests as possible. Both Mary and I had an opportunity to speak individually with her and she told me her mother was a member of Mothers’ Union! We explained about the range of work undertaken by members of MU and the Countess seemed genuinely surprised and interested by the breadth of our scope and involvement both at home and worldwide.
I attended a very packed side event on Infrastructure and Sustainable Development which focused on how infrastructure can better contribute to Social development Goal 5 (to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) and the Advancement of Women. The speakers were from Estonia, Sri Lanka, Sweden and the UN Office for Project Services. The Chair of the Bureau for UNCSW 63 (Geraldine Byrne Nason, who happens to be the Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the UN) also addressed us, speaking about the fact that infrastructures were put in place to last but unfortunately often the creators were “gender blind”. She also said that the burden from poor infrastructure fell mainly on women in terms of sanitation, water, electricity, schooling, health services and even harassment; infrastructures needed to be gender sensitive and she believed the benefits for women were critical.
Those themes permeated the remainder of the session with the speakers touching on the need for infrastructures which integrated cultures and gender, as well as the basic needs for home life. There was much talk about the need for a holistic approach to social and economic empowerment, the importance of good IT structures in developing countries, and the need for gender impact assessments becoming an integral part of all government projects. However, there was focus also on basic needs, and primarily that of acceptable sanitation, worldwide – we were horrified to learn that in 2019 over 1.6 billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation and that this crucial problem might not be resolved until 2080!
The next event I attended was called “Tracking the Walk: Measuring Progress on Women’s Economic Empowerment” and there were informative reports from Rwanda, Bangladesh, Namibia, UK and the International Trade Centre. All the speakers referred to how each of their countries had approached this task and there was a great deal of talk about the mechanics of measuring empowerment. Reference was also made to gender responsive policies, women as entrepreneurs, empowerment in home decision-making, the importance of culture within context, relevant digital platforms and I even learned a new phrase – “she-trades”! We realised at the end that one size definitely didn’t fit all with regard to measurement and assessment – giving me much to think about how in MU we can progress on the evaluation of projects.
The long day ended with Mary and I attending a debriefing of the UK delegation, where we were informed about forthcoming events in which the UK had an interest and about the beginning of the negotiations on the agreed conclusions for CSW63, especially the areas on which the UK government wished to concentrate. There was also a short presentation from two of the staff from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission during which they spoke about how the lack of a devolved government was impacting on the services for women and families. As I have a responsibility for MU in Ireland, I found their perspective most helpful and I will be connecting with them again when I return home. In many ways, that is what UNCSW is all about – learning from and making connections with others who have similar interests and values.
It is indeed a wonderful experience just to be present at this Commission!