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MU @ UNCSW June Butler Blog: Day Six

June reflects on her final day at the UN Commission on the Status of Women 


18 Mar 2019

Midst all the business (or should that be busyness?) of packing and checking out of the hotel, I went twice to the UN building on my final Monday morning in New York, which thankfully was yet another glorious spring day. I even managed to attend four sessions – all with very different perspectives

The first was the regular informal NGO briefing which proved to be a useful summary of what had occurred during the previous week.  The main speaker was the Under-Secretary of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, from South Africa. She drew attention to the main themes and issues of the week – the universal problem of “survivors” in every country in the world no matter what their perceived status, social protection for women, the importance of promoting young people at CSW as they are our future, how we can better engage with UN Women after each CSW, planning for the review process of the SDGs and for “Beijing plus 25” in 2020, and the practical matters - the overcrowding at certain side events because the organisers had underestimated the demand, the reduced space at UNCSW63 for civil society, the process of setting the agenda for 2020,  and the fact that once again many who had planned to come to CSW63 had been refused visas by the US government because of unrealistic evidence requirements. The latter issue is the focus of a huge petition from the UN to the United States judiciary. 

The discussion covered many of these topics and particularly the need for increasing participation by young people (another new phrase for me - “generational shift”) and how they can be accredited to attend CSW, the fact that the climate change aspect of the SW63 had been largely side-lined with the focus strongly on social protection, the need to push the gender equality agenda and the processes to move forward to accelerate the implementation of all the Social Development Goals. Lots of impassioned women with determination to make a changes to improve the lot of humanity (not only women!) in our world!

My next event was hosted by a body called “Advance”, an NGO which focuses on justice, entrepreneurship and education, and the speakers concentrated on the definition of empowerment in the context of Agenda 2030. They covered many aspects of empowerment in their own countries: some examples were in Nigeria the development of confidence through women’s football and women being trained in agricultural schemes; the work on gender based violence in Zimbabwe; vocational schemes to empower widows in Kenya. A new cohort of 10 A level students from Gloucestershire had arrived over the weekend and two of them spoke passionately  about empowerment in terms of the importance of education (another quote; “when you educate a girl you educate a whole nation“ ) and economic and social needs, as well as the need to have more women in politics and government. All the A level students from England had been accredited to attend UNCSW by the National Association of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) and, even by taking this  innovative step,  I feel they are doing a wonderful job in empowering young people. 

I was so glad I had made the effort (after first walking back to the hotel to check out) to attend the next side event; it was entitled “Unlocking the power of faith-Based partnerships – Enabling the Right to Social Protection” . This was very intense session with members of the panel from a variety of religious backgrounds – Muslim, Jew, Islam, Christian – telling horror stories about things which happened to women of their faith across the world. There was one mind-bending statistic from the World Health Organisation - throughout the world every 15 seconds, a woman or girl is assaulted or raped. However, there were glimmers of hope in the gloom and they were all endeavouring to find pathways to change in these dreadful situations – how better to deal with counselling in the aftermath of gender violence, legislation to criminalise child marriage, the buoyancy of women working in refugee camps, the gradual building of faith-based partnerships by those working in these difficult areas.  There were several passionate phrases, particularly from the young female rabbi, but probably the one that really has stayed with me was when she said that clergy should be the first responders in any situation of crisis, particularly with regard to gender violence, and thus must be given appropriate training. 

The session ended with an address from Dr Isabel Avelo, the Deputy Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, who touched on religious leaders having unique power and how they needed to work together, as well as individually adopting an holistic approach, in order to maximise their effect in this fractured world.  She also believed that education was a critical factor and that gender-based violence should be included in the curriculum of every school. To conclude, she told us about the campaign supported by the World Council of Churches – “Thursdays in Black” - where everyone is encouraged to wear black clothing on that day each week to demonstrate resilience and resistance to violence against women.  I had already encountered this with the ladies at the office of the Anglican Communion on the previous Thursday when I, in my innocence, had to ask why they were all attired in black. Apparently the campaign began in Buenos Aires, Rwanda and Bosnia with the women of those countries taking a positive stand to publicise gender violence.    So, Dear Blog Reader and fellow member, please follow the link to this campaign, order your lapel badge, and wear black every Thursday to show your support for this movement!

Finally, I attended a huge side event organised by Kenya, the movement “Girls not Brides” and the Ford Foundation on the power of women’s agencies in transforming social norms for better health outcomes and well-being. The huge arena was absolutely packed. First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, speak passionately about the project to which she had given her support- “Beyond Zero”.  She and colleagues had partnered with the Ford Foundation to provide facilities for better health care throughout Kenya and to date new clinics had been provided in 47 areas of the country. We were shown a film about the positive outcomes of the project, in terms of the differences it had made to standards of health care, particularly maternal and children’s health. The First Lady was so impressive and demonstrated to me the real difference women can make to help others when they are in positions of leadership.

The following speaker gave us some dreadful statistics, including that 12 million girls under the age of 18 are forced to marry every year. Their wedding day is when they leave school and most are forced to endure physical and mental suffering at the hand of their husbands. She pointed out that 8 of the 17 SDGs related to child marriage and that, through UNCSW, we had to accelerate change in this field. The representative from the Ford Foundation spoke about its long term aims to promote equality, challenge harmful gender norms and, above all, for the best possible future for our world to invest in women and young people.

With those sentiments, which after all had underpinned every event I had attended at UNCSW63, ringing in my ears I had to leave to head to the airport and the long journey home….. I have much to ponder on from the six days I was privileged to be there and hopefully, when I try to coordinate the emerging themes and extract them from the raw emotion of some of the events, I can help influence the ways Mothers’ Union may decide to move forward in the second quarter of the 21st century.