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MU @ UNCSW June Butler Blog: Day Two

Here June tells us what she has been up to on her 2nd day at the UN Commission on the Status of Women 

12 Mar 2019

Day 2 began with a breakfast meeting courtesy of Plan International UK and was provided in the beautiful Japan Centre. They say, there’s no such thing as a free breakfast….but it was no hardship to attend the following session where the speakers were telling us about “Girls Challenging the Gender Rules”. All were articulate and impressive in their own fields – the speaker from Rwanda concentrated on gender equality, child protection and education in her country, while the Director of the African Union Commission spoke on partnerships with other bodies to achieve better outcomes, the need for good technology to alleviate some of families’ day-to-day challenges and the desirability to have a Bill of Women’s Rights in Africa. 

The focus of the session was the presentation given by the Research Manager of Plan International who reported on a longitudinal study “Real Choices, Real Lives” where 146 girls across nine counties have been tracked since their birth in 2004. They will be followed until they are 18 years old and already the annual interviews and family monitoring give insights into the daily experiences of the girls and their families; they already provide a clearer understanding of the root causes of gender inequality and of the social norms, attitudes and cultural practices embedded in their home and community life.   The first report from the project concentrated on the 37 girls living in Benin, Togo and Uganda – the information we were given whetted my appetite for this project and I cannot wait to learn more as it continues!

I then went over to the main UN building to get into the Secretary General’s Townhall meeting. While we waited for the Secretary General, the Chair of the event encouraged some groups of ladies to sing their national songs so we had great entertainment! The Townhall Meeting of Civil Society and the United Nations Secretary General (to give the event its full title) was exactly as I remembered from 2017 – Antonio Guterres was charming, incisive, polite, humorous and informative. He gave some opening remarks covering thee internal and two external priorities for UNCSW63, which covered a range from internal gender equality among the staff of the UN to the need to address every aspect of violence against women and to support and promote their basic human rights. I believe everyone who listened to him believed that he was indeed a “proud feminist”, as he had declared at the opening session of CSW63.

The questions to the Secretary General came thick and fast from the floor for almost an hour and are too many to record, but they varied from personal and emotional subjects such as illegal, forced adoption of babies in Argentina, women addicted to hard drugs in Nigeria, children affected by war in Ukraine, human trafficking of refugees in DRC to more all-embracing topics such as the plight of women in prisons and widows worldwide. The Secretary General attempted to answer every question with honesty and integrity.

That was the highlight of my day! The remainder was relatively pedestrian…..I attended a side event hosted by Iceland and the Nordic Council of Ministers where representatives from a number of northern European counties spoke about how investment in public infrastructure promoted gender equality and created conditions for economic prosperity, welfare and wellbeing.  As a former civil servant, public infrastructure is something in which I maintain an interest as I believe that we have always have to have the proper systems and structures to facilitate every aspect of life. I know that at the extreme north and south of our planet both the Scandinavian block of countries and Australia and New Zealand are well ahead of many others in this field and I was not disappointed by what I leaned from the Nordic ministers. They spoke about the progress being made with regard to labour market, affordable child care, parental leave and taxation and their challenges, essentially around how to change perceptions and traditions. 

There was then the daily debrief with the UK government delegation. Staff summarised the events they had been involved with during that day and there was useful discussion about how the delegation might best take forward the need for greater civil society space for women and girls at the UN. Also how, when we leave UNCSW, the issues we have focussed on there can be promoted and developed, as well as some of the stories being brought to the attention of the wider public. What national “machinery” is in place to take forward the outcomes from CSW63?  There was reference to the connectivity of the NGO group as well as their liaison with government post UNCSW - much for the officials to consider but I found the reference to connectivity particularly interesting. Indeed I believe Mothers’ Union needs to work in tandem, or at least more closely, with many of the other groups represented at UNCSW to maximise our impact as change-makers. 

Our day ended with a social event with the Youth Delegates from the United Kingdom. They are a delightful group of young ladies from Gloucestershire who are studying politics for “A” level. They are articulate and impassioned about women’s issues and they give me hope for our future!