NAWO Young Professionals: reflections on UN CSW57. March 2013
By Deborah Owhin

 

The question running through my mind was, not what can I get from this experience at United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 57 but what could I give. Give to my peers, to other delegates from around the world and to those not present that I would share my experience with.

Even as a rookie (first timer) to the experience I consistently felt welcomed by all the delegates regardless of nationality, age or years of experience. I sat alongside some of the most committed, dedicated, passionate and beautiful activist from around the world who participated in sessions with one goal in mind… – to support prevention and an elimination to violence against women and girls worldwide.

After the first day you realise you need a personal strategy so you are not swept away by all the amazing, educational and innovating sessions happening but create a focus so you attend sessions that are of the greatest interest to you or your organisation. Why? because at any one time there were a possibility of 8- 12 sessions running simultaneously and you just cannot attend them all, unfortunately.

From Monday to Friday I attended interesting and thought provoking sessions, panels and discussions with experts from around the world on specific topics related to all forms of violence against women. Typically I started my day at 8am and often finished the day after 8pm when I attended different caucus group where updates on the document were shared. Intense is an understatement of the work those of us from civil society and NGO’s played in the process of the CSW. But every moment was worth it once the agreed conclusions were adopted. I would do my time at CSW all over again in a heartbeat to see the tears in the eyes of country delegates and NGO delegates who worked tirelessly to get wording in the document agreeable.

I attended an evening with the amazing dance assemble Girl Be Heard! Who performed a piece highlighting the atrocities of sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo at the American Jewish World Service.

I was invited to attend meetings as part of the young women’s caucus where a joint statement was written, then agreed and an oral statement was read on Thursday 14th March 2013 to the delegates for consideration. The statement can be found at:

h t t p : / / w w w . u n . o r g / w o m e n w a t c h / d a w / c s w / c s w 5 7 / g e n e r a l d i s c u s s i o n / n g o s / Young_Womens_Caucus.pdf

For me, being at the CSW was important because since before I could remember I have wanted to work with ‘voiceless’ women and girls from nations across the world. At age 19 I became actively involved in seeing an end to violence against women and girls. I became a campus organiser for the V-Day Campaign at my University (Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia) and continuing my work with an organisation called Men Stopping Violence (Atlanta, Georgia). CSW was much bigger, broader, yet more in depth than any of my previous experiences of ending violence against women and girls. I learnt about the issues of sexual reproductive health rights of girls under 18 from delegates from Philippines, Namibia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Tanzania, Armenia and Mexico, which transformed my understanding all in one 75 minute Parallel Event. In this particular session we were told that girls as young as 9 in Tanzania and across central and west Africa can be forced to go for a ‘mandatory’ pregnancy test in public. It reminds me that as advocates we have a lot more work to do to raise awareness and educate nations.

On the final day of CSW I had the opportunity to briefly meet UN Women’s executive director, Michelle Bachelet who announced in her closing address for the CSW57 that she would be stepping down from her position and returning to Chile (where she has now announced that she will be running for President). In our exchange I was able to thank for her fearless and passionate leadership to UN Women and for paving the way for young women such as myself to have a platform to advocate for gender equality worldwide.

My time at the CSW ended at the chair of the 56th and 57th Commission H.E. Ambassador Ms. Marjon V. Kamara of Liberia’s celebration reception. Where there were congratulations and thank you speeches from the ambassador, her team of counsellors, UN Women officials, ambassadors and delegates from other countries on the conclusions of the CSW. This gave me an honest glimpse into how much the agreement meant to those outside of civil society and NGO groups.

I am overwhelmed by the opportunity to have attended and participated in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 2013, yet thankful to NAWO for opening the door and propelling me forward every step of the way. Now I know what I can give to CSW 57; to remain involved in advocating daily because I cannot continue advocating the way I was before CSW 57. My eyes and heart have been opened to a whole new world of pain, sacrifice, violations and injustice. I am motivated by the tears of not only victims but delegates I engaged with who want a world where women and girls are free from abuse and violence.

I will continue to be committed to advocating for the elimination of all forms of violence towards women and girls while promoting that prevention and education are where solutions lie.

Special thanks to National Alliance of Women’s Organsations UK for the opportunity to participate.