NEW YORK – On the final day of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), News Deeply and NGO CSW/NY hosted a closing session to debrief with members of civil society on what they took away from their two weeks at the United Nations.
Speakers included Blessing Digha, a Women Deliver Young Leader from Nigeria who advocates for sexual and reproductive knowledge and healthcare for girls; Natalia Lozano, a young feminist lawyer and national coordinator for the Right Here, Right Now Honduran platform; Memory Kachambwa, programs manager at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET); and Susan O’Malley, chair of NGO CSW/NY, a membership organization supporting the work of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and U.N. Women. The session was moderated by News Deeply CEO and executive editor Lara Setrakian.
Here are the top five takeaways from the discussion:
1. How can CSW become more inclusive?
In addition to actual meeting of the commission, CSW plays host to a long list of side events, which number in the hundreds. These gatherings serve as an opportunity for civil society and states to exchange information and advance knowledge around the issues related to the year’s theme.
The biggest barrier to entry, however, is that of entering the United States. Travel is expensive, and visas are easily denied, particularly for the most marginalized women.
“How many people are you willing to sponsor to come to CSW?” Blessing Digha asked attendees. Digha was sponsored to attend by Women Deliver, along with five other women leaders.
“As many as we are here, how many of us can pave ways for people of a certain demography to be included in the discussions? If we are talking about negotiating about rural women, the women living in rural areas need to be here.”
2. Language matters …
During the panel, we received an update on the status of negotiations from Jourdan Williams, the International Health Awareness Network’s youth representative to the U.N.. Williams outlined how the language used in the final outcome document had changed as formal negotiations went on – with the commitments to improve the lives of rural women and girls becoming watered down and less inclusive as the delegations with conflicting interests debated it.
But that wasn’t the only language issue. Natalia Lozano pointed out that English being the lingua franca of much of the discussions at CSW meant yet more activists were excluded from attending.
“Let’s face the privilege of the women sitting here today, who speak English,” she said. “Not all of us can. I’m speaking here but I have better advocates back home that don’t speak English, and they would love to have this opportunity. I would love CSW to be more inclusive, and this means finding more language justice.”
3. … But outcomes are more important
Still, panelists emphasized the importance of the bigger picture, and that translating words into action on the ground would not be easy.
“We need civil society to contribute to a document that actually tells us where to go and what to do,” Lozano said. “Language cannot be the whole debate. Keep women’s matters on practice.”
4. It’s easier for activists to engage national leaders in New York than back home.
You wouldn’t think civil society organizers and activists should have to fly halfway across the world to get their message in front of members of their own government. But CSW can facilitate conversations that can’t happen at home.
“Most of the time there is a lot of bureaucracy in trying to get to our government representatives,” Digha explained.
“You may have a letter or a proposal. If you don’t have someone who will push it forward for you, it might not leave the point where you submitted it. But when we meet our government representatives outside of Nigeria, in places like this, they listen to us. Most times because they want to come back the following year saying, the previous year I pledged XYZ and I want to tell you that this year we have made some progress.
“So it’s easier to get them to commit to certain issues we face back home, outside of our country.”
Digha personally met with the minister of women’s affairs for Nigeria, as well as other key stakeholders.
“This year we are talking about women and girls in rural areas, how to empower them. From my country, I expect to see girls, women who have been trafficked in the rural areas to come and share their experiences, and that is one of the things I have been able to speak with my representatives about. And they listen.”
5. Change doesn’t just happen at the U.N.
“Honduras is dealing with a lot of sexual assaults,” Lozano said. “No justice whatsoever for women living in rural areas.”
Lozano has been working on issues around sexual reproductive health and rights since the age of 17.
“If we want to make a change, we can do it at the U.N., and we’ll go back to our countries and tell these girls and women what we did here, but they’ll ask what we are going to do there. Take one step further to and go these communities. Don’t let a document or a report tell you what’s going on in reality.”
Editor’s Note: CSW’s Agreed Conclusions were finalized on Friday afternoon and were published online this week. If you are an expert or community member who has something to share on the topic, please get in touch.