In the days following International Women’s Day, close to 8,000 women gathered at the UN HQ in New York to participate in the 61st annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held from March 13th – 24th. More than half the participants were members of official delegations of 169 member states, while 3,900 represented 580 NGOs from 138 countries. In the midst of this movement of energy and creativity, our RSHM NGO presence was small but vibrant.
This year the priority theme centred on the “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”. Parallel to the daily working sessions of the Commission, and the long hours of negotiations to reach consensus on conclusions, member states and UN Agencies organized 250 “side events” in the UN premises, and NGOs from around the world collaborated to put on 350 parallel events at four different venues near the United Nations.
Topics addressed in the events ranged from women’s rights to land and ownership to gender parity in parliaments and women’s role in peace-making; from sexual harassment in the workplace to survivor-led anti-trafficking initiatives; from women-led solar energy projects to the gender dimensions of modern day slavery. Panels highlighted the rights and voices of girls and the experience of women migrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking. The invisible work of women in the “care economy” was a focus of presentations and panels in and outside the formal meeting, as was the central role of women in working towards the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Attending CSW is a unique and privileged opportunity to listen to the stories and experiences of women from many different cultures and contexts and to interact closely with them. Many women are working creatively and courageously in local and global networks to address the systemic barriers that block gender equality. All who spoke were trying to ensure a future that recognizes the worth, dignity and rights of women, striving for gender equality as a key to a sustainable future for all.
Our RSHM participation in CSW offers us inspiration and strengthens our resolve to “engage with others in dynamic partnerships for mission through collaboration, networking and advocacy,” enabling us to be “more effectively involved in changing unjust structures,” commitments from our RSHM General Chapter of 2013. As the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, noted in his opening address to the Commission on the Status of Women “Every day you are on the frontline for a more just and decent world. I have seen the difference you make in every corner of the world. . . . As you champion equality, you make the world better for all.”