Our expectations upon arriving in New York for the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) was that we would get to understand how policies and decisions are made at the high level. What we did not realise was the amount of incredible connections and friendships that we would make across the world.
Thought provoking and challenging questions came up time and time again over the two-day Youth Forum. “Why are men more listened to when they speak?” asked a young Arab woman delegate, “And why do we, as women, listen to them more?”
It was inspiring to be in a room full of determined young feminists and activists, as well as a much larger group tweeting and posting online participating in conversations around the event. Our individual motivations and missions differed, but our vision for a more inclusive, sustainable, peaceful world was shared. This was particularly powerful for us being a part of the 130 strong delegation of young women from the World YWCA, including over 50 young women.
We heard stories from various speakers about their journey to becoming feminists, allies and overcoming adversity. These speakers covered a range of topics including young women as an economic force, intergenerational leadership, and how to include men and those that identify as men in the fight for equality, as well as break out sessions covering a range of topics. We were fortunate enough to attend sessions on using social media to help spread word of your cause, young womens’ mental health, self defence, and women in STEM.
An interesting observation for us was that despite the purpose of CSW61 being to highlight the need for lifting up women, and hearing the opinions and perspectives of girls, young women and women – there was little space made for attendees at CSW61. At the Youth Forum, a majority of the sessions were panelist or speaker sessions where the over 1000 young people were rarely given the opportunity to engage in discussion.
Recognising this shrinking space for women and NGOs at CSW61, particularly that for young women, the World YWCA launched a social media campaign #youngwomenrise. This was a campaign where young women are photographed sharing a high five with an influential leader. The campaign was raising awareness about SDG5 on gender equality & highlighting the importance of making space for young women.
The most powerful experience of being part of CSW61 was the opportunity to hear and share stories from other girls, young women and women from all over the world. Nurain was invited to be a speaker at the YWCA Taiwan parallel event on tackling misogyny and adverse norms in the workplace and in new media. She spoke alongside three other incredible young women – Raine (YWCA Canada), Kara Brown (CEO of YWCA Scotland), Edith Kemunto (YWCA Kenya), Nicole Thurner (Women’s Federation for World Peace Europe) and Lin Jingyi (a legislator & medical doctor from Taiwan).
Nurain spoke about being a young woman of colour in New Zealand, the challenge of unconscious bias and the prevalence of misogyny in new media. The idea of combatting #microaggressions was talked about by Kara, and how to fight this with small acts of #microfeminism (check out these hashtags on Twitter!). We were united because of our shared challenges in achieving gender equality across developed and developing nations.
We are privileged to have experienced the workings of international lobbying, and hope to bring back what we have learnt to grassroots movements working for gender equality at home in New Zealand. We hope to connect the work being done in our communities to reclaim the shrinking spaces for us internationally.