In March this year, our very own YWCA ambassador, Maisy Bentley, attended CSW63 in New York, and what an action-packed trip it was! Here Maisy shares her journey...
I arrived in New York at the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the second largest gathering at the UN and the main policy making body on women's rights, with plenty of jet lag and lots of excitement.
My day started early with the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) orientation, collecting my UN ID and swipe card and trying to make my way to the opening session. I was unsure, at times lost, and very tired. But as soon as I settled into my seat at the UN and began listening to the comments of the opening session, I knew i was in the right place - UN Women’s Executive Director, the Chair of the Commission, and Secretary General of the UN calling themselves strong feminist; calling out key barriers for women and calling for member states to boldly ‘push back against the push back’.
The commission involves the formal programme of the opening session where key leaders and regional representatives speak. It also includes general discussion where countries make their statements; high level dialogues where civil society can ask questions and raise concern, and dialogue on the review themes where country diplomats present on their progress on the review theme. This year was about women and sustainable development.
There is a full schedule of official side events, organised by governments, UN agencies and large NGOs to share education content and facilitate dialogue around countries’ key policies and issues in relation to certain parts of the theme and women. There was a programme of parallel events, similar to side events but organised by NGOs, often at conference centres just across the road from the UN or at permanent missions. Plus there were special youth events as part of the official programme, including the pre-consultation and creation of agreed conclusions, and high-level intergenerational dialogues with leaders of the Commission, UN and member states, to ask how they were going to ensure our perspectives were included in any decision making at the Commission.
The first day ended with a dinner with YWCA delegates from across the globe and young leaders from YWCA Brooklyn. It was great to put faces to emails and hear about the amazing work each did in their respective countries.
Some highlights of my time at CSW included:
Speaking at a side event of the official programme organised by BPW (Business and Professional Women Global) at the New Zealand permanent mission to the UN. I brought the voices and experiences of young women, especially those with invisible disabilities, to our discussion about safe cities. Just as the many advocates in the room have been telling the world they can no longer add women and stir, I reminded them that when discussing women's issues they can no longer just add youth and stir. I talked specifically about the accessibility and safety of public transport, and climate resilience, especially of our rural cities.
I was able to contribute to and promote the youth greed minimum standards, bring these to the attention of our minister and ensure the NGO rep bought them to the table with our official delegation to negotiate on, and to provide the perspectives of young women on other key potential amendments of clauses.
Meetings at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Executive Office about the Human Development Index and women (where I called for the need for policy makers to have clear global information on the emerging ‘wellbeing budgets’, to learn from each other to create effective policy for women)
Starting a day with the NGO delegation breakfast at New Zealand’s permanent mission to the UN alongside the Minister for Women and our ambassador to the UN, followed by visiting the Finnish Permanent Mission for a conversation about access to contraception and women’s empowerment, using Helsinki as a case study, and concluding with a youth CSW hot seat panel with the chair of the Commission (Ireland’s Permanent Representative), S-G’s Youth Envoy, the Vice President of Columbia, the UN Women Executive Director and more, to gain tangible commitments on how they will ensure a youth voice in the agreed conclusions.
Another day started with the NGO briefing with officials, including the Head of the UN Human Rights Commission and deputy UN Women Executive Director, about civil society engagement in Beijing 25, where I was able to initiate a constructive conversation about the fact that the Beijing declaration was written give years before I was even born... so the need to use online and accessible platforms more suited to the needs and financial and time resources of young women (especially those of us isolated down here in the Pacific Ocean). Hopefully UN women follow through on these commitments!
Possibly my favourite event of all was when the International Development Law Organization heard from leading females about women in the justice system, including New Zealand’s own Justice Susan Glazebrook of the Supreme Court.
There were both long and exciting days bringing the perspectives of young and diverse Kiwi women to international meetings, events and policy-making and learning a WHOLE lot along the way.
I know that the negations that followed were just as long, with many countries having to form new alliances to simply hold the line, while many countries, including the USA and Russia, tried to weaken women's rights, attempting to remove the word gender from the document and strong push back on women's reproductive rights.
It was great to see countries band together and push harder to come to agreed conclusions. Even the process of getting to CSW was a community effort! I was able to bring a community together to support me to go and had the help and experiences of many amazing YWCA sisters behind me.
I have returned to New Zealand with an even bigger international community of YWCA sisters and new connections to organisations that create opportunities for young women and can share their knowledge to help us improve work here. I grabbed every opportunity and opened new doors, and learnt a ridiculous amount about women's rights and effective strategies for progressing them both nationally and internationally.