Highlights of the YWCA USA Young Women Delegates Report on UN CSW
At the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women and was held in New York City from February 27 to March 9th, this year’s focus was on Rural Women including reproductive health rights, land rights, violence against women, sustainable development and climate change. The YWCA USA had three young women delegates at CSW: Leanne Baumung (YWCA Hawaii), Jenna Lodge (YWCA of Central Virginia), and Kris Silvestry (YWCA Eastern Union County). Luna Lee from the YWCA Northeast Region holds a permanent UN pass and participated in all CSW events as well. Here are some excerpts from their group report on the conference and special workshops:
- Young Women’s Engagement
(Jenna Lodge): The sight of young women boldly descending upon the United Nations Headquarters, the UN Church Center, and the Salvation Army to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women was incredible. Young women are the future of women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world. Approximately 28% of the world’s population are women under the age of 30. Young women must break through traditional gender roles and authority lines and blaze a trail for the future of every woman and girl around the world. The YWCA USA must continue to seek consultative status to the UN and be an active participant in CSW activities.
- CEDAW Advocacy
(Jenna Lodge): The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world. As a developed nation with ample resources, it is alarming to hear that the U.S. is one of six countries out of 193 that have not ratified CEDAW. Ratification of the CEDAW treaty requires 67 Senators to stand together in support for women’s rights. Although there is no financial cost directly to the ratification of CEDAW, very little education and awareness has been provided to elected legislatures in order for them to support the Convention. Ironically enough, the U.S. was one of the countries that helped draft the original CEDAW legislation.
Ratifying countries submit a report on how they are implementing the treaty one year after ratification, then every four years thereafter. Our country needs to support CEDAW and current laws that are consistent with the legislation. With the U.S. having a large advocacy presence for human rights in the international arena, it is inauspicious that we have yet to ratify CEDAW. Our lack of accountability on behalf of CEDAW allows for other countries to not take the treaty as seriously.
- Engaging Men and Boys to Advance Gender Equality (Leanne Baumung): An emerging and quite popular theme discussed at length during the CSW was the need to engage men and boys as partners and allies in the struggle for gender equality. Several side events (i.e. “Equality Between Women and Men: The Nordic Way”, sponsored by Norway; “So What About the Boys? The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality”, sponsored by Canada and Plan International) as well as a plenary panel were dedicated to this issue.
“What About the Boys” addressed the reinforcement of positive masculinities through male role models and using technology. In countries like Pakistan and Cambodia, individuals and groups of men are partnering with and learning from women’s organizations to encourage males within communities to say no to early marriages and dowries, and to commit to empowering the females in their families. The Nordic model stresses that gender equality is good for men and boys, as well as women and girls (for example, by offering robust paternity leave packages that offer men the choice of spending more time with their children.) Overall, the message was clear: women’s and girl’s human rights cannot be realized without the committed participation of men and boys. Violence against women will not end by empowering women alone – it is men who must stop perpetrating. Women’s meaningful political participation and leadership cannot be fully achieved without men understanding the benefit of inclusivity or helping to advocate for spaces for women in the political sphere.The list goes on. Governments and NGOs alike are now looking to the engagement of men and boys as “the way forward” in terms of gender equality initiatives, but there are also concerns about the diversion of resources away from the services we provide to women and girls, as well as the need to retain safe female-only spaces where women and girls can express themselves, organize, plan and advocate
- Sustainable Development
(Leanne Baumung): As the international community gears up for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) this summer, there was a push from the CSW to make sure that women, and particularly rural women, are heard and represented in the debates around issues of access to and control over water, land, and agricultural resources. It was stressed that rural women’s knowledge and expertise needs to be raised, valued and utilized among international policy making forums, as concerns over high food security, resources scarcity and climate change are on the rise Funding for a green economy needs to be made accessible to rural women, and our advocacy in this case should revolve around opening doors for rural women, as well as improving global systems so that they are more equitable and inclusive
- Economic Empowerment
(Luna Lee): We all know that economic empowerment is key to women’s empowerment. During CSW, this topic was explored from various angles that are specific to rural women. Agriculture is a crucial sector for rural women. Although women do the majority of work in agriculture at the global level, elder men for the most part still own the land, control women’s labor and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems. One panelist said that if women have equal land rights and credit, the world could see a boost of economy by 25-30% and a reduction in world hunger by 17%. In addition, women often get the menial and tedious jobs, which almost always guarantee lower and inconsistent pay, as well as worse working conditions without social protection.
- Corporate Social Responsibility
(Luna Lee): I had the opportunity to speak on a panel representing EILEEN FISHER to discuss our human rights work and how it is linked to rural women. It was interesting for me to be at CSW both as a representative of an NGO and a representative of a business. I understand that CSW is a safe space for women NGOs to discuss women’s issues but it would be great if we could engage businesses in more sessions. As a women’s organization in the U.S., we are very close to corporate America. How can we engage with corporations on promoting the rights of women worldwide? How do we identify the right businesses and bring them into the conversations? Businesses have the resources to invest in communities around the world and should be interested in doing so, especially in the areas in which their supply chain is located.I think that the YWCA should take the lead in getting businesses to be more involved.
- Eliminating Violence Against Women
(Kris Silvestry): When attending the sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women, I focused primarily on workshops discussing Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG differed depending on the country. With definitions varying greatly, it was agreed that basic human rights need to be established. Another issue was the lack of accountability for perpetrators of abuse. While some perpetrators may be incarcerated for certain crimes, others may walk free with impunity because the laws are not strong enough to shelter women from harm. The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) is a tool that can be used to help address these issues that were mentioned above. Even though it is not an enforceable document, it gives guidelines to help protect women and children. In addition, it also helps hold governments accountable when speaking of the protection of their people.
- Using Social Media to Advance Gender Equality
(Kris Silvestry): Along with protection and prevention of violence against women, another important issue of information sharing was discussed. The use of media-journalism, social media, radio, and television are ways in which injustices, discrimination, and inequality are exposed. Panelists spoke on the importance of sharing stories of survival and using those quality moments as tools for teaching the public. One impactful story discussed how a radio station created a show to work towards the elimination of violence against women and girls. In the show, the men banded together to condemn their fellow brother when he engaged in abusive behavior towards his wife. The townspeople began to bang pots and pans when they heard instances of abuse in their town. After the show aired, the community began to engage in the same behaviors-bringing attention to the acts of abuse by creating noise through pots and pans. Media can act as a model for behavior when used in a safe and mindful way. In addition, thinking outside the box and keeping up with the times as well as social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumlbr are resourceful and efficient ways to spread the message of a peaceful world. Momentous movements are originating from social media and are creating effective change for people. By laying the foundations for standardization and utilizing media to spread the word of intolerance for abuse, we will inevitably change this world.
- Young Women’s Engagement
Conclusions and Recommendations
There was a very clear value added in having the YWCA USA participate as an active component of the World YWCA delegation at CSW. Having a delegation that can stay on for the full two weeks of the CSW is also important. During the second week, the negotiations with governments take place. It is a critical time for advancing YWCA policy objectives into the Agreed Conclusions. Considering that the theme for next year’s CSW is around eliminating violence against women, we also feel that the YWCA USA has a key role to play on next year’s World YWCA delegation, considering our vast expertise in the area.
Note: For copies of the full report of this Young Women’s delegation, please contact the YWCA USA, Ste. 559, 2025 M Street NW, Washington D.C. 20036 or see the web site ywca.org for more information.