This was my first CSW and I’m certain not my last. Prior to attending I was conflicted as I watched many of my fellow NGO counterparts boycotting CSW in solidarity with the delegates who were unable to attend due to the US VISA restrictions. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not a moment passed in any session that I attended where their absence wasn’t acknowledge. And in solidarity, many of the events asked that a free seat be left open as a symbolic gesture.
While I only attended the first week of CSW, I found it to be overwhelmingly rewarding both professionally and personally. I was intent on putting my ear to the ground to learn about the good work underway in the current political climate both in the US and worldwide. This year’s theme on economic empowerment resonated with me in terms of work I have done in the past on economic abuse, and I was encouraged by the focus area of empowerment of Indigenous women. So in some ways it was a personal quest for inspiration and affirmation.
I had spent weeks prior to the conference studying the schedule and mapping out which side and parallel events would allow me to maximize my experience. However, some of my most substantive learning was from the delegates that I spoke to in the corridors of the UN, in the lobby of my hotel, or while waiting in a long line outside of the UN to pass through security (in below freezing temperatures) first thing in the morning.
It was clear to me that many of the NGO delegates in attendance were passionate about the work that they do and were ready to learn and share experiences. Many of them had a story to tell or an agenda to push. This left me inspired.
My speciality area of work is intersectionality. I work within my organisation to encourage an intersectional approach to gender equality. While I had difficulty accessing some of the events that addressed intersectionality specifically, it was a theme that permeated throughout many of the sessions I attended. It struck me early on that that most delegates had a baseline, if not advanced, understanding of intersectionality. This was refreshing. It’s a concept that can be challenging for people to grasp, particularly when attempting to bring it from theory to practice. This baseline understanding allowed for deeper discussions when considering gender equitable practices.
While I enjoyed many of the events that I attended, one of my favourites was held by UN Women called “An ‘Unstereotyped’ World: Catalyzing the private sector to change the way the world works for women by tackling harmful social norms and gender stereotypes.” We learned about a forthcoming report by Unliever, a transnational consumer goods company, on how they have challenged discriminatory norms and stereotypes in their operations, starting with their brand advertising. It was interesting to learn that their approach to gender equality and challenging norms within their industry is not unlike Australia’s approach being adopted and encouraged in the national framework Change the Story.
During this event Winnie Byanyima, Executive Diretor of Oxfam shared a story about a man who beat his wife and joked with his local Magistrate when the charges were brought that someone had to discipline his wife and kids. Yet this same man trusted his wife completely with their finances and estate upon his passing as a cultural norm. As I understood it, she used this as an example to demonstrate how cultural norms and behaviours can and should be challenged.
I walked away from CSW with a sense of confirmation and confidence in the approach we are taking to gender equality in Australia. I was also confident in my decision to attend, with the thought that my solidarity lies in having a seat at the table and using it on behalf of those who could not be there. The lawyer in me hopes to attend in the future in a capacity where I can be at the bargaining table and not on the periphery.