The Commission on the Status of Women – New York, March 2016
Sr Patricia Byrne reports on her recent participation in the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women – “With Srs Eilis Coe, Kathleen Bryant and Suzette Clarke I had the privilege of being present at this Forum. Before I went I was completely confused by the amount of information I was receiving about side events, parallel events, invitations to events and about what I needed to take with me in terms of documents to enter the events, the UN and the country! I had too much of everything with me when I travelled.
However once there everything became clear quickly. Thankfully Suzette waited in New York for us following her meeting at Unanima and showed us around the city and helped us to obtain a UN pass and generally showed us how things were done. She is an old hand at meetings in New York now. The parallel events happened in the buildings around the UN and were sponsored by various groups interested in women’s issues. The side events took place in the UN building itself and were organised by UN Women, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment. Every day there were many side and parallel events going on and I could decide which I wanted to attend. It would be impossible to adequately chronicle all that took place during the days we spent at the forum so the following is just part of a flavour.
Participants and speakers came from many parts of the world. They shared on their experience of being a woman in their country or being with women who struggle in their particular circumstances. Sometimes they described the challenges, other times they spoke of possible solutions or ways of making life a little easier. They spoke with courage, conviction and vision.
A small number of events were about human trafficking but it became clear that every event addressed an issue that contributed to human trafficking. The NGO CSW FORUM explored all of the areas that affect women directly and inhibit them from being able to live full lives such as gender inequality and abuse, war, poverty, denial of education, health issues, climate change and scarcity of natural resources. And so sustainability, development, peace, equal rights, education and health are all part of a concept of a world where no one is left behind. The 2030 Agenda, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (which were adopted by world leaders in 2015 and came into force 1st Jan this year) formed the basis of all that was discussed.
On the first day we attended a one-day event called the Consultation Day. This day set the tone for the two weeks. It exposed us to a whole range of ideas and cultures. I could feel my head (and heart) expanding as I listened to women from the UN and developing countries speak from their hearts on the theme ‘No One Left Behind’. The concept of leaving no-one behind surfaced on several occasions in the events I attended in the following days.
One event was led by three Syrian women all engaged in trying to bring peace to Syria and support Syrian women. They spoke of the war and its effects on women and children. They said that they made up three quarters of refugees. Well educated themselves they said that Syria is the best educated country in that region.
Another event was entitled ‘Human Trafficking as a form of violence against women and girls’. One speaker spoke passionately and starkly about slavery. She began by saying that 30% of perpetrators are women. Many of these would have been trafficked themselves and then become traffickers. She said that there are 20m slaves in the world, mostly women and children. 1m children are in the sex tourist trade. “Every day we use or consume products produced by slaves” she said and asked that we be careful not to profit from slave labour. It is easy on the ‘dark web’ to buy a person for $300.
There is a connection between homelessness and human trafficking as children and young people have nowhere to go and are susceptible to invitations. Another speaker talked of the important role Faith leaders have in bringing an end to human trafficking. She praised Pope Francis for his leadership in this.
I attended an event which informed us of the work of a charity which provides an alternative way for people to obtain energy in developing countries. Where people depend on dung to light fires to cook, thermal cookers, fitted with solar panels, can enable families to have the means of cooking, have enough energy also to boil contaminated water and leave the dung in the fields to nourish the ground and grow more food. Since it is the women who would have to provide the needed energy and use it and probably have to carry the water, a solution such as this helps to make life a little easier.
An event was led by a group of women PH.D students from Wales. They spoke of an education system in England and Wales which is imbalanced in favour of the male in its representation of writers, poets, painters, school topics (in primary school the popular topics to teach would be i.e. the Romans, the Vikings). They criticised a system that discourages girls from following a career in the sciences or technology. One speaker said that although she had done brilliantly in science in her GCSEs and not so well in other subjects yet she was encouraged to pursue a career in English.
Although I immediately recognised this as true I was surprised by it. To discover that in some developed countries where legislation has enshrined the rights of women there remains a subconscious resistance to, or ignorance of, the contribution women have made in the past and the potential for the future. I already knew this at one level when I see the gender gap operational in say, politics, but there is a subtle denial which is deep because it is cultural and it exists even among women.
The many events presented women in their many roles whether they be activists or homemakers as leaders, courageous, wise and generous but undervalued and very often abused or denied what their male counterparts enjoy, education, freedom to make decisions about their lives, even day –to-day or to have aspirations or to take their proper place in society. Yet it is women who most often hold the family together in times of crisis or hardship and women who lead the way in seeking peace and embracing change”.