By Jessica Wescott, Victoria University
For the third day of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, we trekked through the still snow-filled streets of Manhattan and entered Australia! Yes, that’s right, today we were based on Australian soil at the Australian Consulate-General in New York City; headquarters to the Australian Mission to the United Nations and the offices of the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, HE Ms. Gillian Bird.
First on our agenda was a CSW panel entitled, ‘Preventing violence against women and girls in the digital and technological age to facilitate increased participation in education and work’. Moderated by the Australian Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, the panel featured former Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, chair of OurWatch; chair of the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and WESNET Australia Julie Oberin and the Executive Vice President of the National Network to End Domestic Violence Cindy Southworth. The message of the panel was clear: technology is being gravely misused to perpetuate violence against women and girls, through surveillance, abuse, unauthorised material distribution and more. Panellists discussed the importance of government funding to civil sector organisations that develop and implement training programs educating frontline workers and victims in protecting themselves online. Ms. Stott-Despoja additionally discussed the work of OurWatch in developing the online resource ‘The Line’, as well as specifically targeted advertising aimed at promoting the key theme, ‘you can’t undo violence,’ to young men.
Delegates then met with the Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson, to discuss Australia’s role in multilateral organisations and the country’s areas of engagement for CSW. Ambassador Wilson provided key insights into the pillars that Australia operates on in their Mission to the United Nations, the operation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as our focus on obtaining a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018-2020. This was an invaluable opportunity to engage with a high-level diplomat versed in domestic, bilateral and multilateral issues.
After a quick jaunt to Starbucks (when in Rome…), delegates met with Amanda McIntyre, Head of the Office for Women in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. As the top advisor to the Minister of Women and the head of the official government delegation to CSW, Ms. McIntyre discussed her role in government and at CSW.
The second panel held by the Mission was a conversation on increasing female participation in the workforce. Featuring Judith Van Unen of JERA International; the Fijian Minister for Women, Meresini Vuniwaqa; New Zealand powerhouse Helen Swales; and investor, female mentor and activist Hitha Palepu, the panel looked at the various structural barriers contributing to the workforce participation gap. This includes male-dominated employment, the lack of entitlements for women, stereotypes and the inflexibility of roles. The panellists discussed various solutions or frameworks being implemented in their organisations and countries in order to empower women in a quest to address the problem.
Continuing a jam-packed day, delegates attended a meeting with the Deputy Secretary for Social Policy in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Lin Hatfield Dodds. Ms. Dodds spoke about leadership, participation and her own personal history as a successful NGO director, psychologist and government advisor with candour and frankness, entertaining us while also discussing difficult social policy issues.
We then ended our day at the conference with the Australian civil sector briefing held by our three CSO representatives of the official government delegation. This provided a prime opportunity for reflection and discussion amongst non-government delegates, as well as for official representatives to inform us of the nature of negotiations and how we can contribute to Australia achieving their objectives at CSW.
Despite the hectic schedule, the day proved to be insightful and inspiring, as we met with incredibly influential women and continued to learn about the multiple problems and solutions being discussed on an international level. I look forward to continuing the conversation, and am confident that the thousands of women who have attended the Commission from all over the world will do so too.