Gender Equality must include disability

During the 63rd Commission of the Status of Women (CSW63) I have been keeping a keen eye open for any themes in relation to interlinking of disability and gender inequality. As the priority theme this year focused on ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’ I assumed that disability would be significantly addressed. However, this has not been the case. Upon looking at CSW63’s side events disability only appeared in the title of one event facilitated by a Canadian organisation.  

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From International Law to an Immigrant Farmer: The multilevel approach to addressing violence against women.

Mathew Kennedy, Central Queensland University

On a brisk morning in The Big Apple, Global Voices Scholars made their way to the United Nations Headquarters to begin a once-in-a-life time opportunity to attend the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63). Social Protection and the access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for women and girls was the theme for CSW63, which allowed for a diverse range of issues to be discussed within official meetings, side events and NGO parallel events. 

The first side event attended was the ‘The Council of Europe Istanbul Convention: a global instrument for preventing and combating violence against women and girls’. The Istanbul Convention in 2011 became the product of the Council of Europe and has since been ratified by thirty-four European countries. This convention is the first of its kind by holding ratifying states accountable through a comprehensive legal framework to address violence against women. Panelists explained that the convention addresses gender-based violence through prevention, protection and prosecution. A topic of focus was the role of prevention under the convention. It was outlined that 41% of perpetrators of sexual violence against women did so because they were bored and needed something to do.  Statistics such as this demonstrate that the empowerment of women and girls is only the first step in addressing violence against women. The engagement of men and boys through education and counselling attacks this issue at its core by providing a proactive solution.

 ‘Sexual Harassment in the workplace – global perspective’ saw the Australian delegation contribute to the gender-based violence theme. The topic of this side event resulted from an announcement in June 2018 by Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, to commence the National Enquiry into Sexual Harassment within Australian Workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Kate began the event with the personal story of Ishaani, a Cambodian immigrant worker seeking opportunities as a fruit picker in rural Australia. Ishaani was unfortunately molested by a contractor at the farm she was working on. Due to language and cultural barriers and threats by her perpetrator to get her fired, this behaviour continually until a local workers union became involved. Sexual Harassment in any context has been a taboo topic for far too long and without organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, it can be easy for government to not provide recognition and support to women such as Ishaani.

While reflecting on my time at CSW63, it is inspiring to see women and men from countries all around the world, either sponsored by their respective governments, NGO’s or most importantly by their own funds advocating for gender equality because ‘when we exclude women, everyone pays the price. When we include women, the whole world wins’ – Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Emerging technology connects and empowers women at UN CSW63

Anna-Grace Milward, University of Sydney Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Sitting across from Lydia Cacho in the back seat of a bumpy car ride, I was engrossed in her shocking recount of the violence and intimidation she suffered at the hands of the Mexican Cartels responsible for trafficking tens of thousands of victimised women. Lydia is a journalist, so she is on a mission to tell emotive stories, but the fact that this one was delivered inside a virtual world made it all the more impactful. Just inches away from each other, I truly felt like Lydia was speaking with me, not just to me; It was a shared moment of connection. 

Taking off my ‘Daydream-powered Lenovo Mirage Solo’ (that’s a VR headset for all those who are yet to realise their obsession with emerging tech), I found myself returned to the United Nations Headquarters. Thanks to my participation in the Global Voices Scholarship program, I’ve been privileged to spend the week attending in the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women. Along with a number of exceptional networking events and side panel discussions held by hardworking NGOs who have gathered from across the globe to ensure the most rigorous and impactful policy outcomes for women and girls, I also stumbled across a few Easter Eggs. In gamer terms, an ‘Easter egg’ is an ‘unexpected surprise’, which developers include in the user experience as an added bonus for the player. For example, you might find a hidden level, reward or a power-up. The VR  experience I got to demo, a collaboration between UN Women and Google, was one such hidden treasure. Not only did the VR series, ‘Courage to Question’, help me to connect with the raw emotions I know so many women must feel when speaking about the seemingly endless number of examples in which women continue to endure suffering and oppression, but it affirmed the importance of technology as a powerful tool for change. A tool which can build empathy, encourage new perspectives, educate and enriching connection. These are, after all, some of the many benefits which I believe could be used to support women in Australia,  should my policy recommendation of Mixed Reality labs for women in regional and remote communities, be adopted. 

But while technology can have a really positive impact and is increasingly being centred as the key for accelerating rapid growth in women's access to knowledge, services and enterprise, as the week progressed so too did the discussion around the dark underbelly of the internet and its cyber violence. Internet governance is, at best, underdeveloped, and many of the social realities which oppress women are, as well as being perpetuated online, intensified. Those who gathered at the UN side panel event to discuss how we can build 'safe and empowering spaces for women and girls' identified that women with low digital literacy were particularly vulnerable online, after having very little access to ICTs in their youth. While other women, simply remain disconnected from the world wide web. In a meeting with Natasha de Silva, Senior Policy Executive at the Australian Human Rights Commission, we discussed the need to expand the definition of work so to include work which is done online, in virtual spaces, and thus protect the rights of women who now encounter workplace harassment across 'platforms' rather than 'in person'. 

The digital world is evolving rapidly, but it is not yet inclusive. Both the positive and negative elements of the digital revolution are drastically impacting women's physical and social realities, and certainly require the collective efforts of all those who have gathered at CSW in 2019. At this delegation we have been building a very real and positive connection, and I hope that, with some hard work, we can ensure that this translates into the online experiences of women. Connection is imperative. 

CSW63 Townhall Meeting reveals that gender inequality affects even the event itself

Jayde Frank, Curtin University

The Townhall Meeting of Civil Society and the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, at the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), was perhaps one of the most interesting melting pots of activism and culture I have ever experienced; the pinnacle of inclusivity, respect and tolerance. It is a place that welcomes people from all over the world, regardless of their gender, orientation, education, ethnicity or religion; inviting them to share the issues which face the women and girls of their native countries.

Some delegates are here to represent and lobby for the rights of others such as the women who stood up for the Qatari women who have not been able to see their Saudi Arabian and Bahraini husbands for over three years due to blockade. Other delegates are here to stand up for the rights for themselves and the women in their communities, including the African women who challenged the UN to do more about human trafficking, focusing on the importance of giving women financial and economic power; “women sitting at the table is one of the most important things if we are going to fight”. Despite this statement, and the incredible efforts of the UN to give women a voice to challenge human rights violations when they see them, it is obvious that there is still much more to be done.

Many women every year have their visas into the USA for UNCSW denied, other are given visas only to be refused entry into the country at the airport. Most of these women are from developing countries; women whose livelihoods and hope for freedom and equality depends on their attendance at events like UNCSW where they can directly lobby to the highest UN executives for assistance in creating change. The UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to this challenge, and responds to all other resistance received stating, “power is not given, power is taken – that’s why we need to push back against the push backs”.

The challenges that some women face in trying to attend UNCSW has sparked much discussion over the accessibility of the Commission which, ironically, whilst aiming to capture the voices of all women is held in locations that are financially and politically inaccessible to the women whom inequality effects most severely in the world. Hence, it could be argued that in reality an event which is supposed to give agency to all women to improve their status, actually may be adding to the inequality that the poorest and most vulnerable women experience with regards to gender equity. This is something that will continue to be a challenge in the future, as high level international organisations meet in an aim to create enduring, intergenerational global change; an issue which could possibly be tackled through the use of technological solutions to bring negotiations at UNCSW into the greater public’s view.


Final day of COP24 leaves more questions than answers

After a mentally intense but very rewarding week, our COP24 delegation had arrived at its last day. With negotiators working well into the early hours of each morning the first draft of the ‘Katowice texts’ was released overnight, leaving many government and non-government stakeholders scrutinising what had been stated and for the most part disappointed in what was put forward.

In an attempt to get a detailed and abridged version of the 137 page document, the first item on the Global Voices delegation’s agenda was to attend the daily ‘Climate Tracker’ meeting. Climate Tracker is a not-for-profit organisation launched by former Global Voices delegate, Chris Wright, which summarises the key events of the previous day, over the two weeks of COP. The overall tone of the meeting was exasperation, with both the audience and panel sharing their mutual frustration in the weakness of the ambition of and the wording incorporated into the text.

The looming end of COP24 created a sense of urgency and uncertainty on the ground. Our delegation was lucky enough to meet with John Connor (Executive Director of COP23 Presidency Secretariat) who spoke about the importance of the Talanoa Dialogue. John outlined the key role the Pacific Islands have been playing in the progress of COP discussions at previous meetings and outlined how this had continued in Poland.

COP24 began to wind down for the non-government stakeholders in attendance, as the time to finalise and agree on the Paris rulebook before the end of the week meant a large majority of meetings were ‘closed’, with seats only available to Government stakeholders. We ended the day at the local Katowice Christmas Market with a reflective discussion about the overwhelmingly positive experience we had all shared.

 By: Joseph Pegler, University of Newcastle Scholar

Al Gore inspires young future leaders at COP24

My attendance at COP24 has opened my eyes to the sheer number of people from diverse backgrounds not only concerned about climate change and its impacts, but who are actively seeking solutions to this global issue. The biggest highlight of my participation was attending a side-event led by Al Gore, in large part due to his ability to communicate in such a meaningful and emotional way to the diverse crowd of people gathered together in freezing Poland.

Gore pleaded with the full theatre to observe and understand the current impacts of climate change and to appreciate how much worse they will soon become. Each example he presented - in high definition imagery or video footage - highlighted the environmental and anthropogenic suffering currently occurring around the globe. The urgency in his voice was tangible as he described example after example of current climate impacts, including increasing death tolls from extreme weather events throughout the USA and mass migration by climate refugees seeking safer lifestyles. Gore also described the increasing loss of arable land around the world that will eventually lead to global food shortages.

Gore is a leader and public figurehead of the climate change movement around the world and his speech was especially inspiring to my own personal development. Gore was able to communicate in a way that everyone understood and could relate to, by using specific examples that impact our personal context. He did this with a passion that emphasised how severe the situation truly is.

Gore finished by saying “If anyone doubts that we as human beings are incapable of rising to this moment, think back to all of the struggles we’ve had in previous history, and how often the odds were against those who chose to do the right thing and ultimately prevailed. If anyone doubts that we as human beings have the political will to make the right choice, please remember that political will itself is a renewable resource.”

By: Joel Wynhorst, Curtin University Scholar