UNCSW61 Final Wrap Up

By Natasha O'Farrell, University of Sydney

On Friday March 17, the first week of CSW61 drew to a close. The official negotiations were underway in one of the conference rooms at UN Headquarters, with supporting members of delegations camped outside ready to give advice and show support as needed.  Our day started with a Townhall event run by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Townhall provided Civil Society organisations with an opportunity to engage and share concerns with the Secretary General and his senior staff. The event was the first of its kind and a historic moment for Civil Society at CSW. Given that Secretary General Guterres is new to his post and, admittedly, a large proportion of civil society in attendance were rather disappointed that the new Secretary General was not a woman, the Secretary made a great effort to demonstrate his passion and intention for the UN to facilitate the global achievement of gender justice for women and girls. Civil society asked whether the Secretary General had plans to achieve equality and parity for women within UN staff, and if a Civil Society Liaison would be appointed (as was the case during Kofi Annan’s leadership). The Secretary General confirmed his commitment to initiatives. Other questions included how negotiations will ensure the independent treatment of girls in the agreed conclusions. Specifically, warning against an ‘add girls and stir approach’ and instead encouraging governments to re-consider all factors from the lived experience of a young girl.

After the Townhall, I attended a session entitled, ‘Promoting Women’s Economic Participation through Addressing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work’. This event was run by the Islamic Development bank and involved speakers from UN Women, Oxfam and Islamic Relief Worldwide. This discussion focused on specific programs that the above organisations are running to address the unequal distribution of unpaid care work. The event focused on specific examples from the developing world where infrastructure is poor and unpaid care work takes up a considerable amount of time. If it takes two days to fetch water or three hours to cook a meal—and there are three meals a day to prepare, then very little time is left to pursue paid employment. Unsurprisingly, women are the people who are in this situation and hence are not financially independent or economically empowered.

I also attended a session run by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the Asia Pacific Forum that sought to discuss the role of human rights institutions in promoting and protecting women’s economic participation in the changing world of work. Hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Germany, the presentations focused on the contributions National Human Rights Institutions make in championing the cause for equality. Presentations were made by representatives of these institutions in Chile, Costa Rica, Morocco, and the United Kingdom. The Australian representative the Hon. Dr. Sharman Stone MP, the Ambassador for Women and Girls, delivered introductory remarks and noted the incredible work of Australia’s independent human rights institutions. Immediately after this session the Global Voices delegates were fortunate enough to meet with Dr Stone and discuss our policy papers and more specifically, the lack of women in political spheres. She was both impassioned and inspiring, giving us a window into Australian gender politics both abroad and at home.

Delegates with Dr. Sharman Stone 

Delegates with Dr. Sharman Stone 

The afternoon left me some time to do some reflecting on the week as a whole. In my mind, three major conversations emerged from the conference this week. Note that this really is just my observations framed by the sessions I attended and the conversations that I had. These conversations were around the importance of prevention of violence against women and girls. Prevention meaning transforming culture, attitudes and education practices to create a new status quo that ensures that we do no harm to women and girls, and that we champion them. Another conversation was around indigenous rights and the multiple and intersecting experiences of discrimination that indigenous women endure. This conversation revealed to me that we simply do not do enough, we do not know enough and that perhaps we are not asking the right people and empowering indigenous people to make their own change. Indigenous women told me again and again this week that they want change, and they know how to do it, they just need a seat at the table.

The final conversation that I have observed or listened to was the importance of valuing unpaid labour. The work of women in performing care roles and domestic labour frees other people (predominantly men) up to spend time earning money. I learnt in a session that despite the fact that women enter and leave employment at different stages over their lifetime, on average, the amount of care and domestic duties they perform remains the same.

Perhaps what struck me the most this week was Australia’s position at the conference as an open contributor—as a nation that upholds best practice and speaks truth and practicality directly into complicated policy issues. The conference itself was both overwhelming and exhilarating. With so much potential for change and innovation, I was often frustrated at the deliberate pace at which business proceeded. However, I developed a better understanding of change, and good change as being incremental and generational.  What an awesome and humbling experience to be in the company of such talented and passionate people. 

UNCSW61 Wrap Up: Day 3

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.

Meeting with Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson.

Meeting with Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson.

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.

UNCSW61 Wrap Up: Day 2

By Tara Liddy, Charles Darwin University

The United Nations Headquarters was closed on day two of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women due to inclement weather. With the postponement of official meetings for one day, many side and parallel events were cancelled all together. Disappointing as this was, we took the opportunity to take a “snow day” and check out Central Park in all its wintery goodness.

We then returned to official proceedings on Wednesday 15th March, meeting with Grace Hill, Fundraising & Programs Coordinator at UN Women National Committee Australia. Grace provided a comprehensive overview of the work that UN Women Australia do in terms of fundraising and program implementation and management and highlighted the objectives of UN Women globally and in Australia.

Shortly following this meeting I attended a session entitled, “A journey to strengthen cooperation between the international and regional human rights mechanisms on women's rights,” hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights & the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women with the participation of representatives of regional mechanisms on women's rights.  Key learning’s from this session included the lack of ‘synergy’ between regional and global approaches to addressing human rights standards and the contradictory messages that are being conveyed by member states due to this fragmentation.  Interesting questions were asked by women from the Congo in regard to tools that can be provided by the United Nations to civil society to ensure that assaults on human rights are mitigated. 

The second session that I attended was hosted by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the NSW Council of Social Service, entitled, “National action on Indigenous women's economic empowerment (Australia, Canada and New Zealand Perspectives)”.  The moderator for this event was our very own Senator, the Hon. Michaelia Cash, and included Australian Indigenous panellists Keira Jenkins and LiAnne Wilson. Both Keira and Leann provided real-life insight into both the challenges and achievements of Indigenous Australians while calling for greater national and international Indigenous representation and government accountability. All panelists agreed that the need to improve societal outcomes is imperative in the pursuit of a life of independence and choice for our nations’ First Peoples.

Later that evening, the delegation attended the daily Australian CSO briefing before wrapping up for the day. All in all, the day brought further insight into the work of the United Nations (and in particular, UN Women and UN Women Australia) and the ways in which member states can improve outcomes by promoting greater adherence to International human rights standards.




UNCSW61 Wrap Up: Day 1

By Kyle Reeve, the University of South Australia

Monday March 13th saw the opening day of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. After obtaining our official UN passes, our delegation made the short walk through the cold, bustling streets of Manhattan to the United Nations building. Walking into the foyer of the main building, it was easy to get caught up in the rush of the crowds, filled with people from all over the world, arriving to contribute to this eminent forum. It wasn’t until we were stopped by our team leader Elizabeth, and told to take pause and appreciate exactly where we were: among some of the greatest minds in the world at the historic UN building where some of the most important global negotiations have and are yet to take place.

The day kicked off with a plenary session in the General Assembly, where ministers from all of the world’s nations met to open the event and give their statements. Chaired by H. E. Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, the session included keynote speeches from the UN Secretary General António Guterres and the UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Delegates seated at the plenary session of the 61st session of the UNCSW at the UN Headquarters

Delegates seated at the plenary session of the 61st session of the UNCSW at the UN Headquarters

The plenary session of CSW

The plenary session of CSW

With this, the CSW began. We raced around attending the many side events hosted by various government representatives and NGOs. With so many events held simultaneously in and around the UN building, the hardest part of this conference seems to be trying to decide which ones to choose! The side events are vastly different to the official meetings. The official meetings are generally larger meetings that take place between many government ministers, in which each minister reads a written statement about that meetings topic. Conversely, the side events can be lectures, panel discussions or even Q&A sessions.

Today, as we had many other events and meetings to attend, I only had time to see one side event. That side event was “Addressing the Gender Dimension of Modern Day Slavery,” hosted by the United Kingdom, including a panel discussion of six experts in the area of modern day slavery, who took questions from the audience at the end of the talk. The most interesting of the speakers was by the chief executive director of Anti-Slavery International, Mr Aidan McQuade. Mr McQuade discussed the fact that one of the most difficult aspects of fighting modern day slavery, in which there are an estimated 121 millions slaves worldwide, is that a majority of slavery occurs legally, despite the myth that slavery is illegal. Mr McQuade gave the examples of child marriage, which is legal in many countries, but is not considered or thought of as slavery simply as it is not referred to as such, and also migrant domestic workers, who travel to another country to find work as a domestic worker or carer, and once there, are exploited. Mr McQuade referred to this as a socially permissible system of slavery.

Later I attended a Ministerial Roundtable, in which ministers from countries all over the world met to discuss how each country is progressing in closing the gender pay gap. As opposed to the side events, which were a more open, free-flowing discussion of issues, these ministerial events were much more rigid and structured, and consisted of a pre-written speech given by each country on their respective efforts to bridge the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Over 30 countries spoke, each providing an overview of their efforts. These included France’s efforts to address unpaid care work, Norway introducing new laws to protect women from pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and Brazil’s difficulty in providing protection to domestic workers and carers.

At 430pm we left the UN to have a meeting with the three CSO members of the official Australian delegation to the CSW: Jahna Cedar, Executive Officer at Gumala Aboriginal Corporation; LeAnn Wilson, Executive Director of ACTE; and Elizabeth Shaw, President of UN Women. The day concluded with an official DFAT briefing with the entire Australian delegation, an opportunity to touch base and recap on the day and hear updates for the week.

And then main update… Throughout the entire day, the news channels of New York had been talking about the ‘historic blizzard’ that was on its way to the city. As the day progressed, the talks of the blizzard hitting, and its strength, intensified. Finally, at the end of the day, it was announced that the United Nations, together with much of the city, including its schools and transport, would be closed on Tuesday. While the ministerial meetings will be moved to another day, many of the side events will be simply cancelled, as there is no room to fit them into an already busy schedule. This is very disappointing to miss out on one of the few days at the United Nations that we are here for. Saying that, a day in a blizzard in New York adds to the list of mind-blowing experiences that we have had here, and it will only be our second day!