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.