Q How did the opportunity to participate in the UN Commission arise?
A I was recently appointed the National International Secretary of the Catholic Women's League and part of my role within this position was to represent the organisation at the UN Commission of the Status of Women in New York.
Q Briefly, how does the Commission work?
A How the Commission works has developed through the years. The end goal of the annual Commission is to create a set of Agreed Conclusions, a type of call to action, based on the priority theme for that particular year. This year the priority theme was rural women.
Initially, civil society (non-government organisations etc) played a significant role in the process in creating the Agreed Conclusions, but as the event grew and more organisations became involved, this role has become more observational and the negotiating is left up to the member countries and delegates. In order for the majority of civil society to be heard, countries must contact a delegate and lobby them, and then the delegates do some lobbying themselves. So, nowadays, whilst the negotiating is occurring, civil society and members of the public attend side and parallel events put on by different organisations, which are like mini lectures on different topics, but centred on the priority theme.
An interesting fact about the negotiating process of the Agreed Conclusions for the Commission on the Status of Women is that the majority of the delegates, and those negotiating within the room for the rights of women, are men.
Q What have been some highlights of the Commission for you?
A There was a number of highlights at the Commission this year, but here are my ‘top three’!
Within an event run by the Holy See, it was acknowledged that those who are trafficked and enslaved are disproportionally found within poor, rural areas as the females within these areas typically lack access to education and health and are therefore more susceptible to promises of a better life. The speakers at the event spoke about how first-hand voices need to be heard and how smaller NGOs need to be better funded as they are typically the ones ‘on the ground’ with the most knowledge. Within the event, it was also said that Pope Francis praised the religious organisations for the work that they do ‒ often silently ‒ in this area but that he also stressed that religious women cannot take on this burden alone as it has become such a global issue.
An Australian panel discussed the difficulties domestic violence workers in rural Australia face. The information and statistics communicated in this event were quite jarring as they described an environment which often leaves those who are trying to help other women isolated and frightened to engage in their local communities. The backlash stems from numerous sources, including a lack of education in relation to family violence in rural communities and also the strong sense of community. This can be a positive aspect but also tends to mean community issues can be swept under the rug due to familiarity and not knowing what is going on behind closed doors.
A session run by the Invisible Girl Project was probably the most significant event for me. The UN has estimated that 50 million girls and women are missing from India’s population due to ‘gendercide’. (The Indian Government estimates this to be more like 63 million). Gendercide is the systemic mass killing of females due to their gender. Some of the main causes of gendercide within India are the extreme demands of dowry and the lack of social security, which leads to a reliance on sons by the ageing population and the extreme disempowerment of girls and women. A shocking example of this is the practice of naming girls ‘Nakusha,’ which means ‘unwanted’ in India. In one village, 280 girls were found to have this name.
Q What impact has this experience had on you personally?
A Hearing and learning about these types of inequalities and injustices has made me even more focused on using my privilege to work towards social justice. If anything, attending the Commission on the Status of Women has only strengthened my resolve to become more involved in decision-making processes. The fact that the majority of the people in the room making decisions in relation to the rights of women globally are men is one of the most confusing and frustrating things I've ever encountered. It's 2018 and we still have rural girls who aren't getting adequate education, don't have proper access to services and are being targeted and discriminated against based on their gender. In order for women to be considered equal citizens within society, we must have a seat at the table, even if we have to kick the door down ourselves. At this stage, I don’t think a polite knock will do.