The UN, youth and gender equality

United Nations building with world flags

This March, I had the privilege to be part of the Law Society’s first ever delegation – led by our president, Christina Blacklaws – to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York, to promote our work on gender equality in the legal profession.

Having studied and gained a passion for international law and politics, I was understandably ecstatic to be going to the UN and honoured to play a part in promoting our International Women and the Law (IWIL) programme on the global stage.

Why did we attend the UNCSW?

The UNCSW is the main inter-governmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and is a commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), established by UN Council resolution on 21 June 1946.

Our IWIL programme intends to capitalise on our ECOSOC status to advocate before the UN, so the UNCSW is the perfect forum for us to:

  • showcase our work
  • share best practices
  • foster future partnerships with like-minded international organisations

It also provides an appropriate opportunity to meet with high-profile government ministers who are there to negotiate the 'agreed conclusions' on behalf of the member states.

It’s unbelievable just how many high-profile people you unexpectedly bump into during the UNCSW.

The morning before the CSW began, I was in our hotel’s ‘business centre’ casually printing off our packed schedule for the week when a lady who was having issues printing asked me to help her. It transpired that she was the human rights minister for Haiti(!) and, funnily enough, was also called Stephanie.

My experience

The UNCSW is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was an exciting, over-whelming, rewarding and adrenaline-fuelled week.

We attended the first week, when copious government and NGO side events took place, and the corridors of the UN headquarters were packed and buzzing with excitement from early morning to late in the evening.

If you wanted to get the most out of attending, carrying snacks with you was an absolute must as you ran from session-to-session, often without much of a break!

Popular sessions resulted in overflowing rooms where many people took seats on the floor (yes – I was one of those people) or stood squished to the surrounding four walls.

I had lots of great experiences and could write pages and pages on them, but I don’t want to bore you, so here are my key highlights:

  • the civil society town hall meeting where the director of UN Women got the room to sing revolutionary songs whilst we awaited the arrival of the UN secretary general
  • taking part in the youth event on high-level intergenerational dialogue with the chair of the CSW, the vice president of Colombia and other high-profile officials. It was really encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the other youth attendees, though I felt the event would have been improved if there was additional space for more youth voices to be heard
  • hearing from the New York mayor’s commissioner to end domestic and gender-based violence at our joint side-event on best practice in legislation for survivors of domestic violence. In particular, to hear about the part that her office played in the passing of the Child Victims Act which extended the statute of limitation for child survivors of abuse and domestic violence
  • the people I encountered throughout the week – from being inspired by the creative and encouraging responses that individual women, men and organisations had come up with to tackle gender-inequality, to admiring the initiative, enthusiasm, and the sheer level of understanding and articulation of the issues that the youth delegates from around the world - not least those from the UK - displayed

Whilst I would be lying if I said that there were not moments of disappointment and frustration, overall, I left the UNCSW feeling inspired, informed and determined to do my part, however small, for gender-equality and women’s rights.

I would encourage you all to do the same, and to spread the word about our gender equality work!

Learn more about our International Women in Law programme

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