Gender Equality

CSW 61 Blog

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The sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 13 to 24 March 2017.

Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world are invited to attend the session. FAWCO is sending a delegation of ten members from around the world, and they will be posting on the CSW61 Blog.

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By Jane McCall Politi, PhD, MSW

The CSW 61 emerging issue/focus area was empowerment of indigenous women. I attended a parallel event "Retos y Logros para el Empoderamiento de las Mujeres, las Jovenas, y Ninas Indigenas."

Representatives from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cameroon, The Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA), and Colombia described the issues particular to their countries and how young people are organizing to change laws and behavior.

Most indigenous women, youth and girls, experience forms of domestic and sexual violence, including incest. They are often trafficked. Some live in countries experiencing years of armed conflict and forced displacement. Liberty and autonomy are not permitted in patriarchal societies. Structural violence abounds with poor or no health care, poor schools, criminal violence, no functioning justice system, lack of programs for sexual and reproductive health, no jobs, and gender inequality. Those in remote communities have no phones, roads and may be 7 hours away by boat from the mainland or a village.

Through networks of indigenous women, youth groups meet periodically to discuss the violations of women’s and girl’s rights to education, health care, well-being, the need for programs for adolescents and disaggregated data to inform policy and programming for indigenous youth.

Peer to peer groups have been very successful. Trained peer educators work with youth in their communities to teach them about their cultural identity, how to advocate for themselves, and how to gain access to the international arena. They raise awareness about human rights violations, and learn how to combat violence. All indigenous women want to eradicate violence. They need to speak with a united voice.

Family Care International and other grassroots organizations work with ECMIA to provide workshops on priorities for youth, strategies for change, and train girls to be leaders on a Youth Commission that has been operative in the Continental Network (Canada, Mexico, Panama, and Argentina) since 2004. The Youth Commission meets every 4 years. One task of the Commission is to identify the drivers of migration. Many youth are trafficked or involved in contraband. There are no extended family networks in the cities. This is of great concern. Programs need to be implemented to provide economic opportunities so that the young people will return to their communities and care for their land – Mother Earth. When member organizations of the Network come together, they have a stronger voice at the UN to explain the particular needs of indigenous women and girls.

In Cameroon, where girls and women have little or no access to education, no right to own and inherit land, no legal protection, and no access to information, grassroots groups are working to empower indigenous youth by encouraging them to stay in school rather than marry at 15, and teaching them skills, including technology.

Young indigenous women are extraordinarily powerful advocates for respect of human rights for their mothers, themselves, their children, all girls and all women. Many have personal and community experiences that they can use to ground their arguments. Youth are articulating their own strategies and plans to contest the UN 2030 Agenda for deciding what is good for the well-being and rights of indigenous women without listening to the women themselves. The UN has it wrong. It is time to “say it as it is.”

According to one spokesperson, the priority for SDG #5 gender equality should be equality among women – before considering men in the equation.

Indigenous women need land and natural resources. Their spiritual calling and lifestyle rooted in moral values and principles needs to be recognized above all. The source of economic empowerment and care for their existence is Mother Earth. If that is lost, the women don’t know where to collect water and greens and where to hunt. They feel spiritually hurt. A panelist cited a little girl who noted that if there is no land, there is no corn to eat. Economic empowerment is not possible when the right to own land is taken away from youth and women. The effects of climate-induced displacement are felt strongly by women who cannot inherit or own land.

Indigenous women have the right to live a life free from violence and discrimination based on traditional indigenous law and according to the principles of territory, autonomy, and culture.




By Susan Alexander, AWC Bern

I had the privilege of attending the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women in the United Nations General Assembly Hall. The Chairman of the CSW, H.E. Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil, welcomed the members of the Commission and the NGOs in observance.

I work for the Universal Postal Union, a specialized agency in the UN, and am familiar with the UN system. I have attended five international plenary conferences and numerous UPU council sessions in my 20 years employed there. But the CSW61 opening session was a completely different experience. Not just because I was attending as a delegate for FAWCO; and not because it was my first visit to the UN In New York.

I am proud to be a part of the UPU, but I have had equal access to postal services all my life; I have also encountered gender discrimination all my life. The sense I got in the CSW61 session was that the people serving as delegates to CSW passionately strive for gender equality, for me and for all other women and girls in our world. It was truly overwhelming, and heartening.

The UN Secretary General reiterated his continuing support for gender equality; the Executive Director of UN Women called for action by Commission member countries, not just deliberations, in order to move gender equality forward.

The theme of CSW61 is "Women's Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work" and I don't have to explain to anyone reading this how insidious discrimination is in the workplace. It's in the individual salary agreements conducted with men versus with women; it's in the differing treatment of new fathers versus new mothers; it's in the very nature of the positions given to men versus those given to women.

Sitting in the great, historic UN General Assembly hall, I felt excited to hear the upcoming events on Empowerment of women, and hopeful that the dedicated individuals around me were ready to make it a reality.

By Emily Lavallee (cousin of Rozanne VanRie, AWC Antwerp)

The entire Youth Forum of the Commission on the Status of Women was incredibly inspiring. However, some voices and quotes stood out to me. I will take the anecdotes and words of advice with me in all my endeavors.

The Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, H.E. Amina Mohammed delivered a touching and powerful speech. Then, she spoke from her heart, and what she said was genuine and inspiring. She addressed each person listening and told them it does not matter what they were going to become, but the journey matters. She explained how we all have a journey and we must make the most of the path. She assured us that we all have very important skills and unique opportunities before us, and we must engage with them. Rather than feeling guilty for the opportunities I have been afforded, I must engage with these opportunities, and utilize the skills I have gained in order to promote my beliefs in gender equality.

Several speakers noted the importance of including all genders in the fight for gender equality. These are some quick summaries of the most thought-provoking things I heard:

Feminism should be a part of every aspect of society. It is not a stand-alone idea, but one that affects every part of our society.

Gender is non-binary. A fight for women’s equality is a fight for all genders equality. The conversation should not be confined to one about men and women, because gender goes beyond those labels. Although those who spoke for the LGBTQI community were met with as much support as all the speakers were met with, the conversation throughout the conference remained gender binary. Even among the leaders of gender equality, there is room for improvement. We can all become more inclusive in our conversations about gender.

SDG #5 is the center point for gender equality. The SDGs have real impacts.

There are two steps in creating a gender equality. The first is changing hearts, minds and attitudes. The second is real action and policy change. Neither can be done without the other.

Education and technology are two great equalizers.

The idea of ‘leave no one behind’ speaks to why starting with youth is so important. It is easier to enable youth from the beginning of their lives than attempting to play catch up once they are already behind in their personal development.

The speakers continuously empowered the audience by reminding them that they, the speakers, did not hold the power, but instead the audience was the most powerful group in the room.

My favorite part of the conference was how it was based on “Young Women as an Economic Force”. Regardless of the gender binary status of the statement, I absolutely love how the conversation was had under the agreed assumption that involving women in the economy makes the economy more prosperous as a whole. I was in awe of those who spoke encouraging women’s entrepreneurship and leadership. Companies with a diverse gender profile are more successful than those with a less diverse gender profile. It was proven over and over again that involving women and marginalized genders in a company makes it more successful. I was not surprised at this fact; it makes sense that when a company alienates half the population they struggle in problem solving and general efficiency. However, I was incredibly empowered by the powerful people who went beyond the ethical reasons for gender equality and went into detail behind the facts of a gender equal workforce.

I have never felt so personally valued before. I wondered if this is what men felt like all the time. I thought about myself as a vital asset to a company. What a wonderful thought! Self-importance can be dangerous, but in this case, it is so important for all people including marginalized genders to garner feelings of self-importance.

In short, the Youth Forum of the UN Commission on the Status of Women was incredibly informative for me. It put my own condition in perspective and informed me of the condition of others. I cannot wait to continue my journey and bring feminism into every facet of my life.

Reflections on the Youth Forum of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

By Emily Lavallee (cousin of Rozanne VanRie, AWC Antwerp)

Empower. Engage. Entertain.

The MCs of the conference stressed that their main goal in the conference was to empower, engage, and entertain their audience. The entire conference succeeded in doing so. As an online/remote attendee, I did not know what to expect. I was surprised and pleased at how easily I was able to participate in several aspects of the conference without even leaving my house.


Each speaker and panel was empowering in their own ways, and made me reflect on what it would mean to be empowered in my own everyday life. I have already been incredibly empowered throughout my life; my parents always considered my education my top priority, and insisted I set lofty goals for myself; my grade schools had ample opportunities for me to engage in and fully understand the learning process; I play sports, work, and attend university. In every way, I have been lucky. The resources and empowerment I have received throughout my life is not the norm. I have been aware of my privileged upbringing, but have not had the first hand comparisons in which the conference provided. Hearing stories from people of all genders regarding their personal or national struggles with gender equality put my own life in a new perspective. I am more aware of my own power in this patriarchal society, and am inspired to empower marginalized genders in my own community, and globally. I have begun to reflect on specific aspects of my life that have empowered me, and contemplate how I can empower others in the same way, or in the ways they wish to be empowered.


This was my first time attending a conference like this, and thus my first time attending remotely as well. The conference kept me engaged, enabling my participation through twitter, and online polls and games. Throughout the conference, especially during breakout sessions, which were not available for remote participation, I wished so badly that I could have been at the conference. However, as I sat in my house, where I live with six other powerful women all from diverse backgrounds, I realized how easily I could engage in discussion with those around me. Hearing from the perspectives of people across the world regarding gender equality spurred on the conversation in my own home. Even in my community, issues and solutions regarding gender equality spanned a wide range. I only benefited from these conversations; everyone should have a voice on this issue, it is everyone’s issue. We can become engaged everywhere we go, and always empower those around us.


I had only registered for the Youth Forum portion of CSW61, but realized quickly that remote participation was possible for anyone, regardless of registration. I have subsequently been addicted to watching CSW speakers as if it is a new Netflix series. To say the least, I have been, and continue to be, entertained.


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