Recently, I joined the UN Advocacy Team for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62), where I was surrounded by many powerful and capable girls and women.
This year’s CSW theme was Empowering Rural Women and Girls, and there were attendees from all over the world. WAGGGS brings girl delegates to the conference every year to learn, advocate, and share lessons learned at CSW with their own communities.
While there were many girls and women present at CSW62 from different countries and backgrounds, speaking different languages and sharing their diverse experiences with gender inequality, there were still millions of other girls who did not have the opportunity to experience CSW62 or to advocate for themselves and their peers.
So instead of writing any more about my personal experience at the event, I believe it is imperative to highlight the diverse experiences and voices of other female delegates who were present at CSW62. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the WAGGGS delegates selected to attend the conference on behalf of themselves, their countries and their peers. They have been preparing for the past six months to go into CSW62 and the United Nations environment ready to advocate for the inclusion of girls in the agreed conclusions – by no means an easy task.
I asked the WAGGGS delegates: “What would you like other girls who could not attend CSW62 to know about this experience?”
Here’s what they told me…
“If I weren’t at CSW, I would want to know that there are people who care about women and girls’ issues and there are people fighting for women and girls’ rights.
We [delegates] are demanding that our governments are an example, but we can also be the examples for our peers. If we have the right attitude and pressure when it comes to [challenging] gender norms, we can make a huge difference.”
“Besides all of the legal frameworks and the policies, the biggest challenges [girls face] are the social norms. The social norms and culture are the biggest challenges. Girls are not alone, and people are working for them. It takes time. Girls shouldn’t give up and should seize every opportunity to make their impact bigger and bigger.
Governments have a big role to play, but they aren’t alone. NGOs play an important role in making change. If any girl has the chance to join an [advocacy] group, that is a big step. Governments without NGOs can’t do anything.”
“I have a really powerful voice which I didn’t know I had until I had the opportunity to speak in front of all these girls and people to tell my story. After my speech, a girl came up to me, shook my hand and told her that my story inspired her to share her own. I have discovered that I have a voice and people hear me when I speak.”
“I would encourage girl, to realize that they have a voice and there are a lot of people here who are listening. If there is an issue they’re passionate about, don’t be afraid to go and make the change they want to see.”
Lena, Costa Rica
“Over the past week, I have learned that girls and women are still facing so many challenges regarding our gender and that the situation is pretty similar all over the world. It’s wrong to say we are already living in an equal society just because women have ‘more’ access to education and paid jobs. There is still so much work to do, and I think it’s our personal job to achieve a better and just world.”
“From this last week, we’ve heard a lot of people say things about us and to us. It all starts with realizing how valuable your voice is and its impact on people. We hear about all of the wonderful work people are doing to improve the lives of girls and young women, but that is not enough. We collectively all have a responsibility to make the world that we dream of a reality. That includes civil society, governments, and individuals.”
These women, the staff at WAGGGS, and millions of others work tirelessly to improve the lives of all women and ultimately the entire world. If gender equality is valuable to you, familiarise yourself with CSW62’s agreed conclusions and engage in conversations around next steps. We all have a part to play in creating a more just and equal society.