This year marked the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) and NGO-CSW forum which took place at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York for two weeks. Being hosted physically after a gap of three years due to COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions, it was heartening to note that World YWCA received requests from more than 100 women and young women from the movement to access ECOSOC seats to access the UN grounds for CSW events. World YWCA and YWCA leaders worked hard to prepare for the travel to CSW67 and managed to have CSW attended in person by more than 75 YWCA Leaders from more than 25 countries including Rwanda, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Fiji, Palestine, USA, Norway, Canada and Australia amongst others.
At CSW, during the two weeks, delegates and participants focussed on the priority theme, “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The World YWCA team and funded young women delegates under different leadership initiatives were planned to be a group of 12 young women and five team members. However, in total eight young women from Asia and the African region were either denied visas or could not access an appointment, even emergency appointment, despite applying for visas much in advance. While this is common for those who hold passports from what are considered as “third world” or “developing” nations, it is indeed disheartening that despite paper works and event-based travel, visa applications and travels being supported by global organisations and movements, their voices for advocacy remain distant from the very spaces that advocate for inclusion of women and young women in policy conversations. Nevertheless, World YWCA ensured this messaging around missing voices and denied visas was not left behind but ensuring mentions at every event and panel hosted and supported by World YWCA.
The CSW is the primary global intergovernmental body solely dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. CSW takes place on an annual basis, with representatives of Member States gathering at United Nations Headquarters in New York to assess progress on gender equality, identify issues, define global standards, and develop tangible policies to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.
During the two weeks at CSW67, #YWCALeaders from around the world who could travel in person engaged in many critical dialogues and conversations. Some top highlights include:
- A #YWCALeaders reception hosted by YWCA of USA saw everyone gathering together to embrace in sisterhood and solidarity, meeting the delegates and engaging in cohesive preparation towards joint advocacy and shared voices across the two weeks of CSW forum. The event saw members of World Service Council also celebrating the sisterhood within the movement, with the CEO and Chairperson of YWCA USA, Interim-CEO of YWCA Canada and General Secretary and President of World YWCA sharing key remarks with the delegation members.
- World YWCA in partnership with the Australian Government hosted the RiseUp! Breakfast where the success of the World YWCA-DFAT partnership on RiseUp! young women’s leadership initiative was highlighted. The event saw the more than 100 people joining from around the world, listening to updates and remarks from World YWCA’s President, Mira Rizeq, General Secretary Casey Harden and Australian Ambassador for Gender Equality, Stephanie Campbell. The event also showcased a young women panel with three young women leaders from RiseUp! programme in Phase IV from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand sharing their stories, realities, hopes around young women leadership and impact of RiseUp! initiative. Various partners from ACT Alliance, UN Women, UN Foundation amongst others also joined the event to celebrate and showcase commitment to young women’s leadership.
- At NGOCSW’s parallel events, YWCAs of Japan, Canada and Palestine hosted parallel events focussing on themes around digital media and impact on young women; digital hate and digitalisation and women in Palestine respectively. Each event saw heightened support and collaboration around the work of YWCA across various countries.
- Marking International Women’s Day, World YWCA hosted a parallel event titled “WhoLeads: Young Women Smashing Power Structures Through Feminist Consultations”, highlighting the power of shifting evidence and advocacy by ensuring processes are led by and for women and young women. Four intergenerational leaders from Australia’s Human Rights Commission, Feminist Manch, Wedu Foundation and World YWCA joined World YWCA to share insights and learnings- especially around use of World YWCA’s Feminist Consultation Methodology. 50 hard copies of the FCM tools were shared with the participants. The event was highly appreciated by young women led groups and feminist advocates who shared the need for such a simple, authentic, people-led replicable research methodology which takes data closer to communities.
- World YWCA team took this opportunity to engage with YWCA delegates regionally to discuss the strategic alignment around World YWCA’s Council which is to be hosted in November-December 2023. Eight such meetings were hosted where YWCA leaders and World YWCA team, led by Mira Rizeq (President) and Casey Harden (General Secretary) exchanged ideas for collective working and Goal 2035 commitment by the movement.
- World YWCA co-created a side event co-sponsored by Finland, Liberia and UNFPA, led by ACT Alliance in partnership with Act Church of Sweden, Bread for the World, Christian Aid, DanChurchAid, Finn Church Aid, Lutheran World Federation, World Renew, Norwegian Church Aid, World Council of Churches, and World YWCA. The event titled “A phone of my own” shared both the gender-transformative power of mobile phones, and the increased risks to sexual and gender-based violence in digital spheres. Event saw speakers from LWF, IT for Change, Safe You amongst other organisations.
- World YWCA was invited to be part of the Helvi Sipila Seminar hosted by Government of Finland, YWCA of Finland and other Finnish organisations to celebrate the life and work of Finnish feminist Helvi Sipila. The event, hosted at the Permanent Mission of Finland’s office saw YWCALeader Clara D’costa from Bangladesh sharing her remarks as a young leader on what was shared by the Executive Director of Equality Now. Her personal stories and insights around use of technology and challenges faced by young women were widely appreciated by the panel of speakers and attendees of the event.
- World YWCA team member Veena Singh was invited to present and speak at a parallel event with the Pacific movements around tech-based gender violence where she spoke about the use of RiseUp! and young women leadership as a model for pacific countries. The World YWCA’s RiseUp! transformative model of young women’s leadership was highly appreciated as a grassroots value-based leadership model to lead institutional and community change around young women in decision making spaces.
- Young women and team members found this time to deeply engage in feminist dialogues and spaces hosted through the Youth Forum, volunteering for making the Youth Forum a success. UN events, including policy conversations, International Women’s Day celebrations, opening day and other side events saw active engagement of YWCA leaders from around the world, engaging beyond the CSW with the side events and receptions hosted by women and young women leaders from around the world.
- World YWCA’s YW4A initiative supported by the Government of Netherlands hosted a virtual parallel event at the NGOCSW platform on the inclusion of voices of Gaza and Palestine. The event was moderated by Amal Tarazi, General Secretary of YWCA of Palestine, a key implementation partner of the YW4A initiative (Young Women for Awareness, Advocacy, Agency and Accountability).
- World YWCA supported a parallel event on “Perspectives on empowering women through effective collaboration in challenging contexts”, hosted by the Gender Working Group of the Multi-Faith Advisory Council to the UN inter-agency Task Force. Casey Harden, World YWCA’s General Secretary is a member of the Council.
- World YWCA’s RiseUp! initiative supported two parallel events hosted by Feminist Manch and Wedu Foundation respectively highlighting the power of using World YWCA’s Feminist Consultation Methodology to conduct evidence gathering around policy, women and young women; and power of mentorship across ages respectively. The events were hosted on the virtual NGOCSW platform.
The absence of young women and women leaders from the Global South was surely not just visible but very much spoken about at multiple sessions and in series of conversations. As we attended meetings, convened our parallel events and participated in discussions, we continued to reflect and carefully observe those who took up spaces and those who took spaces to speak on behalf of those absent. “Who gets left behind in these policy and advocacy spaces?”, was the recurring question we continued to ask and reflect upon?
World YWCA delegation together advocated everywhere through the lens of inclusion, diversity, technology, hate and racism, faith and feminism, bringing cohesive voices and shining bright within the more than 15,000 people attending the events- in person and virtually.
For a virtual experience of the events, visit our Flickr account.