We are honored to attend the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women from March 13th to 17th at the United Nations Headquarters in new York City. This year’s Session will focus on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. Join us for a daily update of our week!
MONDAY, MARCH 13th
“If you are a woman, you are a worker. Period.” –Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
This year’s 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women is focused on the economic empowerment of women in our ever-changing and evolving world of work. According to the World Bank, women and girls comprise approximately 40% of the global workforce, yet inequalities in terms of recognition of work and wages is still very prevalent, despite the strides we’ve made towards a more gender inclusive society. The opening of the Session provided a reflection of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly, the goals we have achieved since, and the goals we must continuously strive for.
Two informative discussions we attended focused on ending hunger and poverty by empowering women farmers in rural communities and the inequalities that exist in the field of care work. First, we discussed the limitations facing rural women including limited access to finances and unstable markets. The World Food Programme has focused on achieving four distinct goals that will assist women farmers to obtain greater economic empowerment: making travel more accessible and less dangerous from farms to markets, reducing food waste, encouraging the growth of sustainable crop varieties, and making nutrition a priority. A major step towards addressing all four goals is allowing women to farm cash crops that are often only grown by men, such as corn. Currently, many women produce crops that do not even make it to the market, but instead, provide sustenance to her family. Not only are women extremely important in the field of agriculture, they are key component of the population, comprising nearly 43% of the global agricultural labor force. Without women, we will not diminish hunger or poverty.
Aside from the field of agriculture, women carry out the majority of unpaid and domestic work. On average, men participate in about 15 hours of care work per week while women participate in approximately 37.5 hours of care work per week. One intervention that has assisted women in spending less time on domestic work has been the implementation of water sources closer to homes and large community spaces. Women and girls in rural areas spend anywhere from 5 to 12 hours per day searching for viable sources of water. Not only is this a taxing endeavor, it is also dangerous and puts women and girls at greater risk of violence including sexual assault and rape. We must continually change our society’s view of care work and the role women play in the matter. Providing compensation for care work is one very important step towards recognizing this occupation and interrupting societal norms associated with unpaid work.
TUESDAY, MARCH 14th
While we wait for the Session to resume tomorrow, we have been using this snow day to reflect upon yesterday’s discussions and to prepare for this jam-packed week!
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15th
“It’s not what is below my waist that matters. It’s what is between my ears that matters.” -Kavita Ramdas, feminist activist and former Senior Advisor of the Ford Foundation and the Global Fund for Women
Today began with an interactive discussion led by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. A large portion of the discussion was composed of an informal question and answer covering a large range of topics that impact the economic empowerment of women. Most alarming was the discussion of funds allocated to protecting women. UN agencies are disproportionately funded dependent upon prioritization. UN Women receives one of the smallest budgets, restricting the implementation of current programs and growth of future programs.
Each discussion we attended largely revolved around proclamations and resolutions that integrate women in roles they have long been absent from in addition to the inadequate funding available to support women. One very interesting discussion highlighted the Security Council’s decision to pass resolution 2242, dedicating resources to integrate more women in peace and security operations. According to the panelists, peace is nearly sustainable if women are included in peacekeeping conversations. Without women, we are not going to be able to more comprehensively address conflict prevention. One strategy the Security Council will implement is an increase in women working in mediation and conflict resolution.
Although these types of strategies are noble and set the stage for a larger conversation, we need to ensure that organizations dedicated to supporting the growth of women receive the necessary funding to sustain projects and produce positive policy change. Funding high-level organizations that support women, including the main organizer of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women, is a step in the right direction. Although UN Women is provided with funds for programs and projects, budgets are often to small to make the impact we need to see in the world. In 2015, UN Women received $7.5 million from the UN’s $2 billion budget. We have evidence that investing in women and providing them with opportunities to engage in peacekeeping helps to build more sustainable programs for peace. If we want to see bigger gains, we must continue to invest in women.
Kavita Ramdas, feminist activist and former Senior Advisor of the Ford Foundation and the Global Fund for Women stated that, “When you don’t spend billions of dollars on weapons, you have money to invest in women.” Additionally, giving money to women’s organizations that provide direct service is the best form of prevention in terms of humanitarian conflict and protection of peace and security. With the impending threat of the United States significantly decreasing UN funding, programs created to empower and support women may very well disappear.
THURSDAY, MARCH 16th
“To uplift one half of society, one must lift the whole of society.”- Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women
As previous days, today was filled with interesting conversations regarding unpaid work and fair wages, healthcare accessibility and the impact of communicable diseases on the lives of women and girls, and strategies to combat violence against women and girls. We found two discussions to be of particular interest. The first was a conversation led by Iceland, consistently highlighted for it’s work in gender equality, and HeForShe, an organization dedicated to engaging men and boys in working toward a more gender equal world. We discussed a new innovative tool created by both entities titled The Barbershop Toolbox. This guide was developed to integrate the discussion of gender inequality in multiple, comfortable settings frequented by men and boys. The idea is to invite men and boys to be agents of change by engaging in conversations with their close networks and facilitate conversations with other men and boys in spaces they occupy. Other organizations that provide further information on engaging men and boys in addressing gender inequalities include Promundo and the MenEngage Alliance.
The second discussion we found to be interesting and much needed covered the topic of work-life balance. Five distinguished women working in governmental and nonprofit sectors including Ms. Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN, Ms. Orsolya Pacsay-Tomassich of the Deputy State Secretary for International and European Affairs of Hungary, Ms. Meg Jones Director for Women’s Economic Empowerment for UN Women, Ms. Judit Polgár Chess Grandmaster and UN Women Global Champion 50-50, and Ms. Veronica Berti of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation came together to lead a candid conversation on policy solutions that help women to better balance their work and family life. One major national policy that helps families is the Hungarian Family Policy. Under this policy, pregnant women have guaranteed work post-pregnancy, are provided flexible work hours until their youngest child is five years old, and are offered a child care allowance package that incentivizes parents to stay home with their child until the age of three while having access to the same work they were engaged in pre-pregnancy. Additionally, Hungary offers a grandmother pension. Women who have completed 40 years of employment are eligible for a full pension so that they can retire and assist in caring for their grandchildren. Hungary has also recently increased the amount of childcare centers in the nation by 25%, opening up more spots for families that are ready to go back to work. UN Women, with partners at the International Labour Organization, United Nations Development Programme, and Istanbul Women’s Study Center completed a study examining a shift in infrastructure investment. They found that a 1% shift from physical infrastructure investment to social infrastructure investment would create 2.5 more jobs with 73% of those jobs going to women. This shift would offer the opportunity for more women to enter the workforce. Maine, a state with a large population of people over the age of 60 and an unstable economy, could see great benefits from policies that are more supportive of families and women. Policies like these would incentivize younger professionals to come and work and raise their families in our state. Likewise, there is an overwhelming need for an expansion of the field of care work, which has the potential to provide more jobs for women. There are simple solutions and it is our job as citizens to discuss these policies with our local, state, and national government.
FRIDAY, MARCH 17th
Today is our final day at the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. What a week! We are so thankful to UNA-USA and UNA Women for providing this opportunity to chapter members and civil society. Despite all challenges, our hearts are full having listened to current programs implemented to tackle gender inequalities and future progressive solutions that will help millions of women receive fair and equal pay, increase access to quality, affordable healthcare, and diminish rates of physical, emotional, and sexual violence around the world.
The final discussion we went to today perfectly summed up my week’s experience at CSW. The panel, comprised of five contributors to the recent anthology, Women and Girls Rising: Progress and Resistance Around the World, addressed policies that mandate minimum wages, equal pay, fair labor practices and protections, healthcare and reproductive freedom, family leave, and childcare. Two major policy solutions that can exponentially improve the lives of women include having access to paid leave, both medical and family, and having access to quality and affordable childcare services, including after-school care.
The UNA-Maine Chapter will continue to devise ways in which we can challenge gender inequalities from a grassroots-level. There are organizations in Maine working on these issues via direct service work and through policy change. Now, more than ever, we must connect with organizations and form alliances to protect women at both local and international-levels. The UNA-Maine Chapter hopes to have representation at every CSW from now on to continuously learn about ways in which we can be impactful in supporting and protecting women and girls. Until next year!