The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) first met at Lake Success, New York, in February 1947, soon after the founding of the United Nations(UN). From its inception, the Commission was supported by a unit of the United Nations that later became the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the UN Secretariat. It is the 2nd most important yearly event which the UN holds after the General Assembly at the UN Headquarters.
The two week event had women and men from across the world come down to New York. It included individuals working with Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Government representatives and UN officials from various countries. Each year there is a priority theme which weaves the narrative and focus for the CSW. This year was the 61st CSW and the priority theme was ‘women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’.
Breakthrough’s understanding of the theme this year:
I am a working woman who is earning but also has control on the money which I earn. I am able to decide what to do with that money, whether I want to spend it on myself or on others, what I want to buy and how I want to save it. I know how to access the banking system and am able to invest this money into my future. But how many women who earn can do so?
Women’s income is considered as a secondary source of income. A woman rarely gets to have a say in what she wants to do with her money. Many a times the salary comes into a joint account which is operated by her husband and if unmarried, by the father. If the woman is unmarried her family asks her to save for her wedding. There is no economic independence and no financial decision making power.
The journey to the workplace is also laden with challenges starting from the home itself where she has to negotiate to join a job, where she faces domestic violence which keeps her from going to her job regularly and is subjected to double burden i.e work at both home and the workplace.
A woman also has a hard time commuting using the public transport system. Everyday cases of sexual harassment makes the problem evident. Further, if any woman speaks about this to her family, there is a very high chance that they would pull her out immediately from the workforce and make her sit at home. Further, a large number of workspaces are not safe and supportive.
What can we do to counter this?
It is essential that we look at violence against women in a continuum of spaces. For example, we cannot just look at the workplace or home independently. Both these spaces need to be looked at in continuity along with safety in public spaces for women. Secondly, we need to build programmes which address this and adopt an integrated approach including financial literacy and decision making and digital literacy. We also need to look at schemes and policies which are holistic in their outlook. In order to achieve this, we need support from the human resource management teams of companies and organisations to build a safer and supportive environment for women so women can be empowered.
My experiences at the CSW:
I had the opportunity to represent Breakthrough this year at the 61st CSW and it was my first time. For the last two months I have been involved in so many meetings which helped me prepare and work out what me and my colleagues need to do in New York. I was told if this is your first time, you will find it hard understand what is going on because of the scale. But I thought we would be able to manage.
The first experience of the scale was standing in a line in New York to get the UN Gate access passes. You could see women from varied age groups and countries around you waiting patiently for their turn. This was just the beginning and tip of the iceberg. During my seven days at this event, I met with complete strangers, clicked pictures, became friends and learnt from their work. The unifying idea was just one, how to create a better and more safer world for women and girls. There were not just women but men as well and also trans people who joined in for the cause. It was great to see intersectionality (which we say is very important for any meaningful dialogue) at play as it was this aspect which brought richness to the discussions and the decision making process.
For me, the moment when was I presenting at the official side event (which are held at one of the conference rooms in the UN headquarters next the general assembly hall) organized by International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN Women focusing on ‘Violence Against Women at the Workplace” was a great place to experience this vastness and collective energy. The panel had 9 speakers from across the globe looking at various aspects of the issue ranging from government policies, data generation to supporting women and working in different work spaces. The room was full and had almost 2000 people who brought on their own learning and experience of working on the issues in their own local communities. It was the perfect space to make a connect between work at local level and the global level.
In an interview I had given to a journalist, she asked me if we need to shift this event to anywhere else on the globe where would that be? I could not imagine any other place. The city of New York is a global destination with the heart to embrace anyone from the world. More importantly being the UN headquarters, it is a power hub and without the strength of collective power change cannot be initiated and nor can it be sustained.