Strengthening and protecting women’s rights at the UN

Strengthening and protecting women’s rights at the UN

Law and arts student Maisy Bentley was selected as a New Zealand delegate for the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)—the second largest gathering at the United Nations and the main policy-making body on women’s rights—held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Maisy Bently attended the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women as a New Zealand delegate.

I arrived in New York for the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women with plenty of jet lag and lots of excitement.

My first day started early with the NGO orientation, collecting my UN ID, and making my way to the opening session. I was unsure, at times lost, and very tired. But as soon as I settled into my seat at the UN and began listening to the comments of the opening session, I knew I was in the right place. I listened to the UN Women Executive Director, the Chair of the Commission, and the Secretary-General of the UN identifying themselves as strong feminists, calling out key barriers for women, and asking for member states in the UN General Assembly to boldly push back against the push back.

Part of the Commission’s annual session involves a formal programme. This includes the opening session, as well as general discussion where countries make their national statements, civil society can ask questions and raise concerns, and country diplomats present their progress on review themes, previous agreements, and if all UN member states agree, form new policies for improving women’s rights.

There is also a full schedule of official side events organised by governments, UN agencies, and large NGOs, to both share educational content and facilitate dialogue about countries’ policies and issues. At these events, I learnt about the role of women in justice from leading female judges and lawyers, including the Honourable Justice Glazebrook from the New Zealand Supreme Court. I saw how many countries had improved their teaching around sexual and reproductive health, and heard from New Zealanders such as Alexia Hilbertidou, founder of GirlBoss New Zealand, about how to bridge the gap between men and women in STEM.

A number of NGOs also ran a programme of parallel events alongside the session. At an event held at the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the UN, New York, I spoke about the unique needs of young women and my experiences of engaging our voices in local and national government decision-making around transport and climate-resilient cities.

Finally, I joined special youth events such as the pre-consultation, where the UN’s Special Youth Envoy, the Irish Ambassador, and the Chair of the Commission created agreed minimum standards and lobbied for official government delegations to include these in the Commission’s agreed conclusions. They also sought commitment from world leaders to ensure our young and diverse perspectives were included in their decision making.

However, the most important outcome of the 63rd session of the Commission was the agreed conclusions to strengthen and protect women’s access to public services, social protection systems, and sustainable infrastructure world-wide.

When I left New York, I had a lot of new knowledge about women’s rights around the world, more examples of successful strategies and organisations that have created positive change, and a greater understanding of international policy and its functions. I also brought home many more connections, and made friends and mentors to learn from and work with to progress women’s rights.

Maisy Bentley is third year law and arts student majoring in Development Studies and minoring in Māori Studies.

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