Participating in the 59th Commission on the Status of Women/Beijing +20 conference was an incredible experience for which I am extremely grateful to have been a part of. During the last four days of the conference, I was able to attend a variety of events that focused on topics such as the need for data and statistics on the status of women, how to engage men and boys in the struggle for gender equality, how natural disasters and the ensuing humanitarian efforts affect women and men differently, human trafficking, and many others. Additionally, I was able to meet representatives from countries all around the globe, such as the Czech Republic, Liberia, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, the United States, Botswana, and Guatemala.
Unfortunately, in talking with many of these women, I noticed that they did not have many, if any at all, reliable statistics or data readily available to analyze or discuss the needs of women in their countries. Indeed, one of the large panel sessions focused exclusively on the worldwide lack of data on women. Though the representatives in the panel session and the women I talked with all recognized this as a problem, and despite the fact that many were able to affirm that their respective governments were working to resolve the issue, it became clear to me how vital data is to recognizing a problem, implementing laws and programs to resolve that problem, and tracking progress toward eradicating it.
Fortunately, through the WomanStats Project’s training event and through individual efforts, we introduced hundreds of delegates, representatives, and NGO members to our database, and as far as my experience is concerned, there was only positive reactions to the discovery of the most comprehensive compilation of data on the status of women being so widely available. I believe that our presence at the conference provided an immeasurable step toward progress for women all over the world as leaders in gender equality now know that there is such a great resource available to them.
On a personal level, I felt that attending the conference helped me gain a greater perspective on the work of international, governmental, and nongovernmental agencies. I was able to observe how representatives, officers, and researchers work together, whether positively or negatively. I was pleased to see how well women and men of different cultures and backgrounds interacted with one another, and was thrilled to be treated not as a young undergraduate student, but as someone who had a place at the table.
While my experience at the United Nations was decidedly positive, I did notice through observing a variety of discussions and arguments that creating peace is not always necessarily a peaceful task. Further, it’s not always a productive task. While I witnessed a great many discussions that revolved around problems that hinder gender equality around the world, I only witnessed a few discussions that focused on solutions, and even fewer focusing on solutions that have been proven to work. This only strengthened my resolve to continue my education, gain more experience in the field, and find proven solutions that enable the empowerment of women and men as they strive to transform their societies.
In short, the greatest lesson I learned from this experience is that of looking toward the future with both determination and hope. We have come a long way from where we were twenty years ago, but there is an overwhelming amount of work still to be done. I believe that as we continue expanding The WomanStats Project database, we can use data to show not only the problems that hinder the world from attaining gender equality, but also progress and solutions. I hope that in twenty years I will have the privilege of attending the 79th Commission on the Status of Women conference and that it will highlight the great strides leaders and advocates around the world took in a solutions-driven agenda between now and then.