“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Being granted the opportunity to attend the 59th session on the Commission on the Status of Women was truly a dream come true. Since deciding that I would pursue studies in international relations as an incoming freshmen at the University of Rochester I always wondered how I as a woman would be able to infiltrate and have an impact on such a male dominated field. Being able to attend this event crystalized my purpose as an international relations scholar and my realization that I am the future of international affairs and I am committed to making sure the issues of women are at the forefront. Not only was it an honor to be a guest at the United Nations, it was even more of an accomplishment to be able to represent the WomanStats Project.
From the moment that we stood in line to register for the conference, those around us wanted to know what organization we were representing and our purpose for attending the conference. The feeling of being so well-received by those who had similar interests and being able to explain the WomanStats Project to a wide variety of people was truly invigorating. I am always happy to explain the WomanStats Project to my peers and colleagues, but being able to explain our project to those who have genuine interest and are able to immediately pick up on its importance and relevance was extremely refreshing! Wearing the “Do You Need Data” pins increased the inquiries about our project and were an awesome talking piece.
What was most striking to me about this experience was the wide range of side events and official events offered at the conference every day. I appreciated the unique focuses of these events. Focuses ranged from Ebola’s effect on women in Western Africa, the role of boys and men in gender equality, to specific issues faced by women in numerous countries. The variety of the events offered enabled me to learn about a different topic at every event that I attended and hear various perspectives on how certain issues are affecting women globally. My favorite side event was on Sierra Leone’s experience with Ebola. I was urged to attend this event by prominent human rights lawyer Yasmin Jusu Sheriff who I met as I waited to register for the conference. She briefly explained to me some of the issues that women in Sierra Leone were facing since the outbreak of the Ebola virus, and how schools had been shut down for a year. This peaked my interest in how the Ebola virus was affecting women and children in Sierra Leone, and by attending this event I was able to gather more facts on the current situation in Sierra Leone. I was also able to collect valuable data from experts to add to the WomanStats database. Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Girls, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka was on the panel of this event and faced harsh criticism and a plea for help from Sierra Leone’s Minister of Gender on the UN Girl’s involvement in Sierra Leone and providing of assistance during their time of need. Witnessing this exchange prompted me to further explore the United Nations’ focus on girls and women in Sierra Leone. I better understood the Minister of Gender’s frustration after learning that women and girls are being infected with the Ebola virus at a higher rate than men, that rape and sexual abuse has rose in the past year since the outbreak of disease, and that schools have been closed for a year which has been linked to an increase in teenage pregnancy in the country. It is clear that Sierra Leone needs more help and is concerned about the status for their women. Dr. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka did guarantee that UN Girls have acknowledged these grievances and will increase their involvement in Sierra Leone.
I would certainly attend another Commission on the Status of Women if granted the opportunity again. Being surrounded by others (men and women) who were committed to bettering the conditions of women in their countries was truly invigorating and empowering. By attending this event I felt moved to reaffirm my commitment to contributing to the field of women security studies through the WomanStats Project and through personal research as I work towards obtaining my master’s degree in international affairs. This event was truly a breath of fresh air, and reminded me that I am the future, and this was only the beginning of my journey to leave my mark on the field of international affairs!