I had the opportunity of attending the first week of the CSW59 conference and had a wonderful experience. I loved watching the dynamics of the United Nations and the role that each representative played in the discussions. I was amazed at the complexity of diplomacy and how frustrating it can be at times. I met people from all over the world and used a lot of my Portuguese and my poorly spoken Spanish.
I had many great learning experiences and decided to share a couple of them on this blog post.
Networking is an art and can be developed. You will never make your message heard without being bold and reaching out as much as you can. My networking experience started shy as I participated in the NGO training. Seeing so many people and their big titles was intimidating and I honestly just wanted to stay safe around my colleagues. But watching our senior associate inspired me to be confident and simply go talk to people. Our fabulous brochures were very helpful when telling people what WomanStats was all about. Data? Everybody loves data! Soon enough I developed a taste for telling people what I do, offering to train them in our database, and asking for more information on the status of women in their respective countries. I learned that networking is a big exchange. People are very interested in making contact when you have something to offer that they value and when they feel like what they have to offer as well.
I met some amazing people by simply showing interest to meet them. On Sunday me and another coder met Mohammed Naeem, one of the speakers at the march. We were watching the speeches by his family and asked if they would introduce us after the event. We later had an interview with him and are currently working with other contacts he connected us with on the status of women in Afghanistan. One tactic that worked really well was something we learned during one of the trainings before the conference. As soon as an event was over I would stand up as quickly as I could and go talk to the people I was interested in meeting. Using that tactic I was able to meet Princess Mabel Van Oranje, from the Netherlands, Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala’s vice-president, and ministers from Canada, Benin, Paraguay, and Zambia. They all received a WomanStats brochure and some of them have agreed to collaborate and exchange data with us.
Always be flexible. Before arriving to the conference I had my schedule planned out for the whole week. Ironically enough my favorite event was one I stepped in by chance, with actually no intention to stay for more than an hour. But as the discussion started I decided to skip my next event and learn more on the topic. The event was titled Ending child marriage: what works and how we measure it, and was hosted by four permanent missions, UNFPA, UNICEF, Girl’s Not Brides and other organizations. The discussion was on measurements of child marriage. One of the panelists advocated for countries to stick to the regular measurement of child marriage, age of marriage. She discussed how more sophisticated ways of measuring it are being suggested, and highlighted the need for constant estimators. It was inspiring to hear from a panelist from ___ her life story and how she empowered herself by getting educated to avoid the fate of that came upon her best friend and become a child bride.
Another instance I had to be flexible was when meeting the minister of women of Ethiopia. She had scheduled our interview at a place assigned only for delegates. I arrived at the UN headquarters earlier to find the place, and was informed by a security guard I would not make it in there. And at that moment I made up my mind that I would make it to my interview no matter what. I talked to a delegate, who kindly offered to take me in. We split ways
You never know what people will be the most helpful. I had the chance of interviewing several people while at the conference. As exciting as meeting the high-level people such as ministers and country officials was, I learned they were not the best to get information from. When talking to a permanent mission representative I was only given references that were already on official statements from the country. One of my favorite interviews was with Dalia Lababidi, a student of the University of San Francisco who is originally from Lebanon. I was fascinated to learn more about a culture that is part of my heritage, as I am an eighth Lebanese. It was also very relevant as I was able to ask freely ask about practices surrounding age of marriage, marital rape, and divorce. In Lebanon civil marriage does not exist. Marriage laws follow religious laws, which can cause big problems when the two parties involved do not belong to the same religious group. Divorce on the grounds of rape does not exist, and Dalia reported that women hardly ever ask for divorce for any reason at all. My conclusion is that many times the people with less credentials are the ones who can help the most as they have no contains binding them to their country’s foreign policy.