This March, I had the amazing opportunity to go to the Beijing Plus 20 conference in NY, otherwise known as the UN’s 59th Commission on the Status of Women.
It was incredibly exciting to be a participant in a UN conference and to meet and speak with other participants – members of NGOs, UN officials, country delegates, and government officials. One of the best parts of the conference was how enthusiastic and passionate everyone there was about improving the lives of women and exchanging ideas and perspectives. Everyone was so open and looking for constructive new development methods as well as networking opportunities.
While it was very interesting to see how the delegates operated in the official UN sessions, it was even more interesting to go to the break out side events hosted by different countries and organizations. For example, I was able to attend a fascinating session hosted by the country of Malawi about a recent development initiative they had implemented: a social cash transfer program. They had successfully implemented a program in which they give small amounts of money to vulnerable people below the poverty line, as well as conditional money to parents who send their children to school. In the presentation, they told us they had already seen results, including increased savings and school attendance.
I was also able to put hours of preparation to good use by interviewing many people at the conference to find out facts about women in their countries. I was even able to talk with several people in French! It was wonderful to be able to interact with so many knowledgeable and accomplished leaders.
On the other hand, it was striking that most of the attendees of the conference were women. It is fantastic that so many women are involved in international politics and advocacy, and are taking action to increase the wellbeing of other women, but it would have been nice to have more of a gender balance – to see more men engaging with these important problems as well.
In a stroke of good luck, we were given the opportunity as a group to lead a training session on using the WomanStats Project database at one of the side events. Along with my colleagues and the indomitable Prof. Natalie Romeri-Lewis, we presented to around 30 people who were very receptive and enthusiastic about the database!
All in all, I couldn’t have hoped for a more worthwhile experience or a more enjoyable spring break. I only hope I have the chance to attend more such conferences! I am actually told next year’s CSW will have much more debate amongst delegates, as opposed to this year, where much of the resolutions had already been debated and negotiated before the conference began.