Julia Chester Emery Intern: Report from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
NOTE: Every year the Julia Chester Emery Intern represents UTO at UNCSW. We partner with Lynnaia Main, Episcopal Church Representative to the United Nations, so our Intern can learn about issues effecting women, learn about the UN and support the work of the official delegation from the Episcopal Church to UNCSW. To learn more about UNCSW please visit: http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw
It’s been quite a busy few months traveling as the Julia Chester Emery intern. Anyway, I write to y’all (yes, I’m from Texas) about a week or so after returning home from a two-week stay in New York for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and I’m excited to share my experience as best as I can.
Disclaimer: I’d like to say I came away from my time at the UN with a greater understanding of diplomacy, negotiations, and the UN itself, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a whole truth. I do know the Commission is comprised of 46 member states that roll on and off cyclically. I also know the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing back in 1995 was, and is, a big deal, and that the UN still uses the framework developed at the conference to shape conversations around global women’s issues today. I learned about the importance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the UN, which is the umbrella under which our Episcopal presence at the UN is housed. Lastly, I saw how the negotiators start off with a “zero draft” that undergoes lots of revisions to eventually (and hopefully; it’s not always a given) become the “agreed conclusions” of the session.
My time at CSW was spent doing a number of things, starting with attending orientation days for both Ecumenical Women—a network of Christian women and men from all over the world— and NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGO CSW), but here’s a condensed run-down of a typical day: worship with Ecumenical Women followed by whatever side events (hosted at the UN) or parallel events (hosted elsewhere by NGOs) tickled my fancy or corresponded with the advocacy theme from the Presiding Bishop’s written statement (more on that later) I had chosen to follow and concluded with an hour debrief with the rest of the delegation. These were LONG days as is, but of course I had to do some sight-seeing and attend some shows with my free evenings, so I was certifiably exhausted at the end of each day.
I’m not going to give y’all a travel log of my two-week trip because that would be boring to read and quite honestly pointless—although I did lots of cool things, including participating in a visit to the Canadian Permanent Mission! I took pages and pages of notes, and to try to summarize them all for you simply wouldn’t do my experience justice, so what I will do it share what stories I’ve brought home with me and what ideas are influencing my path as I’m reflecting on all this here and now.
First thing to know is the theme of this year’s session, which was rural women and girls. Now, I’ve either lived in suburban or urban areas all my life, so I quite frankly didn’t have any context for the theme going into these two weeks. My central purpose was to absorb information and listen to the stories and challenges beings shared. What I found was that while some issues faced by women and girls living in rural areas intersect with those faced by women in, say, urban areas, it would be a cruel disservice to not acknowledge that the former demographic experience a disproportionate share of the burden and pain of these universal crises like sexual assault, land rights, and climate change. These women and girls are on the front lines; they live in a reality that has the added layers of transportation needs, access to healthcare services, and traditional cultural obstacles that other women do not. Essentially, problems faced by women everywhere are exacerbated in rural areas because of isolation and, let’s face it, neglect by governing bodies.
Out of all the issues that I delved into more deeply during my time at the UN, I think the one that has stuck with me the most is that of sexual and reproductive health rights. As we all know, the #MeToo has gained serious traction in the western world, and the UN was no exception. But it goes beyond that. Let me set up an all too realistic scenario: a woman in a rural area wants to provide for herself through agricultural work. If she even gets access to land, she might then find herself in a situation where she has been sexually assaulted and becomes pregnant. She doesn’t want to be pregnant; she never got to make that choice for herself. But now, she doesn’t have access to the care she needs, and if she is able to have a healthy and safe delivery, she now has to raise a child, which takes away time from her agricultural work, her source of economic independence. Say this happens again and again. This woman did not want to have all these children, but she’s not in a position where she has autonomy over her own body and the sexual and reproductive care it needs. What I took away from these stories is that sexual and reproductive health rights could, and really is, a huge factor at play in a woman’s economic independence and contribution. It is a major key in unlocking the potential for a woman to live her life more fully and safely. This is an area where I can see myself dedicated to advocacy and activism.
It’s a challenge in and of itself to be brief about UNCSW because I learned so much. I wish I could somehow transfer my experience to each of your brains directly, but information exchange doesn’t exactly work like that. At any rate, I have been absolutely changed by my experience not just for the better, but for the greater good of women and human beings everywhere, and I vow to make it my life’s mission to always act with these women and girls in rural areas in mind, giving them the space and the dignity to which they are entitled, because that’s what our Baptismal covenant calls us to do.