Case Study: Cecily Pontac

Cecily Pontac | CSW60

I grew up in a family of six girls and one boy. My mother and father are professionals who work full time. They share chores equally; such as cooking, cleaning and looking after me and my six siblings. I had never really considered how different my life was from so many girls in the rest of the world. I assumed that many girls lived in the way that I did. In my family I was and am able to voice my opinions. If I didn’t like something, or didn’t want to do something, I could protest. I did not realise that such a high percentage of girls my age live a very different life in which they are denied educational opportunities and the ability to work. I didn’t understand that so many people my age are forced into early marriages, uneducated about contraception, and didn’t know the meaning of consent. I learnt more and more about these issues especially when preparing for my speech on ‘How young women and girls can empower rural women’. This speech required a lot of research. I also joined the feminist society held weekly at SHS. Both interested me, and I began watching online videos and reading articles about gender inequalities. This planted a seed of thought in my mind, which grew. I found myself looking deeper and deeper into the struggles that so many girls face around the world. I realised, as one of six girls, that the rights of females in this world are extremely important to me. I developed a thirst for learning more.

When I attended CSW in New York, it was a week in which I changed the way I thought about things more than I have in any other week of my life. Every day I attended 4-6 events, all on different issues regarding gender inequality and the Sustainable Development Goals. I learnt what the Sustainable Development Goals meant, and what they were. I had never been to anything like the events I went to at CSW. They taught me so much about other lives around the globe, as well as my own. I went to some talks that were very heavily over subscribed, but the lack of a seat did not stop me. I sat on the floor with people pressed up against me, pointed my eyes to the speaker and listened for the whole duration of the event. Every event I attended, I would type up every bit of information onto my laptop that my hands would let me – and I am so glad I did, because those amazing stories, from those enlightening speakers, will stay with me forever.
Additionally to the events I went to during the day, in the mornings and evenings I often went to the briefings. The briefings were where people would bring up matters of immediate concern, which we would discuss and amend.
I was left energised, better informed, and still wanting to learn more.

On returning to the UK, I could not stop thinking about the things I had learned and the people I met. When I first went back to school, I could not stop talking about the things I had learned and the people I met. During my time in CSW, whilst networking and exchanging business cards, I made many different connections. An example of one I am especially following up whilst in the UK is with Practical Action, which is an organisation of an amazing community of people that help underprivileged girls from around the world to achieve gender equality. My friend (who also attended CSW) and I are currently in contact with members of the organisation via email/Skype and are in the process of helping to formulate projects that can be used to combat menstruation issues in some rural areas of India.

The main thing going to CSW taught me was that you never know everything. Even when I thought I had a set, strong opinion on a subject, I would go to an event and speak to someone who’s inspiring words would completely change my opinion on it. I could see throughout the week that this was the case for most of the people attending CSW. It is something that connected all of us. We were learning together. The whole experience made me realise that despite huge differences, we as women in the world share many similar experiences, and we are building a better future by supporting each other. After learning how different other girls’ lives were, deprived of their proper rights and privileges, I have also learned how similar we all are. Sisters under the skin.

I am so grateful for NAWO YWA for the support of the caucus, as well as NIWEP for accrediting me, and Serene Communications for enabling the whole trip. I hope one day I can repay them.