CSW has been the most incredible experience. I am so lucky to have been able to attend and I have learnt so many valuable things. I attended many inspiring events and met lots of interesting and insightful people who really cared what we, young women, had to say about issues like prostitution, education and feminism. It was amazing to have the opportunity to chat to and share our views with British parliamentarians as well as inspiring women from around the world who dedicate their lives to the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
On the Saturday, the day after we touched down in New York, we attended the CSW NGO youth forum, held inside the United Nations. We heard moving stories from women like Monica Singh who had been the victim of an acid attack and got the opportunity to interact in various workshops with other young people from around the world who shared our passion for achieving gender equality. I also went to a very interesting workshop about an organisation called ManUp which focused on getting men involved in gender equality and targeting ideas of stereotypical masculinity which are hugely detrimental to men and how the breaking down of which will actually help women. Throughout the rest of the week we attended many fascinating events, and a few which, unfortunately, were too busy for us to hear anything. However, a few were particularly memorable. On Tuesday I spoke at an event on displaced women and girls and gave my own view on the effects of displacement on female children. As I had only really researched this topic for this event, I didn’t really know very much about it so it was incredible to hear the views of people who had seen firsthand the effects of displacement and it was so lovely that they took my views seriously on a very important topic.
One of my favourite moments of the week was a roundtable with UK parliamentarians in which they asked us our views on gender issues in the UK that they could go back and report to the government. We discussed women in politics, social norms, the need for better sex education, the need to engage with young men as well as young women, violence against women and FGM, the concept of masculinity, pornography and social media, among other things. It was amazing to feel like our voices were being heard and that we were being taken seriously by MPs who have the power to change things in this country. I attended many other fascinating talks including one on women and water, which opened my eyes to a number of issues I had never really considered before, like the fact that in order to create change in certain communities, you need to tackle deeply rooted cultural attitudes before anything else, because in some cases toilets had been sent to communities in the global south which ended up being used as log stores because of the embarrassment associated with going to the toilet, and this alone is not going to do anything to help. Another really interesting one was on widows, which is a topic that was brought up a lot throughout the week due to the fact that widows are often overlooked but in fact are often the most impoverished due to the fact that when their husbands die, and this is often the case for young girls married off to members of terrorist organisations like Boko Haram, they have no legal claim over any of their husband’s assets simply for the fact that they’re female. Because of this, they enter a cycle of poverty in which they have nothing until they are married off to a much older man and then when he dies the cycle repeats itself. However by far the most moving and hard-hitting of all the talks I went to was the last one I attended on the Friday on prostitution. We heard seven women talk about their individual experiences of prostitution, many of them having been forced into it as children. While I’ve previously read similar stories, it’s very different actually hearing it from the women themselves and thinking about the horrors they’ve been through and how they are now dedicating their lives to helping girls in similar predicaments. They were so inspirational and their stories were so heartbreaking I was almost moved to tears. There was a woman from Germany, where prostitution is legal, who chose to go into prostitution after having searched for a job for two years with no success, and talked of how horrific it actually is and no one talks about it. I knew hardly anything about it before and was of the opinion that if a woman wanted to do that then it was her choice, and therefore it should be legalised, however after their stories I had very much changed my mind. As one woman put it, women may choose to go into prostitution, but once they’re there they have no choice. Their bodies are entirely controlled by the men who sell them. It’s not a profession; it’s exploitation and it’s breaching human rights.
I was so moved and so inspired by all the events I attended and all the people I met, and not only was I made aware of many issues I hadn’t really considered before, but the fact that we were all there at the United Nations discussing gender equality gave me hope for the future. I feel so inspired to stand up and fight for the rights of those much less fortunate than myself and to spread awareness of the need for action. I’m so thankful for this incredible opportunity that has opened my eyes to so much and started a burning desire to see change.
By Hattie Beck