Cara Hart

Reflecting on my incredible time at CSW, amongst many powerful lessons the pivotal message which I found emerged from the week and was reinforced each day, was the importance of cooperation and solidarity for gender justice. Through the exposing side events I attended, inspirational figures and role models I met and truly unique experiences I had, I can confidently say that my core outlook on gender politics and perception on the status of women in societies has been significantly challenged and altered. It was also an eye-opening experience in a personal sense, that taught me much about myself. I am so thankful to Serene Communications for enabling this opportunity, it has truly been wonderful.

From the time when I first became aware of the NAWO CSW Youth Alliance, I knew it was something that I would be interested in. Yet little could prepare me for the spectacular, vibrant and diverse assembly of representatives from International NGOs, Governments and the United Nations. This is something which I will be eternally grateful to NAWO for enabling me to be a part of, and also for the invaluable opportunity to speak on the panel at their priority theme event, sharing a space with so many distinguished individuals, and in the beautiful sky-line venue of the UK mission. Despite my self-imposed stress and anxiety of writing and delivering a ‘perfect’ speech, when the moment arrived it was one that I enjoyed immensely, and will treasure besides all other encounters and the unforgettable education which I received at CSW. Additionally, this eventual success would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of NAWO, my teachers and fellow delegates and friends, who are each inspirational in their own right.

Moving forwards, with my broadened knowledge and refined understanding of some of the most salient barriers to empowerment and gender parity, I feel inspired and determined to make a tangible difference in my community, using my action plan to achieve these goals. Furthermore in the future, I hope to leverage my access to quality education, and my skills and networks developed through the entire CSW62 process to have a much wider impact. Prior to CSW, I was intent on pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer. Although my motivation for this venture has not diminished, my experience in New York has provided me with a new ambition: to have a direct impact on our evolving moral climate through exploring the legal fields of Human Rights and International Law.

A memorable highlight of the week was the UN Secretary General and self-identified “proud feminist” Antonio Guterres’ opening address to the commission on Monday morning, in the no less than legendary General Assembly Chamber. Beginning with references to the momentum of two defining online movements of 2017/18 – social media campaigns #METOO and #TimesUp, his speech gave an eloquent summation of the reasons and justification for CSW: “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy”. However, as CSW strives to demonstrate and ensure, “by building equality, we give women a chance to fulfil their potential.” As in a high profile side event by The Guardian and UN Women ‘#METOO, What now?’ Guardian Journalist Polly Toynbee, (the event chair) raised what is arguably the most important next step to reforming discriminatory attitudes and advancing female empowerment: the inclusion of boys and men in the conversation, to avoid the symptom of as Polly put it – ‘preaching to the converted’. This is a point which resonated with me as strikingly simple, and made a lot of sense in the context.

Furthermore, the intimacy of the UN Women Youth Dialogue event at which I volunteered on our final day enabled us to rub shoulders with some of the UN directors, including Lopa Banerjee, head of the Civil Society division for UN Women. After thanking everyone for attending on a Saturday, she proceeded to state that “We (CSW62) must “institutionalise youth voices”, rather than limit them to their own event aside from the real proceedings, a view which I support. In his opening ceremony speech, Mr Guterres also cited a vision that has been identified for the youth delegates and further generations: the redefinition of power. “Let’s be clear the central question we face is a question of power. Power is normally never given; power normally needs to be taken.” This question is one we can all bring home and deliberate.

My ‘action plan’ consists of three main commitments, two of which that are already in motion. Firstly, a small group and I have already begun to present and share our experiences throughout our school community in a detailed presentation which also gives clear but easy to understand explanations on agendas such as the SDGs and BPA (a feature we identified as fundamental to making the official work of CSW accessible to young people). My second point of action is to help organise and hold our own NAWO-Stroud High School Conference, which has begun through an organisation committee made up of 2018 NAWO delegates. The final point is to re-draft the official ‘Agreed Conclusions’ outcome document, using language that is understandable to a young person interested in the work of the UN and CSW, but is excluded through a use of technical and difficult dialogue – an exciting prospect which I look forwards to starting work on.

Throughout CSW, hearing the harrowing and personal accounts of women embodying cultures from across the world has humanised for me the global discrimination to which women and girls are subjected. The intensity of maltreatment, violence and suffering that was revealed through every conversation, story and solution deemed necessary was shocking and deeply humbling, leading me to re-evaluate again and again my own appreciation of just how lucky I am in my truly privileged circumstances.

This enlightening experience has embedded a strong sense of duty as a young girl from the UK to speak out for other women and girls bound by their cultural and geographical realities. This trip has overwhelmed me with compassion, empathy and frustration, and has taught me to ask questions, call out sexism however normalised it may be, and push harder for change.

Finally, as prosaic as it may sound: CSW has given me a refreshed determination to work hard in achieving my personal goals, whilst simultaneously fulfilling my role in working towards the international development goals by helping others to realise the value of women and girls in society, all in solidarity with everyone I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting along the way.

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