Sophie Cappell

When I first heard about the possibility of attending the Commission on the Status of Women in New York I had no idea what the week would entail. However, I knew I was a feminist, I knew I would love to be even a small part of making a difference to the lives of women and I knew that I loved New York- so I signed up for the trip. Due to the fact that each NGO is only allowed twenty places at CSW, Zarin, the coordinator of NAWO, could only take a limited number of Stroud High Girls to the United Nations. More girls applied than there were spaces and therefore, those interested were vetted through an application process. We were instructed to write a letter, before presenting a 2 minute speech in front of our peers to convey both our dedication and interest. My letter of application consisted of my reasoning behind wanting to attend CSW whilst during my presentation I spoke about the reason that feminism is still applicable and needed within western society. Once the successful applicants were chosen, we began to undertake training with Zarin. Prior to attending CSW we had eight hours of training, along with the chance to practise our speeches in front of an audience consisting of parents and participants. During these training sessions we were informed on the origin of the Commission of the Status of Women, of which we would be attending the 62nd session, some of the jargon used at the event and were given networking practise. These sessions were very useful to lay down the foundations to build our understanding of CSW upon, however, it wasn’t until we arrived in New York until I truly began to grasp both the magnitude and the importance of the event.

As for speeches, we were each fortunate enough to have been allocated a slot on speaking panels during side events during CSW. I was given the speech title of ‘Innovating the use of social media and technology for rural women and girls’, I submitted my first draft in January, however, as I read more about the issues surrounding this topic and learned more about work done at the United Nations and by individual NGOs my speech rapidly evolved into something almost unrecognisable. Though I was pleased with the outcome of my final speech draft and its consequent delivery, whilst I was at CSW I became so much more aware of the struggles faced by women around the world in relation to my speech title. If I were to re-write my presentation now I would most likely have taken it from a different angle, including many of the things I’d learned first hand over the course of CSW62 rather than using the internet as my main research tool.

Our week long stay in New York was simultaneously the most tiring and most incredible week of my life. I have never learned so much, or been impacted so profoundly by inspiring people. To say that CSW was an experience I will never forget is an understatement. Not only did I learn more and become increasingly passionate about issues regarding gender equality but I feel as if my perspective on life as a whole was somewhat altered. My time in New York was both humbling and empowering. Whilst beginning to truly understand how privileged I am as a white, middle class, young woman living in a considerably progressive society, I also came to the realisation that with hard work and determination there is no reason why I can’t achieve exactly what I want from my future. The CSW experience showed me that even as a young girl my voice carries equal weight to anyone else’s and I have both a right, and a duty, as a free individual to offer to my opinion. From Monday to Friday CSW was in session in the United Nations and at side events across New York. We chose events that interested us, or that we wanted to learn more about to attend during the day. My favourite events were those illustrating action plans created to send more girls to school, end violence against women and the Time Is Now assembly which celebrated the #TimesUp and #MeToo online campaigns and condemned sexual harassment.

Before most evenings we headed to the UK Mission for a debrief of the day with members of NGO’s associated with NAWO. This meeting was useful to gage the wide breadth of information gained by people each day as it was impossible for a single person to attend all the events on offer. Along with the daily debriefing ran by Zarin for all of the NGOs associated with NAWO, each evening in the hotel the youth delegates had their own debriefing and preparation session. Despite the fact that we were tired at this point in the day these hours with the group really enhanced our CSW experience. From practising and offering feedback on speeches to ‘liked and learned’, the nightly debriefs allowed us to develop both our confidence and our ability to work together as a team. Throughout the CSW process not only did I learn more about myself and improve my personal characteristics but the bond formed by all of the youth delegates this year was second to none. Along with the support my fellow youth delegates, teachers, Zarin and Soroush the feedback we as a group received from ‘the rest of the world’ was incredible, the passion and energy felt at CSW was apparent in every person we met. In the future I would love to attend CSW once again, though I do hope that within my lifetime CSW retires and celebrates its final year, as a result of the incredible work that is currently being done by hundreds of organisations to achieve SDG 5- Gender Equality.

I know that the NAWO YWA CSW62 delegates will continue to support NGOs in the struggle for global gender equality long after the routine of reality sinks back in. Now we are back in the UK and A levels are once again, taking up substantial brain capacity, we have plans to further the work we began in the lead up to and during CSW. Myself and two other delegates are getting involved with an NGO ran by a woman living in California, running Charter for Compassion International. As a result we have been invited to run a workshop at the Parliament of the Worlds religions in Toronto, Canada. We hope that this we allow us to address head on the work of improving conditions and advancing solutions for women and children everywhere. As a group, the NAWO youth delegates will be holding a conference, simulating CSW on a smaller scale in July, hoping to alert the local area and younger students to the incredible work done by all the individuals involved in CSW every year. We are hoping that this will inspire others to join the plight for female empowerment, not only in the UK but around the world. I am exceedingly grateful to Serene Communications for enabling this opportunity, as it has opened up so many paths in my life that I would not have otherwise.