The first day of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) turned out to be somewhat of a Mix ‘n Match day for me. I attended the opening of the commission in the General Assembly Hall, could not make it to some events due to huge crowds and tight security and got inspired by African female internet entrepreneurs. This first day ended unexpectedly, but I will use that line as a cliff hanger for now.
Opening in General Assembly Hall
Call me boring but I like attending the opening of the CSW in the General Assembly Hall. As a representative of an non-governmental organisation (NGO) I had to pick up a ticket that gave me entrance to the balcony from which you can see (in the distance) the image you normally only see at your television screen. At 10 am sharp the chair opened this year’s Commission. After adopting the agenda and some other formalities, he invited the new General Secretary of the United Nation, the Portugese António Guterres, to address the delegates.
Men should step up
The new Secretary General conveyed three messages to the General Assembly, delegates and NGO’s alike. First of all he thanked all of us for championing gender equality. He continued by saying that in male dominated world, the empowerment of women should be a key priority. When he spoke the words ‘women’s rights are human rights and attacks on women are attacks on all of us’, he was applauded from balcony where I was sitting. And his last message was to ascertain us of the continuing support of the UN under his leadership. He said ‘we have to step up women’s empowerment and by doing so more men should step up.’ Which again meant a round of applause for him.
Huge crowds, too few seats, tight security
I had been looking forward to the first Dutch side event of this CSW. Those of you who have followed our blogs over the years, know the Dutch government has a reputation to loose when it comes to organizing remarkable events on contested topics. This year Janet Mock, a well-known transgender activist (and one of the speakers at the Washington DC Women’s March) had been invited to host a panel on intersectionality. I had signed up in advance and gotten notice to be on time since seats were limited (only 96) and security tight. And that happened to be true. A huge crowd waited outside the room but those in the room decided not to leave so in the end only 20 persons or so were allowed in. Disappointment swept over the crowd waiting outside. Fortunately the event was taped, if you wanted to get in but could not or find yourself curious by this blog, you click at the link at the end of this blog.
The same thing more or less happened later that afternoon. I wanted to attend a meeting on financing (only 80 seats in the room) and again the door was shut and kept close by a very strict UN security officer. So I ended up doing in some work in the richly decorated East Lounge looking out over the river. Not too bad either.
African female internet entrepreneurship
Later that Monday afternoon I attended an event organised by UNESCO and Senegal in the X Press Bar on the 3rd floor of the UN building. It was a vibrant event celebrating female entrepreneurship. It was truely counter stereotyping because the panellists showed a different and for most Westerners like myself unknown side of Africa. According to the moderator Sacha Rubel Diamaka from UNESCO Senegal ‘women change the narrative about innovation coming from this continent.’ She stated that ICT is key to empower women because it creates jobs and gives opportunities for (young) women to empower themselves. This even holds true for the many illiterate women on the continent because smart phones use icons that those women can ‘read’ and therefore digital apps are a great tool for empowerment of both literate and illiterate women.
During this panel I was introduced to an initiative called iamtheCODE which is founded by a female Senegalese entrepreneur. Its goal is to build large base of girl coders in Senegal in order to create a generation of female digital leaders. Their aim is 1 million young female coders by 2030. Being passionate about tech is totally different from being a tech entrepreneur, therefore the government of Senegal partners with Unesco to ensure young women in Africa are equipped with tech and business skills. Not just one of those but both and by doing so creating a generation of young female digital entrepreneurs. The young women on the panel were the living testimony of this philosophy.
UN comes to a close
On Monday the weather had been fine. Cold (around freezing temperatures) but with blue skies and a vibrant winter sun. It was really hard to believe a winter storm and snow blizzard warning for Tuesday and early Wednesday was in effect. Rumours about closing down the UN building and all others venues dealing with the CSW became louder and louder. Around 6 pm word came from the officials, the premises were to be closed on Tuesday. All meetings cancelled and the traditional luncheon at the Dutch mission postponed. So before I walked back to my hotel I decided, to be on the safe side, to buy a pair of proper New York snow boots. You never know if I might need them.
Antia Wiersma. She was manager Collections, Research and Advice at Atria until 1 October 2017.