58th UN Commission of the Status of Women

By Krista Seddon, YWCA of Australia. Krista was part of the World YWCA delegation at CSW 58 and shares with us her reflection of this experience.

Personal backgroundblog1  

My name is Krista Seddon I am 27 years old and I recently attended the 58th Commission of the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. I was selected to attend through a competitive selection process along with 8 other women on the YWCA Australian delegation.

As a delegate I was part of the World YWCA team made up of around 40 women from many different countries. These women feel like my second family, my sisters. During the conference we were working on average 16 hour days. Some members of our team, even longer. Week one’s focus was on side events and parallel events put on but the NGO community, multilateral organizations like the World Bank, and Governments. These events were an important space for us to raise the profile of the YWCA by asking questions and approaching panelists, to advocate on behalf of the 860,000 million young women around the world. Our key messages were;
• Ensuring Gender Equality remains a standalone goal in the post 2014 development framework and mainstream gender across all targets.
• End Violence Against Women
• Ensure young women have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality including sexual reproductive health and rights through comprehensive information, education and services.
• Ensure meaningful participation of young women in decisions that impact their lives and in all sectors.
• End child, early and forced marriage
• As a faith based organization, provide an alternative view that advocates for the powerful and positive role religion can play in ensuring women’s empowerment.

In the second week the focus changed to the government negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions. The final document that is produced each year is agreed by all member states. This document was especially important this year because it sets the governments commitments to the new Sustainable Development Goals or Post 2015 Development Framework. The MDGs were a driver of change, funding and advocacy since 2000. The new framework must put gender at the forefront.

A powerful moment for me was during the final negotiations on the last day and the chair of CSW allowed members of civil society into the closed negotiating room. It made me realize the importance of civil society and NGO’s being present and participating. We hold governments accountable and we played a part in making sure the governments reach a conclusion. The YWCA and our advocacy messages are important voice in combating the conservative views of the religious right and other organizations that with to cut back women’s rights, services and freedoms.

The photo below captures the moment when we gave a standing ovation to the delegate from Egypt Mervat Tallawy, President of the Egyptian National Council for Women. At this point I had tears in my eyes from listening to her powerful closing remarks:
“The future agenda for women faces a lot of challenges and we still have to work extensively on this. Women are the ones carrying most of the burden of the family, the community and country. Yet we are still here questioning and haggling whether or not women should be independent or autonomous – this is not logical. We will not accept any retreat from ICPD, Beijing and their review conferences. We will never give into the prevailing wave of conservatism in all regions of the world. Not accept that women be the last bastion of colonialism. We shall not allow fundamentalists and extreme groups to disarm women from their rights. Mr. President, I am speaking here for all the women of the world. We will continue to struggle for our rights.”

The World YWCA
A highlight for me was being part of the World YWCA team. The YWCA embodies a feminist model of leadership that is about being inclusive, connected, sharing power, intergenerational leadership, being accountable at every level, modelling ‘next practice’ and being grounded in a human rights based approach. The World YWCA shared power; throughout the two weeks there was never one leader. The YWCA practices a shared model of leadership; building on peoples strengths a working collaboratively to achieve the outcome. The model is successful because it recognizes that everyone is a leader in their own right.

We had a clear shared vision; we participated in a training day before we started the conference and we’re trained in the key advocacy messages of the organization. We practiced our ‘elevator pitch’. We were given advocacy materials to support our work. We were given advice, guidance, encouragement and mentoring.

As a young woman I felt empowered through the opportunities and safe spaces the organization to explore their own leadership potential and take on responsibilities. I am so grateful for the intergenerational leadership and mentoring; all of the young women were paired up with a more experienced mentor. It was explicitly stated that the relationship would be a two way learning process. This was a powerful dynamic that supported the execution of the advocacy strategy.

On the final day of negotiations, large numbers of civil society were camped out near the entrance of the closed negotiation room. As an important reflective process but also a political maneuver, the YWCA did an ‘affirmation circle’. This is where you sit down in a circle and in turns go around and celebrate the unique and wonderful attributes of each member of the circle. What do they do well, what do they bring to the group, why you appreciate them. After two weeks of 16 hour days and high emotions, you can only imagine how this played out; we were all a blubbering sweaty mess. But what was fascinating was how it changed the energy in the hallway. People wanted to sit near us; they wanted to take photos of us. It was powerful because it changed the tide of negativity that was building around the negotiations and we created a positive environment that people wanted to be apart of.blog2

My vision for the future of the World YWCA is for the Y to operate in every country around the world. I hope that it will expand and provide grassroots leadership development to a generation of young women so that in 20 years time, every sector will have a strong and fantastic female leader, who can attribute her skills and leadership to the YWCA. I love the Y and I will stay a member for the rest of my life.