By Sheethal Jose
I had the most incredible experience of my life at the United Nations 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56) from February 26th to March 2nd, 2012. Having turned eighteen just the day before, it was the best way to begin my life as an adult.
The second I stepped into the Youth Orientation, I felt like I was entering an entirely different world; a sort of mini-Earth, with people from many different cultures.
It was wonderful to meet the other GLI delegates, girls from all over the country and ranging from 8th grade to 12th grade! Talking with them made me realize how extremely dedicated they are to GLI as well as women’s and girls’ rights in general. Besides the GLI Delegation, there were youth delegates from several different organizations including the Girl Scouts and Plan International to name just a few. What was quite surprising was the large number of boy delegates who were in attendance. They are also involved in the fight for empowerment of rural women, which was the theme for the CSW 56.
As soon as everyone arrived, the orientation began with a motivating speech by Dr. Michelle Bachelet, who was the first female President of Chile and is currently, the Executive Director of UN Women. She was very inspiring, informal, and humble. Her speech strongly urged us, the youth, to be more politically active and to strive harder to attain our goals of achieving gender equality and stopping gender discrimination. Despite her busy schedule, she spent extra time with us to answer all our questions as well.
After she left, we had a series of activities arranged by the different organizations. “The Impossible Budget” activity conducted by GLI. It was very successful and everyone who participated found it very engrossing and helpful as it made them realize the difficulty rural women face when it comes to financing their everyday lives. In between one of the activities, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Liberia, Leyhma Gbowee, paid us a short visit. Even though she only talked for a few minutes, her energy and enthusiasm left us all in awe. At the end of the orientation, we had another great talk from a representative from Kenya, who gave us great advice on how to approach the official CSW Delegations from the different nation-states.
Throughout the rest of the week, I attended many workshops & panels, in which representatives from different nations talk about the status of rural women in their countries. The real life experiences shared by young girls from Pakistan, Columbia, Uganda, Malawi, Sierra-Leon, Tanzania, and so many other countries, were truly extraordinary and a real eye-opener. They talked about their own experiences with sexual abuse, child marriage, forced marriage, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), rape and other types of violence against women.
Mariam, a seventeen year-old girl from rural Pakistan, told us a story of her 12 year-old friend who was married off to a middle-aged man. The man then divorced her a year later on the grounds that his wife was acting like a child! Another seventeen year-old girl, Fatmata from Sierra-Leone talked about similar experiences of women in her community. It was shocking to hear these girls speak about their experiences as though these were everyday occurrences.
The most memorable event was the Youth Reception. All the girls from different parts of the world, speaking various foreign languages, found one language in common: dance. We danced non-stop and even learned dances from the different cultures. It was an incredibly fun night.
Attending the CSW was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m so glad I was able to attend as a GLI delegate.