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Reflections from CSW58

My experience at the UN has been both incredible and humbling. I have met so many amazing world leaders who are doing so much good and are changing their countries. I feel like a shadow on the wall and they are the sun, and they are the driving force of change all around the world.

Many events I went to included reproductive rights,LGBT* issues/ basic human rights, violence against women with HIV, and Human Trafficking.

All of these meetings have deeply impacted me and I have been changed for the better.

Following one full week attending the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, I feel so humbled. I have met so many amazing world leaders doing such incredible things. I have learned from leaders from Ecuador, Austria, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, Uganda, Canada, and other countries. They have all been incredible, and I have learned so much. I feel like a shadow on the wall and that they are the sun.

Here is part of what has stayed with me this week. So many of the issues women face in this world include violence against women. For women with HIV, the threat of violence is very real, and in many countries, these women are beaten or killed. For women victimized by human trafficking, the threat of violence is also very real. Most people assume human trafficking involves prostitution and sexual exploitation, but I learned that there is a large amount of trafficking that involves domestic servants. These women are brought to foreign countries to work as domestic servants, sometimes by diplomats, and treated as indentured servants. They give their passports to the employer, who then has control all aspects of the victims life. Frequently beaten, sometimes raped, usually overworked and underpaid, these women are overlooked by society. There are estimates of over 21 million victims who work as domestic servants. Before last week, I was unaware of how big an issue it was.

Another thing that stuck with me is what we need to do for the victims around the world. It was shared that we need to take a human rights approach to the victims of violence, discrimination, oppression, and poverty. We Need to find a way to care for, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the victims back into society.

I have learned so much, and look forward to learning so much more. One woman I met who inspired me was Jessica Whitbread. She is a woman with HIV who is working to make things better for HIV positive women in the world. She faces so much, yet she is an artist and an activist working to make a difference. She told me I can make a difference too, which is what I have been trying to do. I will return home so inspired by her and all the other panelists I have seen this week. I can't wait to learn more this week.

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Neglecting the rights of elderly women

The first time I saw the list of side events featured at the Commission on the Status of Women, I found myself overwhelmed by the broad range of topics, from education to reproductive rights to human trafficking and many more.

Yet one topic that I found to be neglected was the ageing population and the violence and violation of rights that older women face. Today I attended the only side-event that addressed this issue, with a panel that involved officials from Argentina and Slovenia. Representing civil society was Susan Somers and Patricia Brownell, who are associated with the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Among other things, they spoke about some of the negative perceptions society had on older women, and how common it was to view the elderly as a drain on resources and society.

I was surprised that this issue received little attention at the commission; with a global population that is increasing at an exponential rate and population ageing reaching a new precedent, how can we neglect to include the protections of older women in the agreed conclusions and future Sustainable Development Goals? Upon being asked why the rights of elderly women were so neglected at the Commission on the Status of Women, Dr. Brownell modestly replied that they were trying their best efforts to spread the word, and emphasized how important it is for civil society to continue being active and advocating for elderly women's rights to be placed on the international community's development agenda. Other panelists were more blunt in their replies, stressing how neglected this issue was, and how they needed us all to help spread the word throughout the conference.

Hearing Maria Perceval, the ambassador from Argentina, speak gave me goosebumps. Although we could tell that English was not her first language, her message was still clear: the rights of elderly women have been pushed aside in the international community's agenda for far too long, especially considering how much more susceptible they have been to poverty in her country. Her words drew a deafening applause from the crowd, as we could feel the raw emotion in her voice. Throughout my time in this conference, we have emphasized how much the commission neglects the voice of young people.

It's only been three days, and I've already been exposed to an overwhelming plethora of issues surrounding the status of women around the world. Aside from having to prioritize and represent the views set forth by their governments, national representatives are asked to consider many different goals set forth by civil society. Throughout my high school career, I have studied these issues from a more theoretical lens; I have role played as a governmental delegate in several Model UN committees, but my experience here so far has made it clearer than ever how much these simulations have shown me an incredibly oversimplified version of the work that these delegates do. I can only imagine how difficult it is to balance or consider all these other important agendas with the tasks their governments have already set out for them.

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Celebrating Differences

The most inspiring thing about my week at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women hasn’t necessarily been the events, or the fact that it’s being held in a dazzling city. The most inspiring thing has been seeing women from all over the world come together for a common purpose: to advance the empowerment of women. If you were already under the impression that women’s empowerment was a broad issue, you’d be surprised at just how much more broad the issue becomes when you’re taking into account the personal and varying experiences of billions of women worldwide.

Often, when I talk to people about women’s empowerment, the immediate response is something along the lines of “Yeah, yeah, sure. Women should be treated like men. You’re right. I get it.” But it is infinitely more complicated than that. Women don’t want to be treated like men – we want to be treated like autonomous human beings, whose thoughts and feelings are respected, and whose individual needs are met. I’ve been to events that have covered a range of topics - from mental health to violence, from why race matters to making sure that girls have equal access to education - and in each one of these sessions, the same message comes through: Women cannot be empowered by using men as models for what we deserve in life. Rather, women must be empowered by creating our own models for what empowerment means to each of us. What empowers a white woman in America most likely won’t be what empowers a Black woman in America, let alone a young girl from Uganda or a mother in Portugal, and that’s okay. It is our responsibility to name what we are lacking and what we need so that we can create a world in which those needs are met.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Audre Lorde. She writes “Divide and conquer must become define and empower.” To me, this quote means that our differences shouldn’t be something that causes us fear; rather, our differences are cause for celebration! Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexities that each of us embody, and instead of trying to create a universal form of empowerment, we should recognize that just as people are different from each other, what empowers us and leads us to be self-actualized can and should be different too. If there is one thing to be learned from the United Nations, it is that our diversity is integral to building a world worth living in.