Young Women's Alliance News and Events

CSW – Youth Delegate testimonials

Kerry Lindeque (CSW62, 2018)

“First of all I would like to thank NAWO and NIWEP for giving me the opportunity to go to CSW62, with a special thanks to Zarin Hainsworth for all her hard work. The past week has been a life changing experience which has enlightened me about women’s issues around the world and empowered me to do more to help them.

One of the most important things I learned during CSW was the power of giving a voice to the voiceless. Hearing women from rural backgrounds use this platform to push for equality was truly inspiring. A personal favourite was a youth activist from Malawi who spoke about the importance of making sure that young girls are involved in politics. And for those women who were unable to attend CSW, their stories were shared by those who could, like the founder of the Rural Women’s Movement from South Africa who spoke passionately about a woman who was abducted and forced into marriage when she was just a young girl. However, despite this, I do not believe that enough was being done at CSW62 to give voiceless women a real chance to speak. Although this was often due to VISA issues caused by the US’s current administration, not enough rural women were allowed to take part in decision making for the CSW outcome document or sit on high-level panels. I hope that at next year’s CSW more marginalised women will be given a seat at the table.

Another important thing that CSW taught me was how vital the economic and political empowerment of women is. This was instilled in me in by Fatoumata Tambajang, the vice-president of the Gambia, when she said ‘when you go into political power remember there are women behind you; bring them on board’. By giving women elevated political platforms, gender equality becomes a priority in a government’s agenda, like Norway whose female Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke at several events I attended. It was Loise Maina, of the charity Practical Action, who enlightened me about the importance of women’s economic empowerment. She spoke about providing women in Bolivia with solar panels in order to further their cocoa farming. This lead to not only an increase in income but an increase in respect among the men of the villages and towns are starting to see that women had the potential to contribute to the community and were more than house wives. The other NAWO YWA delegates and I will be showing our enthusiasm for helping women’s economic empowerment by selling jewellery made by widows from the Maasai tribe in Tanzania in our local market and school. I am so excited to share their stories with the customers and help these women become economically empowered.

My time at CSW has been amazing and I have learned so much. I am so excited to use all the knowledge and contacts I have gained to further the struggle for gender equality, especially in my own community.

Thank you!”

Hero Robinson Mccann (CSW62, 2018)

“This opportunity would never have been possible if it wasn’t for NAWO YWA and WRI for accrediting me, so thank you for making all of this possible.

My time at CSW taught me so much more than I was expecting and it has changed the way i see the issues of women across the world. I learnt about the different things women have to deal with across the work and all the things that prevent violence, help, and empower the specifically rural women on our earth.

One of the things that i found out about at CSW62 and changed my mind about was the issue of prostitution. I had previously thought that the legalisation of prostitution all in all was better for the woman; they could practice without fearing police and report abuses against her. This however is not the case, the fact is that the legalisation of prostitution actually causes more problems than it creates, women feel like they can’t report any abuses against them because it is just part of the job and most people tend to blame them as they are a prostitute. Also when it is legalised the demand for it goes up and more and more girls are trafficked into the prostitution world. Out of all the girls CAP International talked to 90% said they wanted to escape their current situation and the 10% that didn’t had already escaped. The very low percentages of women, who voluntarily go into prostitution without being trafficked, groomed or pushed by other unfortunate circumstances are very low but tend to cover up the plight of the other girls who are suffering. This event changed my mind on how prostitution should be handled and what my views of it are and without CSW62 i would still be thinking the same misguided things. Another issue that we learnt a lot about at CSW62 was the disadvantages many widows and especially child widows face in rural areas. These issues can be tackled in various ways such as promoting the learning of their rights, employment to give them a steady income as most widows have their possessions taken from them, and give them back their land which was taken from them when their husband died. All this and more did an organisation called Naserian (grace of god) who work in and among Maasai villages in Tanzania. They employ the widows and they create jewellery which when they sell earns money for the children of the widows to go to school.

This amazing opportunity gave me the chance to learn so much, meet people from all over the world who have experienced so much, and are able to tell their stories. I am determined to use this to create something that might make a change the way women are treated in this world. Thank you again and I have loved every part of it.”

Grace Wilce (CSW62, 2018)

“Firstly I would like to thank Widows for Peace through Democracy for accrediting me and NAWO for enabling me to attend CSW62. I am incredibly grateful for the guidance and support offered by Zarin Hainsworth and Soroush.

During my time at CSW62, I have learnt a great deal about myself, for example I feel much more confident in public speaking and expressing my thoughts amongst a room of esteemed people and experts in their field.  I have obtained a wide variety of knowledge on the different issues women face globally, such as that in Ecuador 7.29% of girls aged 15 – 19 are mothers, as well as the fact that widowhood is a leading cause of a mass of problems faced by countries in the Global South. Being on a panel about women in the media, I have gained so much knowledge about the representation of ethnic minority groups in the media and film industry.  Within this, I enjoyed the learning about the empowerment of black men and women from films such as “Black Panther” through the positive representation and multifaceted characters. Additionally, I went to an event about the historical figures in film and the media, such as Queen Njinga of Angola, a 17th-century political figure, who reigned over Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in Angola. We discussed how such prolific historical figure in African history is not taught in European schools due to the whitewashed, Eurocentric view of history taught despite the multicultural societies we claim to live in.

At an event on “The African Suffragettes” I met a woman called Macdella Cooper, a Liberian philanthropist, who ran for presidency in 2018. I feel inspired by her willingness to run despite being the only female candidate, as well as her determination to defy the odds and become the second female president of Liberia.

It is due to the many women that I met at CSW and events that I attended that I feel empowered to share my knowledge and reach out, spreading the empowerment of women as far as I can. I will be forever grateful for this experience.”

Emily Spellman (CSW62, 2018)

“Prior to CSW62 I was aware of the severe difference which women face day to day due to gender inequality, however, this knowledge has been rapidly expanded. In regards to my actions working against gender issues: I was attending FEMSOC weekly which focuses on different gender issues weekly and holds a discussion where everyone can contribute their opinions. Furthermore, on a more personal level I was exploring how the number of women could be increased in business leadership within my EPQ because of the interest I have within business.

Whilst I was at CSW I learnt more about the issues which women face and the running of the United Nations than I could even begin to explain. I would firstly like to outline that from the experience of participating in an event and involving myself in Q&A sessions and the other events I attended I feel more confident and capable as a young woman; as a result I feel that I am more able to speak publically with self-assurance. I learnt about the circumstances which women face globally, from the lack of attention which is focused onto widows along with the difference in gender equality between rural women and urban women. Nonetheless, what stood out most prominently for me were the events centred towards gender equality within politics and business. Whilst attending my first event at CSW I learnt that women only hold 32 out of 193 seats in government in Malawi, which is shockingly below 20%, and that there is a similar situation in Chile where 36% of women are parliamentarians,  which has risen from 23%. There was also concentration towards closing the gender pay gap, but what was most obvious for me whilst I was at the United Nations was that there is a lot of talk and idea but the actual implementation and actions which are performed is not at the level which it needs to be in order to combat a change. Above all, one of the events which I enjoyed most was ‘Me Too, now what? Women in the media- from outcry to action’ where one of the guest speakers was Sienna Miller. In this event it was reinforced that the outrage which is driving a resolution to end discrimination amongst all women in the media and across all industries is due to the many women behind it who are declaring that time is up. The inspirational panel offered a range of conclusive views on the ways in which we need to move forward in order to make a difference, but most importantly this change needs to be sustainable and start from the younger generations to impact a real transformation. Above all, I learnt the sheer magnitude of people which are lobbying governments, campaigning and raising awareness backed by their own motivational stories to help make a difference in gender parity.

Since CSW I believe that my eyes have been opened to the wider world, making some of my day to day problems seem insignificant. The confidence and knowledge I have gained along with the outstanding opportunities which have been offered to me as a result of networking and speaking on a highly esteemed panel are life changing. As a result of putting a lot of effort into attending CSW I have been lucky enough to receive valuable chances from it, such as attending the Parliament of World Religions in Canada this year. As a young women’s delegation we are organising our own mini conference back in Stroud to help make a change at our own local level, hosting side events where each of us can share the knowledge which we gained on issues such as child marriage. In addition, we plan to sell jewellery made by the coordinator of Naserian (which is a NGO based in Tanzania empowering widows and increasing their knowledge of their own rights) and consequently, raising money to fund young girls to go to school in their community.

To conclude I would like to explain how thankful I am to NAWO for giving me such an incredible opportunity to attend CSW62 and understand all the outstanding work which is done, along with Widows Rights International for further allowing me to attend and to Zonta International for inviting me onto their panel which gave me an amazing chance to gain confidence within myself – an invaluable life skill. I am inspired to make a change and from my experiences at CSW these changes will be catalysed: together I believe girls can drive the change which is needed.”

Laura Manley (CSW62, 2018)

“I’d like to firstly take this opportunity to express my gratitude to NIWEP for accrediting me, and to thank NAWO for making my trip to CSW62 a reality. I’d also like to thank our fantastic ‘cheerleader’ Tori, who definitely made the whole thing easier! I’m so grateful for all the support they’ve given me throughout.

I could never do justice to all the experiences and what I have learnt from CSW in the space I have here, so instead I’ll focus on just a few key areas that I found the most insightful:

Meeting Alais and Maria from Tanzania, who are part of the charity Naserian, and hearing all about the work they do to empower widows was a real privilege, as well as having the opportunity to buy jewellery made by the widows they work with there, and support them. The situation of widows throughout the world was something that I was not fully aware of, if really at all, before beginning this journey.
I had never really considered the idea of child widows before, and had very little idea about the harmful practices they’re submitted to.

I also found different events on the topics of prostitution hugely enlightening, and have almost entirely reversed my previous position thanks to the insight and events put forward by CAP, Ireland and the talk arranged for us by Zarin. I found it very interesting to hear how different policies in countries throughout the world actually worked in practice, and hearing in particular about the true nature of the way it impacted communities, for example Native American women, and individual stories from survivors of trafficking, were particularly compelling, if not harrowing, as I had never had the chance to learn from so many different perspectives.

Additionally, I really enjoyed having the chance to attend both the morning and evening briefings – it was fantastic to have the opportunity to hear the perspectives of NGOs from all across the globe. As well as this, learning more about the way that civil society and governments work together to achieve the outcomes they desire helped me better understand the way changes are made, and learning about the way the UN and CSW works in our evening briefings really added to my experience of CSW. This also helped me understand better what was happening, and going to be happening at CSW, but also has helped me understand more about the world around me in general.

I’m so honoured to have been able to take part in CSW62 and I’m immensely grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so. I have had the opportunity to learn things I don’t think I could have learnt anywhere else in the world and have been able to have some amazing conversations with some truly incredible and fascinating people. The strength and persistence of those involved, all the stories I have heard and things I have learned have given me so much inspiration, and strengthened my resolve further to speak out and fight for gender equality.
Finally, I once more would like to thank Zarin, for giving me this amazing opportunity, at the risk of sounding overly cliché, I do feel as though my life, and myself have been totally changed.”

Bella Brown (CSW62, 2018)

“Firstly, I would like to thank NAWO for accrediting me and Zarin Hainsworth for enabling me to attend CSW62. I am very grateful for all the support from Zarin, Soroush and the many others involved before, during and after CSW. I wanted to attend CSW because I have always been an impassioned, intersectional feminist, and felt incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity. I knew that attending would be life-changing and eye-opening, and it really, truly was. Before we left to go to New York City on the 9th of March, there were many things to do to prepare. I was one of the delegates running the blog, so it was my job to set it up, get the website indexed on search engines, and post and maintain the blog. This process was incredibly rewarding and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the statistics of people visiting our site from all over the world, and the feedback received. In the months leading up to CSW, Zarin held workshops at our school to give us an understanding of what we would be doing and what CSW was about. This was very interesting, especially the discussion work where we split into groups and discussed questions from a written paper. As well as this, we all practised our speeches and received feedback before going, which was lovely as we all got to hear each other’s speeches and support one another, as well as learning from one another and of course amending our speeches.

Throughout the week at CSW while we were there, I learned so much it’s hard to know where to begin. It was not just content that we learnt, but skills too. I’ve never been particularly good at talking to people I don’t know, so I really feel like over the course of CSW, I vastly improved at this. I was pretty terrible at networking, but I did manage to talk to people and I am trying to view this as a learning experience- I feel a little more confident at speaking to strangers now. At the beginning of the week, I was scared to contribute to the discussions at events and at the briefings because I felt like maybe it would be assumed (because of my age) that I was not knowledgeable and that my opinions were not valid. However, as the days went by, I began to feel much braver and in the round table GEO meeting especially, felt my contributions were articulated well and valued by the others at the meeting. Hearing from so many people from all over the world has really broadened my perspective. There were so many powerful, inspiring women who completely and utterly blew me away with their kindness, bravery and optimism, who had overcome so many adversities to get to where they were, and I felt so incredibly lucky to even be in the same room as them. I feel very equipped with new knowledge and people’s stories to share, and change other people’s perspectives and opinions through sharing what I have learnt.

CSW really made me realise how privileged I am; I knew it before, but now I truly realise the extent of it.

I am going to use my voice, my privilege, and everything I have to try and make a difference for women around the world who have not been as fortunate as I have. I have spoken to my family and we are planning to work out what we can do as a family to help others in our community and globally. As well as this, me and some of the others on the trip are planning to create a zine or other creative project, with some of the women we met at CSW, in an attempt to create a digestible, attractive source of information to encourage more people of our age group to realise the value of feminism, what it is really about, and the absolute necessity of more youth involvement in the fight for justice. This was highlighted at CSW- our generation are the future, and we must be involved. I am hoping to talk to some of the younger students so they can properly understand what CSW is about and so that they can make the most of the amazing opportunity being offered to them. As a group, we are holding a mini CSW conference at school, which I am looking forward to very much. Finally, I am hoping that we can fundraise within the school and outside of our community too to benefit others across the world in the fight against injustice.”

Cara Hart (CSW62, 2018)

“Reflecting on my incredible time at CSW, amongst many powerful lessons the pivotal message which I found emerged from the week and was reinforced each day, was the importance of cooperation and solidarity for gender justice. Through the exposing side events I attended, inspirational figures and role models I met and truly unique experiences I had, I can confidently say that my core outlook on gender politics and perception on the status of women in societies has been significantly challenged and altered. It was also an eye-opening experience in a personal sense, that taught me much about myself. I am so thankful to NAWO for this opportunity, it has truly been wonderful.

From the time when I first became aware of the NAWO CSW Youth Alliance, I knew it was something that I would be interested in. Yet little could prepare me for the spectacular, vibrant and diverse assembly of representatives from International NGOs, Governments and the United Nations. This is something which I will be eternally grateful to NAWO for enabling me to be a part of, and also for the invaluable opportunity to speak on the panel at their priority theme event, sharing a space with so many distinguished individuals, and in the beautiful sky-line venue of the UK mission. Despite my self-imposed stress and anxiety of writing and delivering a ‘perfect’ speech, when the moment arrived it was one that I enjoyed immensely, and will treasure besides all other encounters and the unforgettable education which I received at CSW. Additionally, this eventual success would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of NAWO, my teachers and fellow delegates and friends, who are each inspirational in their own right.

Moving forwards, with my broadened knowledge and refined understanding of some of the most salient barriers to empowerment and gender parity, I feel inspired and determined to make a tangible difference in my community, using my action plan to achieve these goals. Furthermore in the future, I hope to leverage my access to quality education, and my skills and networks developed through the entire CSW62 process to have a much wider impact. Prior to CSW, I was intent on pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer. Although my motivation for this venture has not diminished, my experience in New York has provided me with a new ambition: to have a direct impact on our evolving moral climate through exploring the legal fields of Human Rights and International Law.

A memorable highlight of the week was the UN Secretary General and self-identified “proud feminist” Antonio Guterres’ opening address to the commission on Monday morning, in the no less than legendary General Assembly Chamber. Beginning with references to the momentum of two defining online movements of 2017/18 – social media campaigns #METOO and #TimesUp, his speech gave an eloquent summation of the reasons and justification for CSW: “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy”. However, as CSW strives to demonstrate and ensure, “by building equality, we give women a chance to fulfil their potential.” As in a high profile side event by The Guardian and UN Women ‘#METOO, What now?’ Guardian Journalist Polly Toynbee, (the event chair) raised what is arguably the most important next step to reforming discriminatory attitudes and advancing female empowerment: the inclusion of boys and men in the conversation, to avoid the symptom of as Polly put it – ‘preaching to the converted’. This is a point which resonated with me as strikingly simple, and made a lot of sense in the context.

Furthermore, the intimacy of the UN Women Youth Dialogue event at which I volunteered on our final day enabled us to rub shoulders with some of the UN directors, including Lopa Banerjee, head of the Civil Society division for UN Women. After thanking everyone for attending on a Saturday, she proceeded to state that “We (CSW62) must “institutionalise youth voices”, rather than limit them to their own event aside from the real proceedings, a view which I support. In his opening ceremony speech, Mr Guterres also cited a vision that has been identified for the youth delegates and further generations: the redefinition of power. “Let’s be clear the central question we face is a question of power. Power is normally never given; power normally needs to be taken.” This question is one we can all bring home and deliberate.

My ‘action plan’ consists of three main commitments, two of which that are already in motion. Firstly, a small group and I have already begun to present and share our experiences throughout our school community in a detailed presentation which also gives clear but easy to understand explanations on agendas such as the SDGs and BPA (a feature we identified as fundamental to making the official work of CSW accessible to young people). My second point of action is to help organise and hold our own NAWO-Stroud High School Conference, which has begun through an organisation committee made up of 2018 NAWO delegates. The final point is to re-draft the official ‘Agreed Conclusions’ outcome document, using language that is understandable to a young person interested in the work of the UN and CSW, but is excluded through a use of technical and difficult dialogue – an exciting prospect which I look forwards to starting work on.

Throughout CSW, hearing the harrowing and personal accounts of women embodying cultures from across the world has humanised for me the global discrimination to which women and girls are subjected. The intensity of maltreatment, violence and suffering that was revealed through every conversation, story and solution deemed necessary was shocking and deeply humbling, leading me to re-evaluate again and again my own appreciation of just how lucky I am in my truly privileged circumstances.

This enlightening experience has embedded a strong sense of duty as a young girl from the UK to speak out for other women and girls bound by their cultural and geographical realities. This trip has overwhelmed me with compassion, empathy and frustration, and has taught me to ask questions, call out sexism however normalised it may be, and push harder for change.

Finally, as prosaic as it may sound: CSW has given me a refreshed determination to work hard in achieving my personal goals, whilst simultaneously fulfilling my role in working towards the international development goals by helping others to realise the value of women and girls in society, all in solidarity with everyone I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting along the way.”

Cecily Pontac (CSW62, 2018)

“I grew up in a family of six girls and one boy. My mother and father are professionals who work full time. They share chores equally; such as cooking, cleaning and looking after me and my six siblings. I had never really considered how different my life was from so many girls in the rest of the world. I assumed that many girls lived in the way that I did. In my family I was and am able to voice my opinions. If I didn’t like something, or didn’t want to do something, I could protest. I did not realise that such a high percentage of girls my age live a very different life in which they are denied educational opportunities and the ability to work. I didn’t understand that so many people my age are forced into early marriages, uneducated about contraception, and didn’t know the meaning of consent. I learnt more and more about these issues especially when preparing for my speech on ‘How young women and girls can empower rural women’. This speech required a lot of research. I also joined the feminist society held weekly at SHS. Both interested me, and I began watching online videos and reading articles about gender inequalities. This planted a seed of thought in my mind, which grew. I found myself looking deeper and deeper into the struggles that so many girls face around the world. I realised, as one of six girls, that the rights of females in this world are extremely important to me. I developed a thirst for learning more.

When I attended CSW in New York, it was a week in which I changed the way I thought about things more than I have in any other week of my life. Every day I attended 4-6 events, all on different issues regarding gender inequality and the Sustainable Development Goals. I learnt what the Sustainable Development Goals meant, and what they were. I had never been to anything like the events I went to at CSW. They taught me so much about other lives around the globe, as well as my own. I went to some talks that were very heavily over subscribed, but the lack of a seat did not stop me. I sat on the floor with people pressed up against me, pointed my eyes to the speaker and listened for the whole duration of the event. Every event I attended, I would type up every bit of information onto my laptop that my hands would let me – and I am so glad I did, because those amazing stories, from those enlightening speakers, will stay with me forever.

Additionally to the events I went to during the day, in the mornings and evenings I often went to the briefings. The briefings were where people would bring up matters of immediate concern, which we would discuss and amend.

I was left energised, better informed, and still wanting to learn more.

On returning to the UK, I could not stop thinking about the things I had learned and the people I met. When I first went back to school, I could not stop talking about the things I had learned and the people I met. During my time in CSW, whilst networking and exchanging business cards, I made many different connections. An example of one I am especially following up whilst in the UK is with Practical Action, which is an organisation of an amazing community of people that help underprivileged girls from around the world to achieve gender equality. My friend (who also attended CSW) and I are currently in contact with members of the organisation via email/Skype and are in the process of helping to formulate projects that can be used to combat menstruation issues in some rural areas of India.

The main thing going to CSW taught me was that you never know everything. Even when I thought I had a set, strong opinion on a subject, I would go to an event and speak to someone who’s inspiring words would completely change my opinion on it. I could see throughout the week that this was the case for most of the people attending CSW. It is something that connected all of us. We were learning together. The whole experience made me realise that despite huge differences, we as women in the world share many similar experiences, and we are building a better future by supporting each other. After learning how different other girls’ lives were, deprived of their proper rights and privileges, I have also learned how similar we all are. Sisters under the skin.

I am so grateful for NAWO YWA for the support of the caucus, as well as NIWEP for accrediting me. I hope one day I can repay them.”

Charlotte Bullock (CSW62, 2018)

“I first heard about this trip around September of 2017. To apply, I needed to write a letter to Miss Patel explaining why I wanted to go to CSW and why I think I would be a good person to go. After this, I was required to write a two-minute speech on an important feminist issue. I did my speech on how feminism is often inprepreted as man hating and if we are to fight for gender equality, all genders need to know about feminism and understand that it’s not promoting female supremacy. Once I was selected to go to New York in March of 2018, I met with the whole group and Zarin Hainsworth, the Chair of NAWO, to complete a training session where we discussed the history of CSW and the impact it has had in the past. We also learnt how to network and a loose itinery of the week.

About three weeks before I left for New York, I got the topic of my speech, Brexit. I decided to title my speech ‘How will Brexit effect young women in the UK?’ and focused on issues such as equal pay, maternity leave and part time work. I got lots of feedback from Tori who went to CSW with Stroud High in 2016 and was always available to help, and also a lot of useful feedback form Zarin. On the Tuesday before we left for New York, I performed my speech in front of a small crowd in order to gain feedback and make last minute changes.

On Friday the 9th March 2018, myself and the other 21 girls coming on the trip with me gathered outside Stroud high at 3.15 am and travelled to Heathrow for at 8.10 plane to JFK.

During CSW, I learnt how I had previously been exposed to only a tiny amount of feminist issues, most of which seemed superficial compared to the range and magnitude of problems other countries in the global south are dealing with. FGM, child marriage and suffrage in these countries is still a massive issue for the women living there. The thing that amazed me the most whilst I was at CSW was the resilience of women. We heard stories of women seeing a problem, creating a solution and trying with all their heart to fix it.

The events themselves were truly inspiring, ranging in topic from how powerful women are portrayed in the media to sex trafficking and prostitution, each portraying women in a way that promoted self-reliance, power and a future.

My own speech was on Tuesday 13th March and was chaired by Jess Phillips, a Labour MP, and featured Zala Zbogar form CAP international, Mina Clarke from Stroud High School and Kate Clifford from NIWEP.

We boarded the plane home on Saturday 17th March and got back to Stroud on Sunday. Now we’re home, the group and I will start looking at how we can share the knowledge we gained with others. Myself and two others who joined Stroud High in year 12 will go back to our old secondary school and hopefully give an assembly about CSW. As a larger group, we are all planning on creating our own mini CSW in July of this year and inviting participants from schools around the county.

CSW was by far the most eye-opening experience I have ever had. I would like to thank NAWO for enabling this incredible opportunity. I am so honoured that I was able to attend and I hope that what I’ve learnt over the past week will be passed on to other girls and together we can help change the world.”

Lucy Jenkins (CSW62, 2018)

“As a result of having a long history of strong opinions and cemented feelings towards the position of women, I was delighted to hear about CSW, let alone being offered the chance to attend. In preparation for the UN’s largest gathering on gender equality, our group learnt about many key terms and actions in place from previous years. This included CEDAW, The Beijing Platform for Action, SDGs and many more which helped us gain knowledge before attending. This also allowed us to be able to use these ideas in our speeches and opened up a world of people we could talk to on these issues/solutions. Importantly, in my opinion was the support from Zarin, Soroush, the teachers and peers in the group. Not only did they give feedback on speech writing and structures but also on presentation to therefore help us all improve and feel our most confident selves. I would also like to thank NAWO for the incredible opportunity this trip offered.

There are countless things I learned from being at CSW for the week, more than I could’ve ever expected before attending. To name a few would not even scratch the surface on the incredible experience I had, however, the most influential things for me were the gain in confidence, independence and overall self-validity of my own views and outlooks I received. These things only came about as a result of networking and ultimately challenging myself in different situations, whether that be speaking to new people, understanding tough concepts or doing my speech in front of a room of people. Overall, not only did I hear innumerable stories from people all over the world, and learn a lot from that, I additionally learnt a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses, consequently helping me in all sectors of my future life.

Now that I have recently returned from my journey into the world of CSW I plan on doing many things to continue my interests as a feminist and youth and rights advocate. This trip has only made me want to work harder for gender equality and the empowerment of women of every age, class and ethnicity. ‘Leave no one behind’.  I will continue to project this onto the NAWO Youth social media, and by word of mouth at school and in the local community. I will continue to enjoy attending FemSoc, the schools feminist society and will bring what I learnt from CSW to that group. Additionally, I am going to apply to run FemSoc and if successful will support those going to CSW63. For those who will be attending CSW63 from my school we will collaboratively be creating a guidebook as a support system where it explains clearly, and in detail everything you could possibly need to know surrounding the UN and CSW, plus how to make the most out of the experience. As a whole group we will be creating our own CSW on a local/national scale at our school rather than global. This benefits those who did not get the opportunity to go to CSW and can encourage them to accelerate their own interests in gender equality and female empowerment. This is especially exciting for me as I want everyone to feel the way I do about female empowerment and CSW after my inspirational journey. However this is not the end, collectively our group has numerous contacts and intriguing paths ahead of us thanks to CSW.”

Mia Denman (CSW62, 2018)

“To begin, I would like to sincerely thank NAWO for accrediting me and making my trip to CSW62 possible. In particular, I would like to thank Zarin Hainsworth for all the help and support she provided, as well as Tori Keene for all her guidance with speeches and emotional support during both the preparation and time at CSW. I loved every minute of the experience, even during the stress of deleting my speech 1 hour before the debrief and practice, the night before the real thing!

It is hard to express just how incredible the experience was and is hard to articulate the complexities and intricacies of everything I have learnt. Through the experience, I have learnt how to effectively network, by the end of the week I found myself making conversation with people I would never have approached at the being. Through these conversations, I have heard such enlightening stories and inspiring sentiments and I have arrived home feeling enthused to make change and pursue what I want to do in life. In addition to this, I have learnt a huge amount about women’s issues, some of which I did not regard as having as much significance as they do until this trip. For example, it did not occur to me that the problem of widows, specifically child widows, are an issue of such magnitude and that this issue is inextricably linked with many other issues with vast consequence, for instance: lack of girls in education, limited opportunities, and the breaching of human rights. I think it is crazy how much happened in one day and how many amazing opportunities I was exposed during just one week. It has also made me reflect over how isolated most of the Global North is to many feminist issues. Of course, there are issues concerning us in the Western world, but these issues are amplified by a thousand in the Global South. We, as feminists are striving for equality between the sexes not just for within our own country but in the rest of the world as well. It caused me to think how absurd it is for people to not consider themselves feminists. Fear of a word is ridiculous especially as that word encompasses the incredible work of everyone at CSW and those striving for gender equality in all corners of the globe.

I have been aspiring towards a career in the media and it was fantastic to go to CSW during the year in which the review theme was in relation to the media. I learnt a lot about the sphere of work I would love to get in to, specifically conducting a speech on ‘a young woman’s experience of the media.’ CSW has furthered my drive for my voice to be heard and has solidified my aspirations. It has also resulted in me being more critical of what I am told and what is presented to me, as things aren’t always as they appear on the surface. The experience has been invaluable, and I have come away with a greater understanding of the world, as well as myself. We, as a school, are planning to undertake our own mini-CSW in the coming months, as well as raising money to purchase a solar panel for activists in rural communities to stay in touch via mobile phone technology. In addition to this, Hero and I are planning to do more research into Prostitution and the benefits of implementing the Nordic Model. This was something I knew very little about before the trip and we are also aspiring to create a short film/documentary/article surrounding the issue.

CSW62 was an invaluable, enlightening, and inspiring experience and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take part.”

Mina Clarke (CSW62, 2018)

“To begin with I would like to thank NAWO for accrediting me and making such an unforgettable trip to CSW62 possible. I am truly grateful to everyone who supported me through this process. My time at CSW was brimming with new information which I couldn’t possibly include in one testimonial so in this I will write about the most valuable experiences and lessons I took away from my time there.

I attended an event by Medical Women’s International about women doctors achieving gender equality/empowerment in a rural setting. The event was very interesting and one panellist covered the issue of cervical cancer within rural areas. Despite cervical cancer being one of the only cancers that we know the cause of – the HPV virus – along with effective preventative methods (e.g. HPV vaccine) having been devised for it, one woman still dies from cervical cancer every two minutes. This is due to a lack of information and thus awareness in some rural areas of the world. This, I felt, fed into a larger theme at CSW of how we can begin to raise awareness around issues such as sexual health e.g. through the use of social media. This really opened my eyes to the need for accurate and comprehensive information about sexual health for women.

CSW also revealed to me, on many occasions, the existence and nature of harmful traditional practices and help to close the emotional and cultural distance I felt with these topics. This included such practices as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child and forced marriage. The most shocking case that we heard at a side event regarding prostitution was of a young girl from South Africa who committed suicide after being raped and forced into a marriage by her uncle to one of his friends for eight cows. This really put forced marriage into perspective for me. Through child marriage we learnt of child widows, and the on-going struggle they face in not being recognised in the outcome document and often being unheard of in the public sphere.

The final aspect of the event which I really enjoyed was learning about the subtleties of language employed by the UN to ensure their outcomes are robust and watertight. This year in particular was the debate between the use of “women from rural areas” over “rural women”. Compelling arguments were made for both, and whilst listening to these debates I was made to consider the implications of language in a way I never had before.

Again I would like to thank everyone who enabled me to play a part in CSW62 as my time there has inspired me to help spread the message of gender equality. I look forward to what my future brings as a result of my time spent at CSW, but more importantly to our future as a global society in achieving gender equality.”

Poppy Ulett (CSW62, 2018)

“I would like to thank Zarin Hainsworth of NAWO for giving me the incredible opportunity to attend CSW62 and also to Widows for Peace through Democracy for accrediting me and making my trip possible.

The prospect of going to New York and attending the commission really excited me. The fact that I was given such a unique opportunity to attend such a prestigious event didn’t fully sink in until I was there in the UN headquarters on the first day. Looking back on my experience I did not realise the depth and enormity of the event and the diverse range of people that I would meet and interact with throughout my time.

During my time at CSW my eyes were truly opened to the vast scale of global gender equality issues than I had previously been exposed to before in FEMSOC and back in my small community. The issues that particularly struck me were the strong problems surrounding widows and also the setback women have had in developing countries with ICT. These really stayed with me as the many moving stories I was told surrounding forced marriage and then later widowhood, are matters which are not usually publicised or frequently discussed. In particular I learnt from Alas Sima Estoto, the project coordinator of Naserian based in Tanzania, the problems the women face with mobile phone technology in the Maasai tribe. The fact that women have access to mobile phones in rural communities has carved the pathway towards their empowerment. However, he explained how there are not enough solar panels to be able to charge the mobile phones for all of the community which has become a pressing issue.

This gave me a new perspective about how many projects are able to provide women with the tools they need to help get them onto the right track but they are not always sustainable or are often faced with loop-hole challenges. These aren’t often addressed and the public are not usually aware of them. This has also helped me to realise that these kinds of problems are the ones that need to be raised and I can help organisations come up with solutions to tackle them, through my own work back at home and beyond.

From my visit I have been inspired to be more active and go out and seek the solutions to the necessary changes which I learnt about over the incredible 5 days I was at the UN. I also feel more confident as a young woman that my opinions will be listened to and taken into account by governments and NGO’s as a result of speaking at the Soroptimist International side event. Furthermore, I am also definitely considering changing my EPQ topic title to reflect on the gender equalities that women are facing in rural areas and exploring this in even more depth.

As a result of meeting Sande Hart, director of women and girls at Charter for Compassion International, at Emily’s event, we have been offered the opportunity to attend The Parliament of World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. This would further my involvement within the essential gender equality movement and in helping to achieve 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.”

Rachael Smith (CSW62, 2018)

“I’d like to start by thanking NAWO, Serene Communications, and especially Zarin Hainsworth for this incredible opportunity and for making the trip to CSW62 possible, it was the best experience of my life and it’s difficult to put the impact it has had on me into words.

I learnt so much and had my eyes opened to the reality of so many issues that had never entered my mind before. For example: Did you know some cultures believe marrying a young girl will cure an older man of HIV/AIDs? Or that Queen Nzinga was a fearless and capable African queen who protected her lands and people from European colonisers? Or that there are people working tirelessly and persistently to ensure all women and girls have a better present, and future? I knew none of this prior to CSW62. I had a vague understanding that women were subject to consistent inequality, violence, and discrimination across the world, and that work was being done to help them, but meeting and listening to the voices and stories of women from all over the globe really brought home to me the scale and variety of issues that impact women. Another vital aspect was learning about all the positive ways people are helping improve the lives of women and girls, particularly in rural areas and through use of technology and the media, as this gives us hope for the future and enables us to contribute.

A key thing to take away from CSW62 is that women all over the world must stand together and support each other. Women in positions of power should not forget the many women still left behind, should tell their stories, lift them up, and help bring all women to the forefronts of all areas, and finally we might be able to achieve gender parity across the board. If there is one thing that the success of the #MeToo movement has shown us, it’s that no one is ever alone. We are connected, sisters, and by supporting each other we can make countless changes. I have also learnt that diversity in all areas is necessary, and it should be truthful and complete. Diversity is not diversity if only white straight women are being represented – there needs to be women of colour, women with disabilities, and LGBT+ women in the media and acting as role models because if the success of films like Hidden Figures and Black Panther can teach us anything, it’s how important seeing yourself represented is for how you perceive your self-worth and place in society. In the words of Geena Davis, ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’.

The personal growth and development that I have experienced has given me skills and confidence that I was lacking before. My ability to open up a conversation, contribute constructively to discussion, and speak clearly to an audience has been improved massively over the course of CSW62, and I have achieved things I never thought would even be options for me – speaking at a side event for the United Nations!

I am eternally grateful for the entire experience, I fell in love with New York, and CSW62 has only reconfirmed my feminist ideals and helped me develop new ones. I fully intend to make as much change as I can, and after CSW62, I know there will always be people behind me.”

Sienna Ambler (CSW62, 2018)

“After hearing about CSW in New York a couple of years ago I knew it was something that I desperately wanted to do. Throughout my whole school career I have been passionate about equality and human rights and in particular, as a young woman myself, gender equality. I see and hear every day the challenges that women face just for simply being women and I wanted to know and even contribute towards what is being done to combat this worldwide. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what I would learn and do when actually there; at the United Nations in New York. But before actually getting there it was important to make sure I had an understanding of CSW as this was something worlds away from myself and my peers, it’s not just a visit to New York, we needed to know the ins and outs of CSW and the UN, the history, key terminology and important people and ideas within the movement. It was interesting to find out how, from being at CSW, new language is developed and implemented, like that of ‘harmful traditional practices’ rather than just traditional ones, used to draw light on issues such as FGM and child marriage. As well as this, I have been a member of ‘FEMSOC’ our school’s feminist society, something vital in raising awareness of gender equality and encouraging as many people as possible to do whatever they can to support the feminist movement, so that being a feminist isn’t stigmatised or criticised and so that not only girls and women but boys and men are actively involved in this fight towards equality because it cannot be done without them. I strongly believe that in order for us to one day see a world in which all people are treated the same, we have to start with the little things; at school, home and in the workplace. In New York, you learnt something new every day, whether that be something small like not to sit next to the door in an event if you want to actually hear the speaker, or something eye opening and inspiring, like one story I was told about a 7 year old girl who was raped by her own uncle early in the morning and found running down the middle of the street with blood running down her legs by another young man, who took her in his arms and managed to eventually bring the uncle to justice in court.

During the week I heard so many personal, real-life stories of the people who were there at CSW and others who couldn’t be there due to not receiving VISAs. Hearing their experiences first hand really brought to light the issues that people are facing around the world. You think that you’ve heard it all, that you know the hardships faced by women, but hearing these first hand makes it so much more real and has truly inspired me to continue to fight for women and their rights globally and to do something to see a different future for myself and generations to come. Something brought up a few times during the week was that rather than just talking about the same things every year at CSW, something needs to be done to really create change. I believe that focus needs to be directed towards education, in keeping children (boys and girls) in schools worldwide, incorporating as an integral part of the teaching system, why gender equality is crucial, how to achieve it and to normalise the idea that boys and girls can be anything they want to in the future, they can wear what they choose, express their true emotions and not have to live afraid of the other sex. It is so much harder to change the already known and accepted views that people are used to so why not build a future through the use of education, a fundamental human right.

I have only scraped the surface here of the things I did, learnt and have been inspired to do at CSW as I can assure you that it was a truly life changing experience that I would do 100 times over and for that I would like to thank UN Women for accrediting me and NAWO YWA and Zarin Hainsworth greatly for making my experience a possibility. This is certainly something that I want do not want to leave behind.”

Sophie Cappell (CSW62, 2018)

“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 NAWO for this opportunity, as it has opened up so many paths in my life that I would not have otherwise.”