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Eight NPCA representatives make valuable connections at United Nations Women’s Conference to further the conversation on global progress toward gender equality

By Greg Emerson

Every spring, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) holds its flagship two-week conference to bring global stakeholders together to discuss approaches to improving the lives of women and girls around the world. It’s the second-largest event on the UN calendar, after the General Assembly session in September.

This year, National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) representatives were there to engage, and, most critically, build connections for an impactful partnership at next year’s meeting.

Besides the official CSW program, well over 1,000 events took place, as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and country missions hosted hundreds of side events and parallel events. While it would be impossible to summarize the entire conference, our team of eight representatives found some consistent themes across the more than 50 sessions we attended. And throughout, we focused on laying groundwork for 2025.

Next year’s CSW will mark 50 years since the first-ever world conference on women, and 30 years since the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, which produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – still the canonical document for gender equality issued by the UN.

We are committed to sharing our unique perspective on the occasion of this significant milestone, as all Peace Corps Volunteers – no matter their area of focus – work closely with women and mothers as critical partners in improving community well-being. Our experience working hand-in-hand with all marginalized groups, as well as supporting Peace Corps programs like Camp GLOW, make us important advocates for gender parity in service of sustainable development.

We were delighted by the reception we got this year, the first time we’ve participated in CSW as NPCA representatives. From the staff at the UN Pass Office, who congratulated us on our recent (March 1) anniversary, to the speakers whose eyes lit up when we introduced ourselves after a session, to the Peace Corps applicant sitting next to one of our representatives who just happened to receive her invitation while waiting for one meeting to start, we were constantly reminded of the positive and inspiring way our group is viewed in international circles. Despite the presence of thousands of other NGOs at this conference, we felt welcome at every turn.

Of course, the importance of inspiring the global community to work harder will require partnership, as well as a strong understanding of the current state of women around the world. In the midst of ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, CSW programming addressed the lack of progress in women’s equality across many metrics and the critical lack of dedicated funding for programs that address these iniquities, which only magnify the additional challenges faced by women in conflict zones.

Kirsi Madi, UN Assistant Secretary-General and one of the leaders of UN Women, reminded the audience at one session that “women become the shock absorbers of failing systems,” particularly in times of food scarcity, where “women eat less, and women eat last.”

The continued challenges facing women everywhere represent a threat to the entirety of the 2030 targets for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By UN Women’s metrics, 54% of countries have failed to make progress on gender equality, and only 27% of parliamentary seats worldwide are occupied by women, a critical lack of representation that affects all other metrics related to gender equality.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in his town hall session, noted the importance of hiring women for leadership roles, sharing the UN’s internal goal of full gender parity in leadership positions by 2028. “Things change dramatically if you have gender parity at a high level, and this helps support gender parity throughout the organization,” he said.

Of course, many more solutions are necessary to achieve real progress in gender parity. Another major talking point this year was financing. Maria-Noel Vaeza, regional director for UN Women in Latin America, noted that 30 years ago in Beijing, nobody talked about financing. That has changed though, as UN Women identified a $360 billion investment need for programs supporting women’s equality around the world to achieve meaningful progress toward the goals set for this part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

For his part, Guterres said he has proposed an initial $50 billion stimulus to “turbocharge” progress on this most important of SDGs.

Looking ahead

As with all conversations around sustainable development, the discussion around the role of young people in ensuring a brighter future for the world they will inherit was among the most inspiring.

The UN itself has taken steps to acknowledge young people, including for the first time the term “adolescent” in the official output document of the conference. This sets a precedent for recognition of adolescent girls as a unique group with its own specific challenges that will surely carry over into future conferences and official documents.

NGO CSW/NY, a coordinator of the “parallel events” run by NGOs during the conference, also hosted its own activities during CSW, where Marian Rivman (Philippines 1966–68) found numerous connections to the Peace Corps at an event highlighting its Global Youth Fellows program.

One of the past directors of NGO CSW/NY is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and its current co-chair’s connection to the Peace Corps, despite never having served, led to an invitation to discuss one of our NPCA representatives joining the group’s executive board.

As we prepare for next year’s CSW conference, we will be looking to leverage a special connection between Rivman’s 50-year Peace Corps legacy and 30-year history with the UN: Not only was she an advisor to the secretariat of the Beijing World Conference in 1995, but Patricia Licuanan, Rivman’s language teacher during her Peace Corps training in 1966, was the chairperson of that conference.

With these connections in place and an important milestone coming up, NPCA is well positioned to lead an impactful call to action on gender equality at CSW next year.

In our planning and preparation, we will be inspired by UN Secretary General Guterres’s reminder at his town hall speech this year: “Essentially, the question of gender equality is a question of power. And power is never given. Power needs to be taken.”

Get involved

Our team of NPCA Global Leaders, coordinated through the New York City Peace Corps Association, is led by the author of this piece Greg Emerson (Morocco 2003, Peru 2003–05). Participants in the CSW conference included Stefani Bralock McCoy (Namibia 2015–17), Karina Casarez (Myanmar 2018–20), Jennifer Curtis (Benin 2014–15), Soumya Gokuli (Madagascar 2016–19), Dennis King (Cameroon 1971–74), and Jennifer Krottinger (Belize, 2011–2015), in addition to Rivman. This group continues to engage with the UN community on policies and partnerships to advance sustainable development. We invite all RPCVs and affiliate groups to share their ideas on how our representatives might maximize our impact. Share your thoughts with us at [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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