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Young Women's Caucus—A Promising Sign at UN Commission Meeting

Pippa Gardner Waggs

While the recent UN Status of Women Commission sessions failed to reach consensus on recommendations for rural women, young women moved forward, impressing the author with their leadership potential.

Talk of the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), February 27 to March 9 in New York City, is consumed with concern by feminists and women’s rights organizations that governments safeguarded traditional values at the expense of reaffirming basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for women. At the center of the alarm was the UNCSW’s inability to make unanimous decisions and offer confirmation of resolutions regarding sexual and reproductive rights of women that had been affirmed in the past. The frustration is palpable amongst activist groups that felt this failure was a step back from prior accepted language and position.

In a joint statement distributed to UN Member States, CSW and other relevant UN human rights entities, five international women’s rights networks declare that “this failure has diminished the considerable work, energy, time and costs that women all over the world invested on the 56th session of the UNCSW.” The groups believe that “the advancement of women’s human rights should not be put on hold because of political battles between states. We remind governments that all Member States of the United Nations have accepted that ‘the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and individual part of universal human rights’ as adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.”

During the conference, Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, weighed in passionately about how the foundation of sustainable societies worldwide must be to advance women’s increased economic empowerment and ongoing political participation. “Women’s full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding,” she said. And “equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies.”

But while observers have been quick to point out the disappointments of the conference, I’m still enamored with the exciting emergence of the Young Women’s Caucus—a topic that’s getting no press at all.

The Young Women’s Caucus (YWC) serves as the working group for young women at the UNCSW meetings and has been coordinated by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGS) and the World YWCA since 2009. The UK’s Pippa Gardner of WAGGS was one of the leaders of the YWC this year. She described the caucus goals:

“Bringing the young women and girls, age 18 to 25 under the banner of The Young Women’s Caucus, we aim to increase awareness of the role of young women at the UNCSW, make recommendations on issues relevant to young women, identify common goals to improve the situation for girls and young women worldwide and present oral statements to the Commission about the priorities of young women and girls. “

This new, younger group of leaders gained stature as they focused their attention on advocacy action, policy discussions and networking with the decision makers and leadership at the UNCSW meetings.

“Creating opportunities for the young women and girls to network with one another and also collectively advocate as a group was very empowering and productive,” Pippa told me.

This year the YWC leadership consisted of 40 representatives from 21 different countries. They worked together during the two-week conference to collaboratively draft language for a Joint Oral Statement to the Commission on March 5, 2012 and a panel intervention presented on March 6, 2012. They were the only group selected to present a statement to the Commission that was exclusively devoted to rural young women and girls.

Despite the disappointment from some organizations at the conclusion of the 56th UNCSW, during the two weeks of sessions the presence of younger women from around the globe becoming active participants in the dialogue was uplifting and inspiring. Engaging with emerging feminist leaders to advance our human rights agenda is heartwarming and hopeful.

The YWC, while advocating for full and active participation of young women at the UNCSW, also specifically addressed issues they felt were important to consider at the 56th Commission session, which focused on rural women. The areas they specifically advocated for include safe, affordable and quality formal and non-formal education to facilitate the empowerment of girls and young women; the issue of child marriage as a human rights violation; greater investment in school buildings and infrastructure; authentic curriculum, more incentives for quality teachers in rural communities and legislative measures to ensure that girls stay in school; and the protection of young women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights to comprehensive sexuality education and young women’s access, particularly in rural areas, and to adequate health services, including maternal health.

As Young Women’s Caucus leader Marnie Grogan from the World YWCA concluded in reading the YWC statement to the Commission, “Young women are one of the most powerful driving forces to improve lives and transform communities, and we deserve better.”

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