Q: Why and how did you apply for this activity?
I’m a volunteer at an NGO called the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The YWCA of Korea participates in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) each year, and they were recruiting young volunteers to represent them at the event. The first process of application was with documents of personal information and self-introduction. Then there was a phone interview conducted in English where they asked me about my interests in women’s rights and the United Nations.
Q: How did you prepare for this activity?
I did a lot of reading. Although I had always been interested in gender equality, there was still a lot of reading to catch up on, mainly previous UN documents or publications on gender equality by the Korean government. It was important for me to be able to understand and share as much information as possible when I got to the event, and the best way to ensure that was through reading and studying.
Q: What specific activities did you participate in?
1. CSW 61 Youth Forum:
For the first two days, I participated in the CSW Youth Forum. This is a forum where young people under 30 years old from all over the world come together to discuss gender equality. Numerous panelists from a variety of backgrounds share their experiences and engage in discussions with other participants. It was also here where we heard a keynote speech from the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed. After the plenaries, smaller groups of people gathered for thematic sessions. Each group discussed different themes, such as Refugees and Migration or Violence against women and girls. I went into the “Young women and men challenging inequality in times of climate change” session. With the respective conclusions of each session, the drafting committee wrote a Youth Declaration to submit to the general assembly at the CSW.
2. NGO and Government Parallel and Side Events:
During the CSW, NGOs and governments open parallel and side events to advocate their cause or summarize past achievements in gender equality. Being a member of the YWCA, I attended events hosted by the YWCA of Japan and Canada. I also attended meetings hosted by other NGOs and governments such as those of Finland and Norway. These events covered a variety of topics, from “including men and boys in the gender equality movement” to “young women entrepreneurs”. I went to 3 or 4 of these meetings each day.
3. Egumeni Safe Space and Navi campaign:
The World YWCA opened a safe space close by the UN headquarters. (A safe space is a physical space, often a large room, where people can intervene in any kind of discussion with guaranteed confidentiality: it is a “judgement-free” zone.) The safe space provides people the opportunity to talk about gender-related issues more intimately with one another. There were also special guests, such as Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian minister of international development, and Amina J. Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN. They answered the many questions of the YWCA youth and led discussions about their experiences and professions.
At the safe space, the representatives of the YWCA of Korea, including myself, did a presentation to promote our campaign, “Ignorance is Violence”. We explained the tragic situation of the sex slaves during the Japanese colonial era and further asked for the international community’s support in combating violence against women and girls in armed conflict. We had the privilege to present our cause in front of delegations from all over the world, including ministers of Finland and Australia.
4. Meeting the Senior Advisor on Policy, Kang Kyung-wha:
The YWCA of Korea had the opportunity to meet Kang Kyung-wha, the senior advisor on policy at the UN. We asked her a number of questions regarding her past experience in Korean and international politics, her personal opinion on what makes a good leader, and how a person of her position deals with the clashes between reality and the ideal of “making the world into a better place”.
Q: What did you learn from this experience?
As a child and teenager I used to dream about working in the United Nations. But after entering university, the more I researched, I came to see it just as a formal gathering of member states–all talk and no action. The lack of binding law seemed like a major flaw, and the value of all of the “fancy” rhetoric seemed questionable.
Yet after CSW I realize the significance of providing people a platform. The United Nations and CSW in specific, provides people with a platform in which they can share experiences and information. These aspects to some may still come across as a waste of resources or even as unnecessary. But after having first-hand experience, I can say that at least in my eyes, people truly and sincerely utilize the provided platform to advocate their causes. The passion and drive these people have is amazing, and so I came to place great value in the UN in that it gives these people a place to speak. It is one of the few official places where people can be idealistic for once. Not to mention the fact that people from literally all over the world convening to empower women in and of itself sends a powerful message to organizations and governments everywhere.