Is UN conference on women side-stepping important human rights issues?

Shaliz Navab – WNN SOAPBOX

UN Commission on the Status of Women conference
Country delegates sit in designated seating at the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference in 2007. Image: OpenDemocracy

(WNN) United Nations, New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: I always considered myself quite globally aware, possessing a quadruple citizenship and having attended international schools all my life. Nevertheless the term diversity was redefined to me the moment I stepped into the United Nations building in New York City to attend the 57th annual Conference on the Status of Women in March 2013. The variety of women and men rushing about, some even in their gorgeous traditional gowns, all with enthusiastic, happy but simultaneously determined looks on their faces was a beautiful and chaotic sight.

Unfortunately, I feel the need to emphasize this adjective of chaos as it was prevalent throughout the conference. Although the United Nations evidently has admirable intentions, the chaos accompanied by organizing the get together of thousands of eager human’s rights activists, delegates and journalists from allover the world created an obvious barrier to communication and productivity in several occasions. For instance lack of communication often lead to panels being missed or starting late as room changes happened at very late notice.

In addition to this organizational chaos there was also another kind of chaos, a symphony of chaos resulting from the assortment of varying perspectives present in this one specific space. That there were certain contrasting opinions in our world considering women’s rights had dawned on me before, however there was a moment during the CSW in which I witnessed this point to a much higher extent than I thought existed. I was sitting in a Starbucks, tweeting for the Women News Network after having attended a panel on violence against aboriginal women in New Zealand, when I overhead a conversation between two fellow delegates discussing the conference.

Gradually I joined in their conversation learning that they had recently arrived from Europe, just like me. Somewhere along the dialogue I asked whether they had heard of any panel scheduled by Egyptian women, who had been so bravely revolting against the Muslim Brotherhood ever since it came to power. Surely they could share much intriguing information and experience I thought “No, but the Egyptian delegate who gave the opening speech at the ceremony said ever since the Brotherhood is governing Egypt women’s rights are improving,” they answered with a degree of relief and satisfaction that blew my mind. “You do realize she was a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood?” I inquired, certain that this was simply a misunderstanding. “Yes,” they replied to my surprise.

A speech that had seemed so clearly false in my eyes was a truth in theirs. This is not to say that either of us was right or wrong, who am I to determine that. Nonetheless it allowed me to realize exactly how many different viewpoints must be colliding in this single conference. Resulting in the concluding thought that it must be virtually impossible to incorporate all the latter in one resolution. So it came to be, that whilst the heads of NGOs sat in comfortable offices discussing the changes they would recommend the US delegate to make for the resolution, other women spoke at small podiums in basements that their rights were being ignored by their delegations.

It is hard to say however, whether certain issues such as LGBT folk or abortion rights were being avoided by the delegations, or if it was the formality of the UN and economic “friendships” between countries which delegates were not allowed to harm. As a very inspirational women’s rights activist from Lebanon, Lynn Darwich explained, the formality of the UN and reluctance to somehow offend another country lead most conferences to conclude in vague and ambiguous opinions being shared, such that the conclusions drawn from them were not dissimilar.

It is important to mention the point of this text is not to point a blaming finger at the United Nations at all, ultimately without their efforts and pressure, all these people would not be attempting to collaborate regularly anyway. International relations on the other hand, as usual, got in the way of the effectiveness of this event, which is a shame as you would think violence against women is an issue the whole world unanimously agrees should change.


As a WNN – Women News Network sixteen-year-old Iranian American social media intern Shaliz Navab is a young rising star on the field of human rights and journalism media. She is passionate about women’s rights and gender equality in the global sphere. Her life’s goal is to study politics and sociology in college, as well as gender studies, in order to pursue a career in journalism with a focus on human rights and women’s rights activism.


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