Exclusive for WCM - Sabrina Wu at the United Nations Status of Women Commission

By Sabrina Wu | April 25, 2017

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!
--Audrey Hepburn

I never quite understood the importance of citizen activism. For far too long I underestimated the power of individuals, the very components of society. On the day I joined 60,000 men, women and children at the Toronto Women's March, I slowly began to understand the power of individuals coming together with a common purpose to effect change. The United Nations Status of Women Commission (UN CSW) is one such venue for citizen activism. Each year representatives from 193 member states and more than 3,900 non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders gather in New York for one purpose—gender equality.

Professionally I am a trader for a large international bank in Toronto. Outside of work I have been active in advocating for causes that are dear to my heart. Gender equality is one. I currently sit on the board of directors for YWCA Toronto, a non-for-profit dedicated to empowering women. I applied to attend the UN CSW through YWCA Canada's Young Women's Leadership Miles, an initiative to send women age 30 and under to regional, national, and international events. Through a rigorous four-month selection process I joined four other young women from across Canada to represent the YWCA Canada at the 61st UN CSW in New York.

The UN CSW is the "principal global body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is instrumental in promoting women's rights, documenting the reality of women's lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is the largest annual gathering of the international women's movement at the UN."

The pivotal role of NGOs in influencing public policy is evident during the two week commission. At the Town Hall with Secretary General Antonio Guterres, over 750 NGO representatives from 168 member states filled the conference room. Guterres, in his opening remarks, stated that "one aspect of women's empowerment is to ensure that men and women are able, in parity, to assume responsibilities in this world at all levels -- political, economic and cultural." The town hall gave NGO leaders a forum to deliver oral statements and ask questions or make suggestions to the Secretary General directly. I was very pleased to see the strong willingness from both sides -- the UN governing council and the civil society -- to collaborate and tackle issues that impact women around the world.

This year's UN CSW priority theme was "women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work." From women fighting for rights to own land in Africa, to women fighting for more seats in parliaments, every forum was a passionate exchange of ideas, share resources and best practices, and make connections. Personally, I found the experience inspirational and educational. Listening to NGO leaders, lawyers, medical doctors, scientists, poets, engineers, judges, journalists, and parliamentarians among others, it truly opened my eyes to a spectrum of issues affecting women and bettered my understanding of the importance of advocating for gender equality. I could not recall how many times I was amazed by the level of dedication that these social activists demonstrated.

I feel proud to be a Canadian. Not only is our country well-respected, the Canadian government's decision to keep things running despite a snow storm showcased the determination of 'the cold weather dwellers.' The Government of Canada provided a number of opportunities for Canadian delegates to meet elected officials and discuss issues important to Canadians. During the opening remarks at Canada's Permanent Mission to the UN, Minister of Status of Women, the Honourable Maryam Monsef emphasized the important role NGOs play in influencing policies that will advance women at all levels. At the young women's roundtable discussion, I sat at the same table with Minister Monsef and Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris. Minister Monsef attended the UN CSW as a recipient of the YWCA Young Women's Leadership Miles four years ago, so she in particular understands the importance of listening to young women and girls on issues such as precarious employment, unpaid care work, and gender pay inequality. The roundtable discussions were constructive. The Government of Canada is committed to reforming "the federal pay equity regime", improving child care and elder care, and increasing more women representation on corporate boards. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but I am thrilled for what is possible. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with our elected officials in moving towards gender equality.

The UN CSW was an invaluable experience. I learned how the UN operates and how it collaborates with NGOs to reach agreements and draft policies. I learned how to work with governments to influence the language in an outcome statement. Bringing together several thousand men and women from all around the world, this large event not only provided ethnic diversity, it also provided diversity of thought. I left feeling inspired by all the women trailblazers who have made a difference in all areas of work and all corners of the world. If you care about gender equality, please volunteer for such cause. A more gender equal society is a better society. Let's join forces in making our planet 50/50 vision a reality!

Sabrina Wu

Sabrina Wu can be contacted via email: [email protected]

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