Hello! My name is Sarah Keenan and this year is my first visit to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). As a little background to myself, I am a final year Law/International Relations Student at La Trobe University, Australia, and have been working for JERA International for around 8 months now. As part of JERA’s “Strengthening Leadership” initiative they have supported myself and three other young women to attend CSW 56th Session. I have decided to use this blog to detail the experience of a first time CSW attendee, particularly as a young woman and I plan to document all the ups (hopefully numerous!) and also downs (hopefully few) that I experience throughout the next two weeks. I hope that I can make insightful and helpful comments about my experience as a

young woman at CSW to encourage and motivate the next generation of leaders to get involved in promoting gender equality and women’s rights throughout the world.

UN CSW56 New York Sunday 26th February

After an exhausting 20+ hour flight from Australia, I finally arrived in New York last night. Cold, tired and nervous I made it to my apartment, and despite having grand plans to work on my presentation, soak up New York, or get to know my first room mate, Shabina, from Fiji. I have to admit, I crashed as soon as I lay down for a second. But waking up this morning I felt refreshed and excited. First thing, Shabina showed me where to go to get my UN pass. It was really nice having a friend already to support me when I was nervous. Arriving there, we met a few other very friendly women working for other NGOs. Seeing that I was ok, Shabina left to get to the NGO Consultation Day. I really enjoyed talking to the women in line, who were from a variety of countries of organisations. I spoke to women from Canada, Italy, Australia and a number of African nations. While some were from international organisations such as BPW what struck me was that we were all passionate about the same things and had the same overall goals. It certainly made for a very friendly group and put me at ease. Also, everyone was very interested in the work that everyone else was doing.

After receiving my pass I headed to the NGO forum. When entering the forum, I was amazed at the size of the room and it was almost full! It was very impressive. What also struck me was the number of young women in attendance. In fact, in the upper level where I was sitting, I would say that almost 90% of the people up there were under 30. By the time I arrived, the Regional Perspectives panel was in session. It was interesting hearing about the experiences and passions of women from all over the world, although it was disappointing that no one from the Asia Pacific was able to speak. I also felt, and a few other young women I was talking to, also mentioned that some speakers chose to focus vaguely about what needs to happen, without providing actual ways or strategies for these overall goals to be achieved. I think we were so pumped up to be there that we were looking for action! However, it is going to be a long two weeks and I’m sure this will be dealt with at future sessions.

After lunch we heard from nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee. I really enjoyed her speech, delivered with such passion, she was quite impressive yet she also managed to be humorous at times. Her insistence that communities need to be engaged if real change is to occur was insightful and left me with an even greater appreciation of grass roots movements. She spoke about rural women and the need for conflict analysis in their context, as though they are recognised on paper, they are ignored in processes in reality. Therefore she argued, that as they are the only ones who understand the context that they are living in, they are the best people to identify the best solutions to their situations. She also highlighted the problem of teenage pregnancy and was insistent that the only way to prevent teenage pregnancy is to provide sex education and family planning options. This received a huge show of support from the audience. Leymah Gbowee spoke so strongly and passionately and yet spoke so clearly and logically, I dont think that anyone left that room without feeling inspired. Her advocacy for a “bottom up” approach to developing policies in communities is very interesting and hopefully it will be adopted more widely in the future.

This evening we went to the Australian Government NGO reception dinner which was a very enjoyable night. It provided a good opportunity to catch up with people we have met before, find out who is here and to meet new people from other Australian NGO’s. Again it was very interesting to see the number of young women in attendance, many of them in positions of great responsibility. I found out about a lot of events that are being put on by the NGO’s this week and I intend to attend as many as I can, firstly out of interest and also in order to support the other young women who have come over here, it really is a very supportive environment.

All in all, I had a fantastic (yet exhausting) first day here at CSW!