A Teenager at CSW: My time at the United Nations

This article was written by a teen participant of CSW 55, Caley Donovan and is also posted on the Working Group on Girls website. 

Caley at the UN

Last month I was in NYC, but not for your typical vacation. I wasn’t shopping at famous stores, sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty, or hitting the theaters on Broadway. No, I was doing something a little different. I was at the United Nations for the 55th year of the commission on the Status of Women.

Ok, so a little background info on the CSW. It was founded in 1946 to monitor and promote the rights of women around the world. Each year there is a priority theme, a review theme (from a previous year), and an emerging theme. This year, the main theme was Education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and Employment for Girls and Women. The review theme was Violence Against the Girl Child.

On the first day, I went to an event called Girls Stand Up at Pace University. There, me and many other young women (and a few young men) attended workshops to prepare us for CSW, and listened to two amazing speakers. Michelle Bachelet, the first female president of Chile and the head of UN Women, was the first to address us. She spoke to inspire us, and motivate us to take action now, saying, “You girls are not only tomorrow’s leaders, but you also have voices today.”

She told us a story from her own country, showing how young girls can be inspired. “Little girls, when I would visit shanty towns and villages, little girls would run up to me and say ‘Aunty, when I grow up, I want to be like you. I want to be a doctor.’ Then later it was ‘Aunty, when I grow up, I want to be like you, I want to be president.’”

The second speaker was Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Gbowee is a peace activist, whose movement brought an end to the Liberian Civil War. She told us of her struggles for peace and urged us to continue our work, saying “There are more good people in the world than evil. When all the good people rise up, the evil have to flee.”

On Monday (the second day), I had the opportunity to be a part of the writing of the Girls’ Statement. It was a group of about 12 girls, between the ages of 15 and 18. Most were from the US, but there was a girl from Cameroon, and a girl from Australia who currently lives in Hong Kong. We talked about issues of girls and broke into groups to write the different sections of the statement: Education, Employment, STEM, and Violence (I was in the Violence group). After we finished our drafts, we put it all together and edited it. We worked from 9 am to 5:30 pm. The hope was that one of the girls, Caroline, would be able to read the statement to the Commission (She did!). The Girls’ Statement can be read at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw55/statements/Girls.pdf

On Tuesday, the first official day of CSW, I had a ticket for an overflow room to watch the opening of the meeting (each organization is allotted only ONE ticket for the General Assembly). It was very interesting to see how the UN works. I couldn’t understand some of the things they said, but it was still amazing. That afternoon I went to the US Mission to the UN for a briefing. The US delegation included people such as astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and actress Geena Davis. They helped to clarify some of the things we heard and would hear over that week.

For the rest of the week I went to parallel events, panels, and caucuses on myriad topics. I learned about schools in India, street children in South America, education and poverty in West Africa, and discrimination here in America. If I were to go into detail about all I did, it would take a week or more. You don’t have time for that and neither do I. But I think it can be summed up by something Michelle Bachelet said. She told us that women everywhere need to work together to fix problems and find peace and equality, “We don’t need a soloist, we need to build a choir.”

I’ll leave you with some tips (only partly serious) for a teenager at a UN meeting.

Be at least 16. I know you can’t really control that, but trust me, be 16. If you are 16 or older, they will issue a UN ID that you just swipe on the gate to get in. If you aren’t, like me, then be prepared to show your registration papers and passport and talk to the guards. Every time you go in. Or out. I swear, the guards at the North Lawn Building recognized me by the end of the week. Moral of the story? Be 16.
Talk to the people near you. Don’t be a loner. No matter how shy you are, talk. It’s completely worth it. On the first day of the conference, I sat next to some girls from a boarding school in the UK. We started to talk, and got into a big discussion on the differences between the US and England. It was so much fun! At the end we exchanged business cards (we felt so professional), and friended each other on Facebook (ok, less professional).
Pick up pamphlets and other literature. It doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what you are learning about. Or even if you can’t speak the language it’s written in. Its worth having pamphlets and other such things, they can be pretty interesting, even if you can’t understand it all. Anytime you see some lying around, grab one! That was pretty much my motto while I was there. Which is why I have about 7 pamphlets about Ghana, and 4 in French about the plight of women in rural Africa. (I don’t speak French).
Don’t be afraid if you are the only one under 25. Or 50. Especially at parallel events, there won’t always be someone your age. It all depends on what topics you are interested in. I walked into one event on preventing violence against women in West Africa to see that I was the youngest by about 15 years. Did I leave? Of course not! Sometimes you just have to put your self-consciousness behind you. If you want to be there, don’t let anything stop you.
Make sure you take something away from it (and I don’t mean material!). When you go to something like this, you should learn something. So don’t choose events that you aren’t interested in, find something that draws your interest. And pay attention. You should take something from your experience, be it knowledge, new interests, or a new possible career. Me? I got one step closer to finding what I want to do with my life. So learn something.