April 18, 2014

Just before the 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 58), 18 young activists from across the world gathered at IWHC for a two-day Advocacy in Practice (AiP) training: an intense, multiday event that supports participants to develop the leadership skills needed to effectively advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national and international levels. A strong contingent of women’s rights activists was clearly needed at CSW 58 to counter the small, but formidable opposition forces that reject the well-evidenced connections between women’s human rights and development.

The young (and some not-so-young) activists hailed from India, Armenia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Liberia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Mexico, Philippines, Tunisia, Uganda, the UK, France, and Poland, and represented civil society organizations (CSOs) focused on the rights of women and girls, often at the community level. It was, for many of them, their first time at the UN. The AiP prepared them for the opportunities and difficulties they would face advocating for gender equality and the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights at the global level.

CSW 58 came at a critical time for the global women’s movement, as governments assembled at the UN are discussing what development should look like after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. IWHC staff highlighted this significant context at the outset of the AiP, noting the opportunity to secure a political commitment to a stand-alone gender equality goal and to the infusion of gender in all aspects of the post-2015 development goals. Activists also agreed to push for a progressive agenda on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the rights of adolescents, and combating gender-based violence (GBV).

The training allowed activists and IWHC staff to share experiences and insight from their work in the field and in the global policy arena, and to develop strategies and tailor messages for lobbying their own government representatives. They practiced lobbying and held a mock UN session.

As they left IWHC at the end of the AiP, participants said they felt more confident they could make sense of the overwhelming CSW process. They told us they felt equipped and supported to positively influence the CSW outcome document, the final product to be agreed to by UN member states at the end of the two-week negotiation. IWHC’s AiP, they emphasized, was a space that provided them the tools and confidence to do just that.

And they did.

The group got to work immediately by joining the larger Women’s Rights Caucus active at CSW58. At regular intervals through the first week, AiP’ers regrouped in the halls of the United Nations Conference Building. They shared stories of presenting at side events, providing comments to government delegates working on the draft of the outcome document, talking to UN officials, writing fact sheets, and encountering opposition groups.

Throughout the remainder of the next two weeks, their determination and dedication to the fight was undeniable, as they all actively engaged throughout every painstaking hour of negotiations. Some worked feverishly to contribute their recommendations to the draft outcome document, while others attended regional caucus meetings, and broadcasted their messages on social media. And, in solidarity with the Women’s Rights Caucus, they stayed at the UN all hours of the night to keep an eye on and hold their governments accountable.

On the last day, AiP’ers were in the plenary room to cheer as a strong outcome document was finally adopted at nearly 2:00 AM. It calls for a standalone gender goal in the next development agenda, and contains significant commitments to ensure sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including services, education and information for adolescents, and to combat gender-based violence. Mission accomplished!

Read the first-hand account of Clara Fok, IWHC AiP’er and first-time CSW participant.

Read IWHC President Françoise Girard’s reflections on CSW58 and how it will shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda.