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All in the same boat: how this year’s CSW is changing our lives for decades to come (Part 1)

A sneek-peak from the UN’s 25th floor thanks to the interns I had met during one of the lunch breaks at the Riverside Café

This year’s CSW is the one we have never seen before, but the one likely to stay.

Running from one event to another and missing the lunch break window at the Riverside Café has turned into a series of back-to-back Zoom meetings and countless coffees by the desk. Instead of having evening meetings on the 28th floor at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, viewing over Lego-like skyscrapers mirroring sunsets to nightlights, we now have muted online meetings.

I would lie if I said that I do not miss the buzz of CSW. Back in 2019, no-one could even closely predict that covid-19 would turn our daily lives – and so our habits and interactions – from head to toe.

Our time in New York was very limited but precious: leaving any study or work commitments behind, the CSW seemed like the only two weeks in a year where we could manifest, challenge, and extend our knowledge on gender equality from any thinkable angle.

Speaking as an International Relations student, it was also an inimitable experience of understanding how member states and civil societies from all over the world gathered to bring ideas, experience and action to ensure that the world marches towards gender equality – a truly admirable textbook case for “intergovernmental cooperation” in action.

As we open our Google Calendars to witness an overbooked schedule of side and parallel events, the CSW has been happening much more differently compared to its previous years.

Its context and the format inescapably reflect the realities of the world’s second-year struggles with the virus.

The CSW’s gains can embark on the reversal curve: Covid-19 threatens us to return to the gender equality progress akin to those levels in 1995.

That is a leap by 26 years, vamoosing every day fought to ensure that no woman and girl was left behind.

At the end of each day of the CSW, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset

We know, however, that challenges always carry hidden opportunities.

Indeed, this year’s accessibility of a well-established platform like the CSW has distinguished itself in its reach and engagement.

As the world is being glued to its screens and social media, this momentum is undoubtedly positive for CSW and gender equality.

Whereas the high-level gatherings and government-sponsored events would previously require the UN pass (and an impatient wait at the security line), this year’s session has unlocked the open access for anyone wishing to learn more about what is it that the governments do, propose and commit to in gender equality.

What is more, the civil society platform, where all the NGO events happen in actually one place (not all over New York) exceeded 25 000 advocate member registrations, yet again illustrating civil society force.

Assuming that every country sends twenty-five delegates to CSW, this would be a five-fold increase compared to this year’s advocate participation rate (under 5 000 as opposed to 25 000).

Of course, challenges remain: the platform is working to extend its capacity and not every individual has digital access to keep up with the CSW and make their voice count.

However, even this technological advance bridges a revolutionary momentum in expanding the grassroots movements and the policy exchange across the world: from remote villages in Western Africa to ministers in Latin America and Central Asia.

Before Zoom became a thing: attending one of the UK’s Side events in 2019

Despite these strides in expanding the influence and reach of CSW, I was previously cognisant that this experience will still differ in terms of human interactions.

Anyone who has been a Delegate for their as first, as the fifteenth time, will tell you that the CSW experience is remarkable in the immense inspiration it carries.

We could easily compare it to the covid jab – you receive a boost of long-lasting, meaningful and, contrary to the vaccine but paradoxically similar to the virus, contagious determination to change your local community and the world.

NGO parallel events have been the most heated commonplace to receive this inspiration since any event would unite women from all over the world, all committed to one goal: ensuring that women and girls bear greater priority and protection in any local enterprise, government-led strategy or policy.

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