Saturday 16 March 2013

CSW57 Update: Monday 4th March 2013

Monday 4th March 2013

(Or: how I'm sick of static electricity)

I should probably explain myself.  I'm not sure why, or what it is about me, but literally everything I touch in New York gives me a static shock.  It was funny for about the first 2 hours, but I've now been in New York over a week and have found myself doing some really weird things (like rubbing my feet on the carpet, and doing everything as fast as I can) before opening doors/ climbing into bed/ switching on a light...  I'm starting to think I'm going insane, and anyone watching me will definitely be considering calling the men in white coats.

Anyway, apart from my slightly bizarre behaviour, today has been an incredible mixture of completely amazing and completely overwhelming. 

My day started early, as a few of us headed out to collect our CSW handbooks.  In an attempt to convince myself it wasn't time to get up, I just put on my jeans and a hoody over my pj's.  Note to self - when going out anywhere near the UN, this is NOT a good idea.  You will feel like a complete idiot when you're standing in a lift with delegates and people you should be lobbying, trying to fix the mop of hair you haven't brushed for 3 days (I *really* should find my hairbrush).  After all that, our mission failed anyway - despite it only being 8.15am, the handbooks had already disappeared. 

Finally here and feeling like a delegate!
After a shower and a cup of tea, I headed over to the UN Headquarters to take notes at the first session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  It wasn't until I was standing in the queue for security that I realised this session would be the Opening Session, in the General Assembly!  Most of the sessions would be held in separate conference rooms, so to be able to attend the GA without having to pay for a tour absolutely made up for the fact I'd only had 5 hours sleep! 

I made it into the viewing balcony of the General Assembly with seconds to go before the speeches started.  The session was opened by the Chairwoman, and we heard from the Deputy Secretary General, Michelle Bachelet (she's still wearing our wristband!) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.  Member states and regional blocks (groups of countries who had formed alliances) were then invited to give their statements and to outline their positions on gender based violence. 

Proof that I really was there!
About half an hour into this session, I had the sudden realisation that I was sitting in the General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters listening to world leaders and decision-makers speaking about an enormous global issue affecting billions of women and girls.  Thinking back, that seems like a pretty daft realisation, given all of the work I'd done in the run-up to this trip.  But at the time, it didn't feel like such a big thing.  There are no words to describe how immense being in that room felt.  This was the point at which I realised my life was about to change.  I knew at this point that my existing life and career plans were about to go in the bin, and a new plan was being formed.  Pretty overwhelming for 10.30am on a Monday morning!

I spent three hours sitting in the General Assembly, too scared to leave incase I missed something important, and too engrossed in the discussions to realise I was desperate for the toilet (sorry, more toilet chat!).  When I got back to my room, fortunately right next to the HQ, I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor, sobbing into my knees.  This was partly caused by the electric shock(s) I got from my laptop.  But mostly, I think, it was the result of being so tired and completely overwhelmed.

I don't want you to think that I spent my whole week in New York a miserable wreck.  It was quite the opposite infact.  I just want you to know that this trip was NOT a holiday.  It is impossible to describe the intense mixture of emotions we were all feeling during this week.  Even though it was only day 4, we had already put so much effort into getting to this moment, that finally reaching it was like a huge weight had lifted from our shoulders.

A WAGGGS delegate has already been here!
After a few minutes, I gave myself a shake, washed my face, uploaded a picture of the General Assembly onto Facebook, and headed out to my first Parallel Event (these are events run by NGOs in buildings outside the UN Headquarters).  We heard five university students from North Carolina talk about their specific research areas: Domestic Violence, Education and Empowerment; Rape Culture in Society and the Media; Human Trafficking Legislation and Policy; Violence Against Immigrant and Refugee Women; and Engaging Men and Boys.  At our training, we were told about a WAGGGS delegate from the previous year who made it her mission to ask a question at every session she attended.  I thought I'd never be able to do that!  But this morning, something had changed.  So at the end of the presentations, I found my hand sticking up in the air, and all of a sudden there was a microphone in my face.  I felt like I was watching someone else as I stood up, introduced myself and asked a question about non-formal education.  It was almost as if something in my brain had woken up and said "ok, this is it - mission: accepted". 

At the end of the event, I ran back to the hotel to get ready for the Young Women's Caucus (I did a lot of running today!)

The YW Caucus is jointly organised by WAGGGS and the World YWCA, and is a group of young women who meet to focus on policy discussion, advocacy action and networking with decision makers at CSW.  Any young women attending CSW are invited to come along, and at this first session there were about 30 of us!  Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for very long as I had to go to another event, but I believe the first meeting was a success.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant at the UK NGO Reception
My final event of the day was an NGO reception held by the UK's Permanent Mission to the UN.  This was really my big opportunity to lobby decision-makers and to tell the UK about WAGGGS' Calls to Action.  Before going to New York, I had sent a lot of emails to people from the UK who had attended last year's CSW.  I was so glad I had done this as I arrived at the Permanent Mission wearing my formal Girlguiding UK uniform and was instantly recognised as "the girl guide".  I met so many incredible women this evening, by the time I left the Mission, I was absolutely buzzing.  (This has nothing to do with the 2 glasses of wine I had).  I was so inspired and felt so supported by this group of women, and I realised that I could channel the emotion I had felt earlier in the day to help me through the week.

By the time I arrived back at the hotel, I was exhausted, but very excited to catch up with the rest of the team and find out if their day had been as intense as mine.  (They had!)

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