Take five: “Delivering the quantum change we need is not just a woman’s issue.”

Date: Monday, March 11, 2019

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Chair of the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women, speaks at the opening of CSW63 in New York. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Chair of the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women, speaks at the opening of CSW63 in New York. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Geraldine Byrne Nason is the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, and the Chair of the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UN’s largest gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, taking place in New York from 11 to 22 March. A career diplomat, Ms. Bryne Nason previously served as Ireland’s Ambassador to France and Monaco, as well as the Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union. A passionate advocate for women’s rights, she spoke to UN Women recently about the importance of CSW.

From your perspective, how critical is the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and why is it needed?

I believe that the CSW is truly critical as the unique global body where issues that are fundamental to women’s socioeconomic progress can be addressed. It is the UN’s second biggest annual gathering in New York, after the General Assembly, which illustrates its importance and relevance.

This is why 1,000s of people will converge on New York over the next two weeks. What these delegates recognize is that the vision of just, healthy and equal societies—the vision in the 2030 Agenda—will never be a reality while women and girls are held back from realizing their full potential. Delivering the quantum change we need is not just a woman’s issue. We cannot achieve the 2030 Agenda with one hand tied behind our back. We all have to step up to the plate, and now!

By addressing issues that impact the day-to-day lives of millions of women across the globe, we seek to bridge political gaps, shine a light on inequalities where they exist, ensure that vulnerable women and girls are supported, and that the big unfinished job of empowering women and girls everywhere gets done. Thousands of women and girls will share their experiences with us at CSW; this will help us improve our responses and generate the political will and momentum needed to ensure that we reach all women and girls, even those furthest behind. At CSW, we pride ourselves on making a real difference.

What is this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) about and how does the theme impact women’s lives?

This year’s priority themes are social protection, sustainable infrastructure and access to public services. They are incredibly important because the issues behind these themes are “bread and butter” issues that impact women everywhere: affordable childcare, maternity protection, equal distribution of household and caring tasks, the pension gap (between women and men), women’s access to healthcare and education, and safe, reliable transport.

Getting these policies right will empower women and girls to participate in society, fully, and equally. They offer women and girls the capacity and opportunities they often lack to succeed, by providing them with the tools and resources to do so. They also enable women to be bold in pursuing their goals, by providing crucial safety net. This is the first time that the CSW will consider these issues and we have a real chance to break new ground and to deliver new global normative standards; we shouldn’t waste that opportunity.

How do you think these issues relate to young people, or rural people who are often most marginalized?

The facts are clear: No country can reach its full potential if rural women and girls are not empowered. However, every gender and development data indicator we have has shown us that rural women and girls often lag the furthest behind. Just 39 per cent of rural girls attend secondary school. This is far fewer than rural boys (45 per cent), urban girls (59 per cent) and urban boys (60 per cent), and mortality rates of children under 5 years old tend to be higher in rural areas.

The hard reality is that young women are also less likely to find formal employment than their male counterparts. The structures are quite simply not there to support them to live to their full potential, and this goes to the core of the issues we will consider at CSW63. We need to significantly pick up the pace, and do more so those who need social protection the most, receive it, and that the infrastructure and the services are there to meet young and rural people’s needs and expectations.

Last year at CSW62, we made significant strides on rural women and girls. But we cannot stop there. We need to build on that. This year we will look at how to make social protection, sustainable infrastructure and access to public services work for rural women and girls so they can live their lives fully as everyone else. I’m also passionate about ensuring that young people participate in a meaningful way in our process. The long awaited solutions we seek, aren’t likely to come from any one age group. As the Irish poet Eavan Boland writes: “Our future will become the past of other women”. We have a responsibility to those coming after us.

Why is CSW an important forum for participating governments and NGOs? How do governments and NGOs use the outcome of this two-week-long annual gathering?

CSW stands out at the UN as the great “meeting at the crossroads”, where civil society, governments and the private sector, focus intently on the needs of women. All these actors come together with one common goal: making a difference in women and girls' lives. It is the forum to share the broadest range of perspectives, to create partnerships and bolster enthusiasm to achieve gender equality. This enthusiasm lasts far beyond the end of the formal session of the CSW. 

The deliberations and relationship-building between governments and civil society ensures that outcomes from discussions in New York are carried to every corner of the world. Last year’s agreement of a strong outcome for rural women and girls—where civil society played an important role—was an incredibly empowering moment. When we work together everyone feels ownership over the outcome and everyone is ready to make our commitments become a reality. As we say in Irish: “Ni neart go cur le cheile” – we are stronger together.

What is CSW’s relevance also to the broader landscape of women's rights movements around the world?

The CSW occupies a unique global space. It is the place where all women's and girls' movements intersect. It ensures that we assume our responsibilities in a world where everyone is accountable. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of the most progressive women’s rights agenda endorsed by governments in 1995, women and girls' rights and the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action are at the heart of that responsibility. CSW should provide political momentum for movements everywhere to ensure that we keep pace with our ambitions.

I am confident that the Commission is preparing the ground to ensure that at the anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action next year sees us all reassert our commitment to making sure every woman and every girl can enjoy her rights and live fully. Women’s Rights are human rights. It is as simple as that. We just have to respect what we say.