Sunday, March 9, 2014

The NGO CSW58 Forum: Conclusions & Reflections

We are here. After several months of preparation, meetings and intense anticipation, we've landed in New York City and are ready to leave our mark on CSW58. And today was our first taste of what's to come--

Rising early, we gathered our thoughts and identity badges and took a taxi to the NGO CSW Forum 2014--an annual meeting of NGOs and other CSW stakeholders that aims to prepare delegates for CSW sessions with rousing calls-to-action meant to catapult attendees to the greatest heights of their potential as activists. With distinguished panelists and speakers from every far-flung corner of the globe, the event also serves as an opportunity to publicize NGO side events. Us fellows, for instance, helped distribute hundreds of fliers advertising our event this Tuesday.

It's a hasty barrage of paper--pink, purple, rainbow--with topics running the gambit from feminism in Japanese society to analyzing harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. While the practice isn't exactly environmentally friendly, it is carried out with the best of intentions:

We want you at our event. Come see what we do. Acknowledge us. Support us.

Intellectually, today was an exercise in perseverance. There is certainly a lot of knowledge and we should take solace in the fact that communities from around the world are mobilizing for change. But, as one panelist put it so eloquently, "If we are not bold enough, we will be stagnated." This is as true for the gender equality movement as it is for us Fellows during our time at CSW. Echoing the "conference mantra" of one of our mentors, it is essential we find the energy to stay curious despite an overwhelming amount of information.

In attempting to aggregate some of the data we consumed today, I wanted to touch upon several conclusions I've come to from today's panel discussions and speeches. These are reflective of my own personal interpretation of much of what was said today and I am keenly interested in reading upcoming reflections from other Fellows to understand their take.

I. Men are sorely underrepresented, despite many calls for further engagement from panelists and audience members. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was one of a handful of men in the audience. I would be comfortable in estimating that there were perhaps a grand total of 20 men (not counting sound technicians and security) out of a total audience of several hundred. Quite frankly, this is disappointing. Gender equality and women's rights are good for society and beneficial to men. Further, many (but not all*) of the speakers spoke passionately about the need to engage men on a deeper level in many discussions, recruiting them as allies and friends of the movement. In fact, during the Forum, I was actively tweeting many of my thoughts (@maxseunik) and receiving warm and welcoming responses from other audience members and panelists. One audience member asked me plainly over Twitter: So what can we do to involve more men and invite them to the discussion? My response was simple and highlighted what I see to be the basic need: Let us know there is a space for us and that our voice is needed. We also require male-led talk about healthy masculinity. In my opinion, it is essential that gender equality movements begin to use as much inclusive language as possible. Don't simply call on the women and girls in the room, call on us, too--we may just surprise you.

II. Next year is going to be a big deal. 

In some ways, today left me equally eager to experience CSW59 as I am for this year's CSW. Why? Quite simply, much of the focus of today's event was on the Beijing+20 Platform For Action. Analyzing the successes and failures of what panelist Charlotte Bunch termed "the real building of a global women's movement." Next year marks 20 years later we need to ask ourselves the tough questions: what has changed? How have we done? Where do we go from here?

III. Youth involvement is a critical and recognized need in CSW and all international women's and human rights events.  

While many of the speakers and panelists called for broader youth involvement in CSW and other opportunities, Beth stepped forward and asked one of the panels how they planned to address what she sees as the gap between youth involvement in highschool and later on. The answers were non-committal at best and youth participation in the Forum was relegated around a spoken word poet, young panelist and a call at the end for "everyone under 35" to converge on the stage to sing and dance. Once again, while the intention behind these actions is great (and necessary!), it's easy to feel 'tokenized' and cursorily overlooked. I applaud the efforts of NGO CSW Forum to involve youth, but feel that much, much more can be done for future events.

In short, today was equal parts enlightening and tiring. The mood amongst the Fellows is good and we have bonded strongly in only a short while. Tomorrow marks the real start of our journey here and I am excited to keep sharing my thoughts and reflections in the most honest manner possible as we make our way--together--down the road to a brighter future for the world's women and girls.

Sincerely yours,



  1. Sounds like, you, as a young man at CSW, will be much sought out to offer ideas to improve the underrepresented elements and advocates for gender equality. Great reflections. We're proud to have you representing us!

  2. Great post, but I think I told you that already :) It's so great to see that you are a young man who is involved in creating a better world for women and girls.

    I know we've had the "token" discussion before, but I say you should work it! You also see the gaps between youth involvement and global decision making. I have no doubt that you can use your expertise as a young person and an advocate for women to break down some of these barriers.

    Keep up the good work, Max :)

  3. Its so nice how CSR activities has been made mandatory, its a very good step on part of the Government. I was looking for a few articles on CSR activities in India and I came across yours inspiring read.