The almighty United Nations, every political science student’s dream, the place where member states set aside their interests to fix the world’s problems (or so they say). I always had this picture in my head that I would one day rule the world and fiercely trot down the hallways of the UN in my super-chic-power-woman attire.
Not so much the case.
I had the pleasure of losing my advocacy virginity to the one and only Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), where the world’s feminist and women’s rights advocates come to push for gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women’s human rights. And at 27 years old, I definitely feel a bit like a senior citizen of the youth movement.
I set a very clear goal for my debut – I wanted my ‘first time’ to be informed, safe, and pleasurable. And to prepare for this, I needed an evidence-based and comprehensive understanding of…everything!
To start, I did A LOT of reading: the MDG Goals Report 2013, zero draft, agreed conclusions of 2012 and 2013, the ICPD Global Report, and concept note on I-can’t-remember-the-name. I co-wrote my organization’s written statement and drafted the oral statement. The most fun was perhaps making my selection of side events. The schedule had everything from clean stoves to the Billings Ovulation Method (I was fascinated by this fertility monitoring methodology that uses vaginal discharge as an indicator), and seriously, every imaginable topic. (By the way, the best event I went to ended up being the one where I was on the panel, you can recap my presentation on the future of MDGs for girls here.)
And on March 10, the time came.
I entered the UN premises all wrapped up in my winter gear (my gigantic North Face jacket and fluffy ear muffs did not scream high-fashion-power-woman) and as I lugged my heavy handbag through the halls, I could not help but notice that the interior of the UN is actually very grim and dull and the decor was not inspiring. It looks more like a museum than a building that houses the most important people and meetings dedicated to a better world (I mean, where are the rainbows and unicorns?). There were just murals of men on the wall. My first sighting of positivity, was of course, the women’s rights squad who were all busy furiously typing on their gadgets.
As an aspiring power-woman, I wasted no time and went straight into action. There was just one teeny tiny problem – like every virgin experience, I had no idea what I had to do.
But I had nothing to worry about, because I just did what everyone does the first time you have sex – you pretend you know what you’re doing. And I did! I talked like I knew what I was saying, and walked like I knew where I was going (ironically, I missed my first side event because I walked from 42nd to 74th instead of 47th).
My efforts of faking it paid off. I finished my first week having worked on language specific to youth and adolescents sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) on the agreed conclusions and the HIV resolution, did a lot of monitoring of government positions, tweeted till I dropped, and for the first time, met my government’s delegation.
Though we are nearing the end of the second week, I already feel like I have a lot to take away with me. This is only possible because the women’s rights squad created a safe space for all feminist and women’s rights advocates to participate with all our hearts. I feel enabled and empowered to advocate for the SRHR of young women and adolescent girls, because I’ve been given opportunities to participate on equal grounds with others. Everyone has been inclusive and supportive, and no one has judged me based on my experience, or has given me ‘easier’ tasks to do because of my age (at least that’s what it seems like).
So far, I feel like my CSW experience has been quite informed and safe, I had enough knowledge and information to ‘fake’ my way through and I felt I was in a safe space with inspiring feminist and women’s rights advocates that I could trust.
In terms of pleasure, I have to wait until the end to judge, because I’m still waiting for the climax. It’s highly possible that there will be none this time around.
But you never know, it’s clear to me, even as a CSW new-comer, that the stakes are high in this second week of negotiations and the reward huge. Our agenda for young women and adolescent girls demands the inclusion of evidence-based comprehensive sexual education (CSE) in the CSW Agreed Conclusions – because that is one of the many critical services that will enable and empower us as women (especially as young women and adolescent girls) to exercise our sexual and reproductive health and rights, and more importantly, to negotiate healthy and safe relationships on our own terms.
*Clara Fok is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) from Hong Kong. She specializes in methodologies to develop leadership and participation of youth and adolescents in human rights activism. She also enjoys challenging the social construction of ‘professionalism’, and seeing how far she can go with her sarcasm before people stop taking her seriously.