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Advocating for gender equality at Commission on the Status of Women

In March 2018 I was one of 11 youth delegates representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). I was catapulted into a world of gender and youth rights, policy papers, position statements, UN agreements, and of course all of the acronyms that go along with that!

With over 10 million members in 150 countries, WAGGGS is the largest organisation for young women and girls in the world. This gave us an incredible opportunity to make a tangible difference. I had the honour of speaking at the High Level Interactive Dialogue in front of hundreds of government ministers and policy makers about the importance of placing girls and young women at the centre of the development agenda.

WAGGGS was also involved in the CSW Youth Dialogue, which brought together the 300 young people at CSW to discuss our experiences of gender inequality and what we would like governments to do to solve these issues. As part of the Policy Team, I spent the day drafting the Youth Declaration which reflected the voices of the young people at the Youth Dialogue and those who participated in the online consultations. I was honoured to read the Youth Declaration at the end of the day and present it to the Executive Director of UN Women and the UN Youth Envoy.

One of the best events I attended was run by the Irish Permanent Mission to the UN about the links between gender equality and climate change. Mary Robinson was the keynote speaker at this event and speaking to her afterwards about the impact of climate change on girls and young women was a definite highlight of my experience.

As Ireland was chairing the Commission, I was invited to a number of different events by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN including the St. Patrick’s Day party. The WAGGGS’ delegation of course also made time for lots of fun, including a cinema trip to see Black Panther on Times Square. Being at a UN conference is exhilarating and awe-inspiring, but it is also very demanding. It was the constant support and encouragement from the other delegates – my new Guiding sisters from every corner of the world – which kept us all going.

Throughout the two weeks, government officials were working on the Agreed Conclusions which all countries commit to in order to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. We spent a lot of time lobbying to ensure that WAGGGS’ key issues were reflected in the Agreed Conclusions. Some of our key issues included: tackling harmful stereotypes, eliminating violence against girls and women, improving rural infrastructure, and recognising and investing in girls’ agency, leadership, and voice. It was incredible to be told that our hard work had paid off and that our language about sexual harassment and youth inclusion in decision-making was reflected in the Agreed Conclusions.

It was a privilege to represent WAGGGS at the United Nations. As a young Irish woman, it was particularly special to be in the negotiating room when Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the UN, banged the gavel to mark that agreement had been reached on a strong document for girls’ and women’s rights.

I’ve come home empowered to continue advocating for women’s and girls’ rights across the world. CSW renewed my passion for Guiding and gave me a deep appreciation for the difference it makes to girls’ lives around the world. I now have an even stronger belief that young people can affect change and that their opinions and experiences must be heard in global decision-making.