BY NIKKI ADEBIYI, FOUNDER @ BOUNCE BLACK
Over the past few of weeks, I have been involved in the 67th – and my first ever – United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women as an official UN Women UK Delegate.
I know. Exciting!
Although I couldn’t make it to the UN Headquarters in New York in person, I still had the opportunity to tune into high level negotiations between UN Member States and hear from global leaders along with thousands of advocates from all over the world.
I tweeted about it along the way, but here’s a summary of my experience and overall impressions:
UN Women and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The CSW is the main UN body devoted to gender equality, and their work is supported by UN Women, which is a global organisation that supports Member States to achieve gender equality whether through civil society grassroots programmes or government policy, as well as everything in-between.
The theme of the 67th Session of CSW
This year’s priority theme was: “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.
In practical terms, CSW67 focused on the opportunities and threats that technology creates for women. This covers everything from women’s access to information and technology, STEM education and IT skills training, to cyber crime and safety from online harms, and innovative interventions for women’s health and wellbeing. In short, digital equity, defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as:
A condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy
As I reflected on my career journey to date and the fact that joining the UK delegation was even open to me, I realised how critical Internet access has been to my personal and professional development. So, I applied because I believe all women should have access to the technologies that could support them in believing in, maximising and fulfilling their potential. And I wanted to be part of some efforts at making that happen!
My personal highlights
- Just being part of the delegation was extremely motivating for me because I felt I did a younger version of me proud. The late teenage me who, thanks to the Olsen twins in Winning London, became passionate about Model UN, and participated in three conferences. I never made it to Harvard’s WorldMUN like I dreamed of, but I’d say becoming an official UN Women UK delegate isn’t a half bad alternative!
- Every time the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, spoke, I felt stirred to action, and all the more because I was fortunate to have heard him speak in-person as a candidate for the role, just before his appointment.
- In general, I think the UN embodies global diversity well through the way delegates choose to wear their national dress to negotiation meetings. In particular, I enjoyed seeing West African delegates in traditional wear. Geles and global diplomacy go incredibly well together!
Women in the Sierra Leone delegation wearing traditional clothing including geles, which are head ties commonly worn in West and Southern Africa. Image credit: Sierra Leone Association of Women in Journalism
- Naturally, as a mental health advocate I was mostly drawn to sessions related to advocacy and/or mental health. The first session I participated in was an advocacy training session which left me with the ever-important question of “what kind of advocate will I be?”. We were encouraged to consider the tone, style, medium and timing of advocacy, which are important to consider when navigating the difficulty of championing change without alienating key stakeholders or would-be supporters.
- I also enjoyed learning about the incredibly admirable work of The Angel Band Project, who use trauma-informed music therapy to support survivors of sexual abuse. The session leaders gave us a flavour of their music therapy workshops through a live performance of India Arie’s I Am Light, followed by a demonstration of their lyrical analysis worksheets. Overall, it was a powerful testament to how healing safe connection with others can be, and when trauma inhibits our creativity, community can ‘unfreeze’ us and free us to express ourselves and tap into our potential.
- Lastly, but most importantly, I have most enjoyed connecting with passionate and principled powerhouse women in the UN Women community. Virtually and in-person, I am thankful for the ways my network has expanded, exposing me to new cultures, perspectives and opportunities, which, again, shows the benefits of digital inclusion. This gave me the confidence to organise a social for the UN Women UK delegates, which was well attended and great fun (see photos below).
My key take-aways
- Bias in artificial intelligence and algorithms can only be improved through diversity and inclusion at the earliest stages of product development. We can only build tools for the kind of world we want to live in by involving women at all stages of design and development.
- Technological innovation isn’t an end in itself. We shouldn’t innovate for innovation’s sake because with every new invention comes a new form of exploitation. For example, social media has simultaneously made us more connected and disconnected, consequently boosting and impairing wellbeing.
- Multistakeholder partnerships matter. From government and non-governmental organisations to civil society organisations and grassroots movements, we need all hands on deck to do something about digital equity.
- People with disabilities remind us that digital technology and accessibility are necessities rather than luxuries, a reality which most of us have now experienced since the pandemic forced us to adapt our ways of living and earning a living during global lockdowns.
- Social media’s impact on the mental health and self image of women and girls was a recurring topic of discussion, reminding us that we must consider the challenges posed by the digital world and prioritise instilling digital resilience as a way to overcome those challenges.
- Education and mental health affect each other both ways. Poor mental health affects educational attainment, and lack of education plus deprivation has a link to higher rates of psychiatric disorders. So, mental health treatment and psychoeducation must be prioritised when trying to support women in education and careers. Access to technology can facilitate both these things, and this platform is itself an example of how technology can be used to support the pursuit of healing and career or academic progression.
Women and girls everywhere should have no preventable barriers to fulfilling their potential in line with their own visions of success. So, the idea that we are 300 years away from achieving gender equity, including digital equity, is disheartening to the say the least. Yet the last few weeks have left me more hopeful than discouraged because of the incredible women and male allies doing what they can with what they have where they are, which is a principle I strive to live by myself. There is a lot of work to do, but so long as we are doing the work, a change is sure to come. While the digital world is presently dominated by men, more and more women are rising to the challenge, leaning in and making their voices heard where it matters. So, there is reason to be hopeful about a future world in which men and women have equal benefits from the positives that technology has to offer, as well as equal protections from the harms it brings.
Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.António Guterres