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YWCA Toronto at the United Nations, 67th session on the Commission on the Status of Women

YWCA Toronto
YWCA Toronto
April 14, 2023
Categories: Advocacy 

This year, the United Nations (UN) hosted its largest annual gathering on gender equality, the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW plays a critical role in promoting and protecting women’s rights, influencing global standards on gender equity and the empowerment of women, and documenting the experiences of women’s lives around the world. Sami Pritchard, Interim Director of Advocacy and Communications, represented YWCA Toronto as a member of YWCA Canada’s delegation. Sami joined the conference in New York for the first week and then virtually for the second week. We asked Sami to share some of her experiences.

**Content warning: sexual violence, abortion, gender-based violence, war

There is something truly special about being in a space with thousands of women, girls, gender diverse people and allies who share the goal of creating a more equitable world. The two-week-long hybrid event focused on the empowerment of all women and girls, and the critical role of technology and innovation in achieving gender equality.

From dusk to dawn delegates were able to attend an array of sessions – some formal sessions of the UN CSW67, some sponsored events by member nations, and others led by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from around the world in what was called the “NGO CSW Forum.” Delegates had access to more than 800 events that informed, engaged and inspired efforts and advocacy needed to empower women and girls globally. With so many opportunities to learn and expand our understanding of the global impacts of technology at our fingertips, trying to choose which event to attend felt impossible at times.

Every panel, delegate and workshop you encountered told a story that left you feeling moved. From a panel of New Zealand leaders who discussed the treatment of women in prisons, in particular Indigenous women, and the ways in which technology can play a significant role in upholding and enhancing the dignity of women in prisons, to a workshop led by sex workers who discussed how their work has shaped technology as we know it today, to a panel of women and girls from Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Malawi, who discussed re-politicizing gender-based violence across generations, the complexities of living in a digital era as women and girls were unbound.

Leaders from the Global South shared insight about the role digital technologies play in generating awareness and advocating for access to safe abortion while brave survivors of the war on Ukraine shared their experiences of sexual violence being used as an “instrument of war,” wholly underlying the importance of addressing the root causes of sexual violence at all levels of society, everywhere and every time.

Many sessions discussed how COVID-19 has exacerbated the pervasiveness of online gender-based violence. Due to the nature of technology, violence can now reach us in new ways. Technology has unlocked possibilities for perpetrators of violence – from the use of surveillance mechanisms to targeting people online to using tracking devices, digital technologies provide new tools to harm, control, discredit, and silence. And we know, women, girls and gender diverse individuals are disproportionately impacted by the swell of online hate and violence.

Though the violence may be happening online, we cannot dismiss the offline, “real world,” ramifications. Too often when someone shares their adverse online experience the response is to “just turn it off,” or “just delete it,” but these responses dismiss and undermine the violence being experienced. The reality is social media and other online mediums have provided a new forum to perpetuate inequalities, digitalizing sexism and misogyny. Online violence needs to be treated just as seriously as offline violence, anything short is a regression in the steps we have collectively taken to address gender-based violence.

While concerns about our shift to a digital era are very valid and real, we must also recognize the power technology has to empower and promote gender equity.

The reality is, in today’s society, we need technology. We are living in an ever-evolving digital era wherein media is used as a tool – for networking, advocacy, vast communication, and for positive change. Through technology, we can share life-saving information more widely which helps to combat gender-based violence – a great example of this is the Canadian Women’s Foundations’ signal for help, a nonverbal hand signal, used by thousands of women across the globe to alert others that they are unsafe. When used with integrity and goodwill, technology can alter our lives in positive ways.

Though there is much work to be done, I am empowered by the incredible work being done around the globe to combat hate and violence. We must break down barriers that keep women, girls and gender diverse individuals offline, we must encourage women and girls’ leadership in STEM – without it, our products and services will inherently host gender inequality – and our commitment to eradicating gender-based violence, both online and offline, must be unwavering.