By Jessica Choucair, ABAAD Lebanon
‘Zoom out’ is the phrase that summarizes my powerful experience at the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) that took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019. It was an honor to be part of the MenEngage Alliance Youth Leaders who gathered to discuss global, local, and regional goals, progress of the Women, Peace, and Security agendas, and perpetual challenges confronting women and girls’ rights from fulfilling their fundamental rights.
I always believed in the need of a general framework/system that ensures individuals’ full rights. As a case- worker providing support to women and girls survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), it is vital to ensure survivors have access to direct services (i.e. psychological, legal, health, etc.). However, they remain incomplete and insufficient – to a certain extent – if they are not incorporated into a larger gender justice framework. Women and girls, after all, are “rights holders” before being victims. This belief was confirmed and strengthened during my participation in CSW63 various sessions.
Gender justice is only achieved when everyone is involved. Proudly, I am a member of ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality, a pioneer organization in Lebanon advocating for women and girls’ rights through multiple approaches, including engaging men and boys in preventing all forms of violence against women and girls. ABAAD’s partnership with the MenEngage Alliance, recognizes that gender equality requires collective actions and a holistic change. The network has given me the opportunity to meet other global activists, to share our experiences, share knowledge, and reflect on the complex issues and setbacks we encounter as young men and women committed to marginalized communities and in fighting gender-gaps, and the loopholes in our protection systems, that further exacerbates women’s vulnerabilities. Through these dynamic and honest discussions, I realized that I was not alone, and that our struggles are interconnected.
Several CSW63 events were supported and co-sponsored by the MenEngage Alliance Network to allow youth exchange experience and knowledge among partner organizations and groups. For me, the “Accountability Dialogue” session was one of the most interesting topics covered and discussed. It provided concrete and practical ways to measure accountability through a training toolkit that was created by MenEngage Alliance. From a case-worker perspective, and from my experience working in a complex context such as Lebanon, I emphasized the urgent need for transforming accountability into tangible steps.
Another interesting reflection I made was during the “Youth Pre CSW-dialogue”. The event gathered youth from across the globe to discuss the sessions’ main theme on social protection, including public services and sustainable infrastructure means for young women, girls, non-binary and trans youth, and to develop a strategy to mainstream the common minimum standards. During the group work on “youth participation”, youth political participation was addressed through this central question: what are the underlying norms, structural barriers and practices that hold youth back from participating in policy making? All countries’ representatives agreed that youth are rarely encouraged to be active members political spaces. The main excuse we often hear is that youth are unexperienced in politics and constantly accused of getting themselves in trouble for demanding for their full rights. That made me ask this question: “What’s the use of politics if it doesn’t promote our rights and serve our communities?
The participants agreed that youth participation varies according to a country’s context. For example, some countries have what they call “youth parliaments” whereas in other countries, which I am part of; youth are being attacked for protesting for their rights. This led us to agree on the importance of civic education to strengthen youth political participation and meaningful engagement. There needs to be consistent awareness raising on the crucial voice of youth in changing, challenging, and reforming policies and political decisions.
Through these dynamic discussions and meetings, I had the opportunity to meet inspiring youth and make new friends. The time I spent with Cynthia Cordero and Kapila Rathnayake was remarkable and memorable. Cynthia, who comes from Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of youth in her country throughout the sessions. We exchanged stories within our scope of work, and how to support each other as young people committed to gender and social justice. Although we come from different continents, we shared common interests and values in promoting gender justice. I was also inspired by Kapila, who comes from Sri Lanka, and his community mobilization work on engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality. “Voice of Humans” is the name of his YouTube channel, you can subscribe for interesting videos!
The youth who attended the event were not all below 30, for youth is not restricted by age. It is defined by the driving energy and engagement to build a better world. It would have been more ideal if the participants represented communities that are considered the marginalized of the marginalized, and to expanding the recruitment and the selection process of youth to attend high-level meetings such as the CSW.
Finally, it was an opportunity to step back, discover, and reflect on new global approaches. I am really looking forward to seeing the impact of all this year’s efforts in ending violence against women and girls, especially that the coming year is the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Jessica Choucair works as a gender-based violence case worker in Lebanon. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and been working for ABAAD for four years, including on a number of projects, trainings, activities and events in the framework of engaging men and boys in gender equality and women’s rights.