Why is it so difficult for people to say the “f word”? No, not that one. This one: “feminist.” In our current society, not many people consider themselves to be a feminist because of the negative connotation that comes along with the title.
From March 8 to the 14, I had the opportunity to attend, along with junior Kiera Murphy, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York and learn what it really means to be a feminist.
CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Every year, global representatives gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.
It is through the organization Girls Learn International that young, aspiring feminists are given the opportunity to be a part of this internationally known event.
Girls Learn International (GLI) is an extracurricular club that is designed to educate its high school and middle school participants about human rights while focusing on girls around the world. This girls advocacy group has now been a part of VHS for two years and has grown rapidly. There are now 15 enthusiastic members who are eager to learn about real world problems such as poverty, child marriage, human trafficking, media literacy, and other topics.
The week Kiera and I spent featured a trip into New York City every day via bus. We left Verona no later than 7:30 and usually arrived home each evening around 10 p.m. Days were filled with speakers, panels, and activities conducted at various locations, including the U.N. A teacher-chaperone accompanied us each day. Each of us was given an assignment – Kiera as a blogger and reporter; I was a speaker, given such assignment as introducing speakers.
High school students were able to learn from experienced individuals as well as express their own feelings about topics that they thought were important. One of the most prominent topics that encompassed many other pressing issues was the importance of equal education for all.
“Education is the vaccine of the 21st century,” stated one of the Australian UN representatives. Achieving universal education for both genders is at the base of all other human equality goals. She made the point that many are deprived of their human rights because they are not educated enough to know that they have any. Sixty one percent of the world’s 175 million illiterate youth that do not attend school are females. Reasons why the number of girls in schools is so low include lack of transportation, school fees, lack of self confidence, and cultures that do not value women becoming educated. Somewhere in the world every two seconds a girl under 18 is forced to marry and every four seconds a girl under 18 becomes pregnant, preventing her from receiving a proper education and fulfilling her full potential.
Most people our age will listen to these statistics and assume that these things would never happen in a country like our own. Unfortunately this assumption would be incorrect. Here in the United States we are far from achieving gender equality. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a convention adopted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly. This international bill of rights for women has been ratified by 187 of the 194 U.N. member nations. The seven countries that have not ratified CEDAW include Somalia, Iran, South Sudan, Sudan, the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Palua, and the United States of America. What does being in this group of seven countries say about America and where our priorities lie?
After our experience and all we learned during our week as delegates through Girls Learn International at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, Kiera and I find it stranger than ever that anyone would view being a feminist as a bad thing. Why is it a bad thing for someone to advocate for equal basic rights for all?
“My week at CSW has been the best and most enlightening experience of my life. I really have a better understanding of global issues and am proud to call myself an active feminist,” said Kiera.