VSO Nepal team at the 58th Convention on the Status of Women in New York

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I’m in New York with a team of VSO employees and it partner organisation, Sankalpa, for the 58th Convention on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations (UN). This is when member states come together annually to discuss the status of women and girls, women’s rights and women’s empowerment globally. Following this event, an agreed document is produced that informs practice for the year to come.

This year’s priority theme is to review the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls that are due to expire in 2015.

While negotiations take place, side events in and around the UN complex occur. There’s been an abundant of topics to choose from including sexual and reproductive health rights, child marriage, women in politics, women’s participation, challenging social norms, violence against women. Panel debates followed by question time provide an interactive and interesting platform for discussing topical issues and women’s human rights.

Two third of people living in extreme poverty are women, yet they have the least say in what is done to tackle this. Not only is this unjust, but it is a major barrier to tackling extreme poverty. So, we’re using CSW as a platform for raising awareness of VSO’s ‘Women in Power’ Campaign. Chanda Devi Shrestha Rai, Executive Director of VSO’s partner organisation Sankalpa will be speaking at a Kenyan Government side event on Tuesday on increasing women’s meaningful participation in politics. I’ll also be speaking at a UN Volunteer’s event on my experience of volunteering, and work with grassroots women’s organisations in Nepal.

We want the UN to set ambitious new targets for women and decision making. This position is firmly supported by, the UK government with UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announcing at a side event that they are firmly behind a gender goal in the Post-2015 framework.

I’ve enjoyed meeting many different people from different countries united in the fight for women’s rights globally. It is a reminder of the sad fact that no country has reached gender equality and therefore the need to step up progress in 2015. It has been refreshing to see ‘social norms’ being discussed so widely instead of just laws and quotas. Justine Greening tweeted last week about needing to ‘tackle harmful social norms which stop girls from reaching their full potential’.

In living and working in Nepal, I have seen how social norms underpin issues of gender inequality from violence against women and girls to reducing women’s meaningful participation. Through solidarity gained from women’s organisations, women have been encouraged and empowered to challenge the norms that exist within a patriarchal society. For example, they’ve been able to campaign for equal opportunities for sons and daughters, reducing child marriage rates, and demanding women’s reproductive health rights and choices.

Change is possible. I hope that our contribution to CSW will encourage the UN to set ambitious new targets for the post-2015 agenda so that women do have active role in tackling poverty.

Want to know more? Watch a video of Cath’s experiences in Nepal or sign up to VSO’s Women in Power Campaign

Position: VSO Volunteer/Public Health Nurse

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