Scores of international leaders and government officials convened at the United Nations for the 67th Commission on the Status of Women (March 6-17), and six representatives from the Academy of the Holy Angels were there.
Caroline Dupas, Hannah Janiec, Aiko Chang, and Alexandra Valdez attended CSW67 with social studies teacher Jennifer Cucchisi and AHA Director of Mission and Ministry Joan Connelly. The Academy’s representatives were guests of Sister Beatriz Martinez-Garcia, SSND, director of the SSND UN-NGO Office.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame, AHA’s foundresses and sponsors, are an accredited non-governmental agency, and hold a UN seat.
CSW, which was established in 1946, is exclusively dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. CSW shapes global standards in these areas, and documents the lives of women around the world. The first CSW event was held in Lake Success, New York, in 1947. (Source: www.uncomen.org) Participants gain a greater understanding of current information about women’s rights on the international level. 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.
Connelly and Cucchisi accompanied the Angels to various workshops. AHA’s visitors heard about digital tools for enhancing women’s political participation, Kazakhstan’s efforts to accelerate gender equality, gender equality as a prerequisite for democracy, pathways to women’s economic empowerment, and a cybersafety presentation about fake news and staying safe while online. The commission also featured a discussion of harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.
“It was humbling to see the many committed, talented, and intelligent people there are around the world doing what they can to defend and protect the rights of the most vulnerable in the world,” Connelly shared. “It was motivating to learn more about topics such as the struggle to address issues of gender-based violence. It was also motivating to reflect on the connection between democracy and gender equality. Change can come from making our voices heard.”
Both chaperones pointed out that the Academy’s mission is linked to the work being done worldwide.
“Our students are called to be leaders who recognize the dignity of all persons and promote justice and peace and care for all of God’s creation,” Connelly said, quoting the Academy’s mission statement. “Participating in the UN CSW supports AHA’s mission because CSW supports a worldview that is based on human dignity. Attending these workshops gives the students an opportunity to examine the root causes of global injustice and work toward peace.”
Cucchisi, who has now attended three CSW events, said it was an honor to return to UN Headquarters. “It is an empowering feeling to be with so many like-minded feminists, women and men alike, who are all working toward gender equality,” Cucchisi said. “Attending sessions with diplomats and members of parliament from all over the world and seeing everything they have gone through, and are currently going through, to try to bring change in the area of gender equality is humbling, eye-opening, and inspiring.
“Many Holy Angels classes explore women’s rights and roles around the world. In my international studies class, we focus on the issues women face, and how change can, and urgently must, be made in achieving gender equality. Working toward equality and equity is necessary to rectify human rights violations, provide women with the tools that they need to get out of abusive situations, and empower them so they can succeed.”
Three of the four AHA students who attended CSW67 described surreal aspects of their experience.
Hannah Janiec (’23) was impressed to witness people from all over the globe gathering to support gender equality. She was also captivated to realize she was being drawn into their discussion.
“The most memorable part of this experience was being able to sit at a conference table with more than four government officials from Australia, the Philippines, and Uganda. It was surreal having them talk directly to me and constantly make eye contact as they discussed the important efforts to eradicate the harmful effects of fake news against women on social media,” the East Rutherford resident shared. “Being surrounded by hundreds of women made me feel very empowered and understood as a young female in this generation. It opened up my eyes to the many, many forms of gender-based violence and how these women, such as the Prime Minister of Uganda (Robinah Nabbanja), are striving to go against the patriarchy,” Janiec said. “Hearing the stories of women who lived in desolate areas gives me the courage to ignite change in my own community regardless of obstacles that I might face because there are no human rights if women's rights are not protected.”
Aiko Chang (’24) said she experienced admiration and awe in the presence of the strong, resilient female leaders at CSW67. This Valley Cottage, New York, resident said she feels reassured to see these individuals working on the ongoing challenge to achieve gender equality.
“Not only was the information being shared incredibly important, but the realization that I was actually present at these forums taking place at the UN also seemed a bit surreal,” Chang reflected, adding that she realizes that she and her peers could one day be the women leading the way on the path toward progress.
“Seeing how women are finding this strength reminded me of how it is possible and that I am fully capable of that as well,” Chang noted.
Caroline Dupas, a senior from Pearl River, New York, was impressed with the collective passion of the women who spoke at this event.
“I was inspired by the way each of them used the struggles they were presented with as an opportunity to uplift other women, yet I was also reminded of the progress remaining to be made,” Dupas stated. “My participation in this event allowed me to see myself as an active part of the process of bettering the lives of women I may not even know. In seeing the range of women and laws surrounding them, I realized there are creative ways even high schoolers can make an impact. We may not be able to create laws protecting women ourselves, but we have a part in forming the norms and expectations that create an environment that either eliminates or creates obstacles for women and allows protective laws to succeed and be implemented.”
Alexandra Valdez, a junior from Oakland, derived inspiration from the event, and an unexpected validation from a connection she made.
“I especially loved listening to a particular couple of women from different African countries because they were so filled with passion that it really inspired me to work toward the same goals in my everyday life,” Valdez said. “The way they clamored to input their thoughts at certain sessions and spoke with such hope and determination for improving women's status in the world reminded me why I want to work at the United Nations one day, advocating for many of the same things they are advocating for right now. Overall, attending these sessions inspired me to pursue my interest in international relations and international cultural studies.”
On her first day at CWS67, Valdez sat next to a Finnish woman. The two struck up a conversation, and the woman shared her business card from a Christian community in London, where she counsels students who are considering their paths in life. Valdez said the woman told her God has something special planned for her, even if she cannot see it now.
“This was a surreal moment for me because it had been something that I had been worrying about many days before and praying about every night,” Valdez said. “I almost started crying when she said that to me because it really felt like a sign from God that He had been listening to my prayers.”
Before the two parted ways, the Finnish woman prayed that God would help Valdez determine how she wanted to live her life.