CSW62 Report Back | Day 8
CSW62 Report Back | Day 8
Inclusive Institutions for Advancing Women’s Access to Information
For those of us who work with people, data collection feels onerous. It is something we do to ensure we meet our obligation to our funders, to ensure that we continue to be funded, so that we can continue to do the valuable work that we do with the most marginalised in our communities.
We want our clients to succeed, to achieve their goals and to come to us when they need us.
Today’s session was presented by the United Nations Development Programme, the Carter Centre and the Wilson Centre and was about advancing and ensuring women’s access to information. Equally it spoke to how we can advance women’s ability to provide information to inform things like infrastructure and service design.
Access to information is a fundamental human right. Examples of such access could be access to information about domestic violence (services and legal rights), rights to safe and appropriate housing, health and culturally appropriate resources and services.
It is also important to ensure that women have access to be able to provide data about themselves, where appropriate, so Government and non-Government agencies have the evidence required to develop products and services to meet the needs of women, in particular those who are most marginalised.
The session itself provided details about the important work that the Carter Centre is doing in Liberia, Bangladesh, and Guatemala. 1700 women over the 3 countries were interviewed about their experiences in accessing information. For example, women were asked about the barriers they face in contributing to data collection. Many sighted fear, time and misogyny as key reasons why they are less likely to participate. For instance, in Bangladesh only 1% of vehicle registrations are in women’s names. Women are driving cars, but either they do not own the cars or they prefer for men to register for them because the institutions are staffed by men.
52% of the world population does not have access to internet and there are 200 million fewer women online than men. This number is increasing, not decreasing. This digital gender divide limits women’s access to education, health, employment, emergency information and increases their isolation and dependency on others. Until such a time that all women have access to, and competency in using, the internet to access and provide information, Government and non-Government must find other ways to deliver information to women. Some current innovations include using kiosks, helplines, and de-centralising information in marketplaces and libraries.
A take home for me will be to ensure I support our most vulnerable women to not only access information, but also support our clients to give them information at times like census data collection, and personal safety surveys, and support them to access and contribute to data in every day transactions.
Additionally, it emphasises how important our own data collection is with our clients. We are doing our clients an injustice if we are not registering their aboriginality, disability, ethnicity, accessibility and I will work to support our teams in Western NSW to understand how important the data they collect and provide through funding body databases is. It must be acknowledged, however, that for many traumatised women, services must take the time to develop the relationship and build trust before information can be exchanged. In a time when Government agencies are consistently asking services to do more with less, time provided to build relationships with our clients is decreasing. Trust takes time. Data collection takes time. It is a big challenge for those of us in the field. But we need the voices of those in regional, remote and rural to be heard, accounted for and responded to.
Late nights at the UN Headquarters during the Commission on the Status of Women is not unusual. The outcome of the second reading of the Agreed Conclusions was released to civil society over midnight on Sunday, working groups began on Monday and today, the third reading of the Informal Consultation commenced.
The #corridorlyf of civil society mirrors the hours of government delegates negotiating the Agreed Conclusions. Many members of civil society coordinate an informal roster to cover all hours to provide support to government delegates when language assistance is needed.
What does language mean in the context of CSW?
As the government delegates negotiating the Agreed Conclusions, the words used to construct each sentence and paragraphs become very contentious. Different countries around the world have different priorities and views on basic rights of women and girls.
As government delegates agree or disagree on each sentence or paragraph that outline the basic rights of women and girls, questions and disputes arise on the meaning of each word and sentences. It is the role of civil societies to provide government delegates with:
- Principles on why certain language around rights of women and girls should be pushed by the government delegates; and,
- Previously agreed languages in UN Resolutions that support the rights of women and girls.
Civil society can also propose new wording on the new language, if any, for the government.
Snapshot of #corridorlyf
In the corridors outside the negotiating room, members of civil society continue to work on their submissions, outlining their priorities, in order of – absolutely non-negotiable to negotiable. Often providing rationale behind why they are proposing certain promotion of rights of women and girls or highlighting the need for expansion of certain wording to be inclusive of diversity.
Most of the work cannot be pre-empted, as hiccups during negotiations for the Agreed Conclusions can happen on any topic or words. It is quite fast-paced and evidentiary-based.
What have I been doing?
My particular involvement has been on drafting language around ‘access to justice’, ‘families’, ‘SOGIESC’ (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sexual Characteristic), ‘healthcare services’ and ‘forced trafficking’ and providing submissions back to the Australian government delegates. This has been exciting and it is has been a great learning experience to be part of the drafting process of these submissions. To highlight the intersectional gaps in the pre-existing documents and wordingsto ensure that no women and girls are left behind is a great privilege.
The progressive nature of the Australian civil societies, especially NCOSS, has been very welcoming and supportive. Their willingness to teach, guide and involve the new delegates in the language work has been overwhelming and the freedom to express my thoughts and, even, have the opportunity to lead drafting processes in some of the languages have been awesome.
Facts and figures are great, but what holds true power is a story.
Bombarded with facts people are likely to (at best) fall asleep, or (at worst) get on the defensive, providing facts from alternate sources and refusing to change their mind.
But a well-told story has power. There are still going to be those people that jump on the defensive, and bombard you with argument and refuse to change their minds, but it’s much harder to argue with an experience. And everyone has experience. No matter how young or old, what your background, your gender, where you’re from, you have a story.
Whenever I’m asked to speak on panels I refer back to my story and my experience because I haven’t done gender studies, I don’t have a PhD, I didn’t do Indigenous studies and I haven’t done 20 years work in this sector. But I am an ‘expert’ because I’ve lived 23 years as a girl, then a woman. I’ve lived 23 years as an Aboriginal person, I’ve got stories to tell and experiences to share.
And everyone is an expert in their own experiences.
I’ve been to a few sessions on the power of storytelling and this morning I attended another. One woman shared her life story as a Pakistani woman growing up in London through a play that she had written. It was a one-woman show with her jumping around and engaging the crowd, and playing every character in her story. I was engaged, more so than I think I had been in a lot of other sessions.
But there were so few people in that room – perhaps I could put it down to the snowstorm. Maybe because so many people have gone home before the second week of CSW. But maybe it’s also because our stories aren’t valued, which is something that I have found in my life.
Too many times someone has brushed me off because ‘they’ve worked with youth their whole life’ and don’t need my story– no matter if it is from an actual youth perspective. Too many times I’ve been told to listen to the people with more experience, with a degree in Indigenous studies and to quietly accept that, although what they’re saying is not the experience I, and other Aboriginal people I know, have experienced.
There is a certain disconnect between facts and figures and the actual stories from the ground.
Policy makers often don’t know about – or ignore – these gaps. They’re not at story telling sessions, they don’t value stories.
They want hard and fast facts to take away and rattle off, not some long-winded story about a young Aboriginal woman whom those statistics are about.
I am not a faceless statistic, I am a story. It’s about time I was valued as a story and a storyteller, and not just as a set of numbers about me and people like me.
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