UN: Disillusionment, Anger and Protest at 54th CSW


These meetings will take place every day for the duration of the Session at the New York Salvation Army building, several blocks away from the UN because there is “no room at the Inn”, that is, the UN building, where in previous years we always met. Is there some dark conspiracy that facilitates the process of making us women feel so unwelcome, so redundant, and so belittled, asks Margaret Owen ?

Throughout the day, wherever and whenever one met women queuing, exhausted, harassed, and often livid with frustration – women who had spent vast sums of money from scarce resources just to get here – the anger, nay hot fury, was evident. It was scandalous that we women should be so treated by the UN, so badly served by them, so disregarded.

I wish I had her name and country, but this morning, a fiery trade unionist woman stood up and was cheered loudly by everyone when she listed our complaints. The interminable long waits, up to eight hours or more, queuing in icy streets simply to get our passes to have the right to enter the UN building. The appalling chaos of the arrangements made although the UN has had months to prepare itself for this 54th Session of the CSW. “It was unthinkable that men, for example, turning up to attend the G20 meetings would be subjected to such treatment.”

We were not content with the bland excuses passed on to us from the NGOCSW New York Committee, that the reconstruction of the UN building, the refurbishing work at the Church Centre, and the delayed opening of TNLB (Temporary North Lawn Building) were matters outside their control. That they had expected only 1,800 NGO women but 2,000 had turned up, and also that there was a shortage of badges. Women had travelled across the half the world arriving tired, hungry and cold and then were forced to waste hours and hours standing in long lines, thus missing the very meetings they had come to participate in either as panellists or speakers from the floor. We all agreed that we had been treated insultingly.

In the Church Centre, where some NGOs were considered fortunate to have managed to get room space for meetings, the lifts and rooms were so overcrowded that male bouncers were blocking women entering either of these. At one time I and a colleague evaded the burly policeman-like bouncer and stole up the emergency stairs. We could see more women milling as if in a refugee camp melee awaiting emergency ration dole outs being held back physically by a male controller. At that point we hid for a while in an empty loo, hoping we could slip in when the crowd abated but the women did not go away. We were all desperate to get into the meetings concerning the GEAR, the Gender Architecture Reform, but the room was too small for us. We demanded that a letter of protest was sent directly to the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CONGO) to forward to the Chair of the CSW, spelling out our complaints. For not only was it near impossible to get in and find a seat at the Church Centre, since the top 12th floor was under refurbishment, but entry to the government meetings in the UN were also being severely restricted.

Someone suggested that we move into the UN building and blockade the doors to the main Conference Chamber so that the delegates could not get in. Later when the UK NGOs met with their own Delegation, headed by Baroness Joyce Gould, the frustration and resentment expressed at the NGO Consultation was repeated. One after another people spoke of their disillusionment with the whole process. Hard for those women coming here for the first time with such expectations of how they were going to help improve the status of women, interact with governments and UN entities. Deeply distressing for those of us who have been coming here for years and seen the slow deterioration in the arrangements for civil society to work with government at the international level.

This whole experience reflects the low status that women are held in across the world, and it is paradoxical that this should be happening, of all places, at the UN and at a meeting which is held to address that issue.

03 March 2010

About the author:Margaret Owen is the founder and president of Widows for Peace through Democracy