Diary of a Youth Delegate by Rachel Morrison

Diary of a Youth Delegate

A Journal of a Young Professional at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

By Rachel Morrison | June 6, 2024

In March 2024, Rachel Morrison attended the UN Women’s 68th Commission on the Status of Women as a delegate with the Ontario Council for International Cooperation. As a young professional, Rachel has over two years of experience in the international cooperation sector, and over eight years of project management experience – yet her trip to the United Nations was totally new. Rachel recorded her in-the-moment thoughts at the end of each day of the week-long trip; not only as a personal record but also bringing an intention to pull back the curtain for other youth or development workers with curiosity about the experiences folks have at these conferences, looking to learn more about the UN and their ways of engaging civil society.

— Diary of a Youth Delegate: Day 1 —

The OCIC delegation at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, to attend WAGE’s official welcome reception for Canadian delegations.

March 12, 2024 – Our delegation arrived in New York yesterday to a long day of orienting ourselves for the week ahead. A mini highlight was taking a tour of the UN buildings (already a bit of a pinch-me moment), and seeing their amazing photo exhibitions and displays.

Attending Senator Marilou McPhedran’s ‘orientation to CSW’ event was an opportunity to hear from so many other Canadian delegates about the key questions they’re keeping in mind this week, which truly showed me how many different dimensions are being tackled by folks across Canada in the movement towards gender empowerment.

My question: How can we involve ALL voices in conversations relating to gender equality – including the voices of survivors, of youth, and of all genders, importantly the voices of men?

To finish the evening, we joined Women and Gender Equality Canada’s official reception for Canadian delegations. I was truly heartened and inspired by Minister Ien’s drive to see some real change, including meaningful youth engagement in informing the directions we wish the gender movement to take. I’m noticing a real drive to amplify the voices of youth, the future leaders, such that today’s decision makers are able to create a world which works for all of us. The day left me optimistic for seeing what kind of true change we can create when we collaborate intergenerationally, respecting the unique contributions of everyone – certainly at CSW, but also beyond.

— Diary of a Youth Delegate: Day 2 —

Rachel’s first sighting of the United Nations grounds in Manhattan.

March 13, 2024 – CSW day 2 was totally full of feelings! I’ve structured my schedule around events that align with my personal areas of interest, which means that each event truly carries so much emotion for me.

I feel honoured to have attended the first ever CSW event discussing economic abuse, which is SUCH an important topic given that 19 out of 20 survivors of domestic abuse will have experienced some form of financial abuse. Thank you to the Canadian Center For Women’s Empowerment for bringing this topic to the public eye.

It’s heartening to have seen some true champions of equality working to disrupt toxic masculinity, open doors for EVERYONE, and ensure safe and equitable access to vital healthcare. Quotes that certainly won’t be leaving me from yesterday’s parallel events;

  • Azad Foundation, in response to a question worrying about the scarcity of men’s power when empowering women, “Equality doesn’t hurt anybody”.
  • Ipas, on the huge risks of unsafe abortions, “If men were dying from maternal mortality, it would have been prevented”.
  • Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice on the opportunities that gender equality awards men, “To love, to express emotion, to be vulnerable, to be home with our kids, to care and see care as a right”

— Diary of a Youth Delegate: Day 3 —

Rachel and fellow delegates Keziah Oduro, Yusra Ahmed, Sarah Johnson and Laura Lortie-Maurel before the day’s events.

March 14, 2024 – I had the privilege of attending many events on very sensitive topics yesterday. Topics of period poverty, the economic stability of sex workers, and sexual and reproductive health services. My main takeaway? Low attendance speaks volumes.

At CSW68, we are working hard to bring light to all aspects of gender equality – even, and especially, the aspects that are uncomfortable to talk about. So it has certainly surprised me to see a lack of interest in some of the most complex discussions relating to gender-based discrimination and risk of violence.

It was an honour to learn from Monica Lennon, the Member of Scottish Parliament who advocated for the introduction of free and readily accessible menstrual products across Scotland. Amusingly, one of the main pushbacks they experienced with this campaign, before the legislation was passed, was “If you share menstrual products for free in public places, somebody might steal them”…

It’s also been truly enlightening to witness community strength and solidarity when it comes to living through stigmatization. I was privileged enough to learn from two panels filled with women with lived experience of implementing SRHR services, and lived experience of sex work, within communities where neither is socially acceptable. The resounding outcome is that an individual’s choice and morality often has nothing to do with the current law. As was so eloquently put by a manager at the Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues network on HIV & AIDS, “If you don’t get some backlash to your movement, are you doing the right thing?”.

— Diary of a Youth Delegate: Day 4 —

A photograph of the panel at the side event, ‘Palestinian Women's Rights and Civil Protection’, one of the events which resonated with Rachel the most.

March 15, 2024 – In a series of UN side events throughout what felt like a super long day, I returned to my hotel with a powerful feeling of love for some incredibly brave storytellers yesterday. I witnessed brave Palestinian women and allies call for an end to all wars, in the knowledge that a ceasefire now would just mean delaying the massacre to another future date. I also witnessed brave South African women reflecting on the extreme racism of apartheid, and asking how we could claim we have learned from this experience when conflict and ostracisation remains prevalent in so many countries to this day, disproportionately experienced by marginalized genders. Calls for not just a ceasefire, but the eradication of all wars, were held across the UN.

A comment from the Palestinian discussion which received applause from the entire room, “Future generations will judge us on what we’re seeing today. In fact, current generations are judging us”.

It was a huge shame that so many allies were not able to access that Palestinian women’s rights event, much like so many of us struggled to get into the Indigenous women’s event held by the Government of Canada earlier in the week, because both were assigned spaces with tiny capacities compared to the extent of the engagement, interest and support among CSW attendees for these issues.

I was reminded that I am a part of a strong sisterhood that will not sleep until we are all safe and free. Another powerful and emotional day which I am unlikely to ever forget.

— Diary of a Youth Delegate: Day 5 —

Rachel speaking as the Youth Discussant at OCIC’s joint side event, “Achieving women’s economic empowerment: Innovative models to addressing unpaid care work”.

March 16, 2024 – Yesterday was my final day at CSW68, and it certainly ended on a very high note! I had the opportunity to act as the panel discussant at OCIC, World Renew and ACT Alliance’s side event on unpaid care work, in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the UN and the Government of Canada!

As I began my journey back to Toronto, I reflected on some of my key takeaways from my time at the United Nations…

Throughout events, I heard repeated references to women being ‘strong’ and ‘resilient’. But, we shouldn’t have to be. Some of the most powerful moments I experienced were when women shared their true emotions in rooms filled with acceptance and support, to say “I’m not okay. And what is anyone doing about that?”. Of course, women have a history of persevering through adversity, but I look forward to a day where it’s just as possible to survive as a woman without needing to be strong.

There is still so much to be done. Speakers did a great job of commending male allies and welcoming their presence, but realistically I think about 5% of the attendees I saw at the CSW were men… perhaps less. Given the gender spread of decision-makers, from governments to boards to family structures, I am very disappointed that at the 68th session of the CSW, the most powerful gender identity remains largely disinterested in these conversations.

Lastly, I remain a strong advocate that joy, wealth, empowerment and social mobility are not finite resources. I noticed several comments framed from a scarcity mindset that there is only so much empowerment to be had in the world; i.e., ‘if we give respect and support to marginalized genders, we must take them away from men’. I see a world where people of all genders can thrive, be seen as valuable, and enjoy opportunities for growth. Genders should not be held in competition with one another, rather, respected and supportively uplifted, since everybody including men can benefit from the eradication of gendered expectations.

Let’s hope that through mutual collaboration, support and partnership, we can get back on track in our fight towards SDG5, and look forward to a future free from gender-based discrimination.

Rachel Morrison (she/her) is currently Project Manager at the international humanitarian development charity, Good Neighbours Canada. Good Neighbours works to empower people to transform communities, following the idea of ‘give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime’. Rachel has a passion for dismantling systems perpetuating inequality to carve pathways to true equity, and firmly believes that mental health care is a basic need. Rachel’s prior experience includes supporting survivors of gender-based violence as an independent practitioner, designing and facilitating trauma-informed group support programs and delivering suicide interventions. With a Master’s degree in Human Rights and as a Board member of the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario, Rachel continues to contribute towards the fifth-wave feminist movement.