Lauren Harrigan: A CSW Primer

Telling people “Oh, I’m heading over to New York to attend the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. It’s the UN’s only intergovernmental organisation for the advancement of women’s rights” is usually met momentarily with a blank expression, followed closely by a genuinely interested “cool! So what does that actually mean?”

Friends and whanau always want to know more, and I’m so happy to oblige—I love sending articles and viewpoints to friends so we can talk about them. What’s especially awesome is when I’m learning about it too.

This process of hearing about CSW, applying to the Institute to attend, and hearing I had secured a spot took a little over four days to come to fruition (thank you AYLI alum and great friend, Sedef). I scoured previous years’ CSW reports for my application, feeling tiny in relation to the bureaucracy machine that is the UN. Honestly, even after an International Relations degree the jargon and processes of its organs still overwhelm me.

Now, I’m sitting in our AirBnb on 44th Street East, at the end of the first day of two weeks of walking to the UN every morning to attend sessions, broaden my worldview and bring what I’ve learnt back to Aotearoa. I’m not yet 100% sure how I’ll convert what I’ve learnt into tangible change, because the first day was pretty manic. But I want, above all for the whole process to be accessible to whoever wants to learn through me.

Getting to go to the headquarters in the first place is a privileged position that few people get to directly interact with. This was made especially clear to me when I arrived to hear that many rural women in African delegations had had their visas denied by American embassies in their respective countries. I need to use what I learn the best I can, and spread all of this information to interested people to tell their friends, who will then tell their friends, and so on. This CSW process needs to be accessible to anyone. It’s why I made my email newsletter for while I’m away (I would love for you to sign up).

Working in a marketing agency has taught me that it’s always best to keep it easy, interesting, and original. High level academic discourse won’t make people actually do something about systematic gender inequalities happening around them. To get to the stage where you’d actually advocate to our government to make necessary legislative changes to make women’s lives better, you have to be passionate about it, right?

In the spirit of sharing info around, and as a starting point if you’re unacquainted with CSW, here’s a primer on how the session is going to go down. So glad you’re reading along with us!


The priority theme for the Commission on the Status of Women 62 is challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. The last time rural woman was a priority theme, at CSW56, the outcome document (more on that below) didn’t happen because the negotiation process couldn’t reach an agreed conclusion. So it’s even more important this time around.

The review theme is participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women. Working at Double Denim, New Zealand’s only female-driven strategic communications agency, this is especially interesting to me. 


The Bureau of CSW is elected immediately after the previous CSW winds up. Members serve for two years, and come from a variety of different diplomatic, political and national backgrounds. They’re in charge of such discussions as settling on the priority and review themes, and facilitating the preparation meetings for CSW62. This is the first CSW the Bureau has a female chair - Ms. Geraldine Byrne-Nason of Ireland.

In the weeks leading up to the session, the FSN Forum, Multi-Stakeholder Meetings, and Expert Group Meetings are held. These bring together UN-affiliated experts, academics and gender equality thought leaders to discuss the issues facing women, with a special focus on the priority and review themes. This gives CSW a good base of knowledge to operate from. One of the reports from the FSN Forum is a super-interesting read about gender-transformative impacts for rural women, compiled from a megathread online discussion. It intersects subjects such as climate change, women’s agency, the feminisation of agriculture and unpaid work - you can read it here!


While the higher-ups negotiate in closed-off rooms, the delegates from each attending nation attend panels throughout the UN buildings and off-site. These parallel and side events are organised by respective governments and NGOs. Each panel is open to anyone attending CSW62, and cover such a plethora of themes I can only link it here and encourage you to have a browse. Here’s a link to a live stream of Iceland’s side event on Digital Gender Violence and Hate Speech; The role of men, the legislator and implications for democracy that I watched today.


The previously mentioned higher-ups work for the duration of CSW62 to compile an outcome document: the solutions for governments to implement going forward.

This is often a hard discussion, with representatives having to grapple with other nations’ interests in relation to their own. Often, concerns brought before the negotiations will be voted down, disagreed on and otherwise rejected by other nations. This is, of course to be expected within the democratic and diplomatic dance between the respective cultures and objectives of the participating nations. While often disheartening, and slow progress, this process is obviously still of utmost importance to the ongoing function of UN Women and CSW.

For me, as a wee delegate without any access to this negotiation process, the most important thing is to listen and learn to these thousands of women’s lived experiences. How often am I going to get to be in the company of 10,000 women from every thread of humanity? It’s a magic thing to be in the middle of. 

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All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.