Children North East’s Campaigner Katie McSherry has flown out to New York for this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters. It’s the principle global intergovernmental organisation exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Katie explains what it’s all about...

The Commission on what? Some more people in suits in meetings? 

Some wear suits, others wear native dress. There are trainers and heels. I am talking about 9,000 grassroots front line community groups, activists, academics, lawyers, officials and diplomats.

There are baronesses, there are men, there are teenagers - right up to people well into their 80s.

The air is tingling

Children North East

Image: Children North East's Katie McSherry with NASUWT National Junior President Michelle Codrington-Rodgers and Jennifer Moses, National Official (Equality and Training)

We come from all corners of the globe, conversing together in back to back events across New York, in all sorts of venues, from the elaborate UN Headquarters, to offices and basement rooms. There are hundreds of events. Literally hundreds.

Together we speak, share, debate and negotiate how to promote the rights of all women and girls, across the globe.  It’s a full-on festival of activity. The air is tingling, the streets are packed and my mind is… overloaded!

Poverty disproportionately impacts women and girls

I am here in New York attending the two week event, because I am passionate about the realisation of the equality of all people.

Poverty disproportionately impacts women and girls, in the UK and globally, and we know that we can’t address family poverty and social exclusion without thinking about how society regards and supports mothers.

Mother and baby

In the UK, we know that the costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately on the poor, women, children, people with disabilities, older people with pensions, and migrants.

This was emphasised by Philip Alston. UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, following his visit to the North East and elsewhere in England, read his report here.

Gender often overlooked

In my time working on human rights, children's rights, poverty and the protection of people seeking asylum over the past ten years, I see that people passionate about supporting others to flourish, often overlook gender.

When we don't consider who we are talking about, we easily overlook the important ways in which needs, pressures, social norms and expectation may shape the causes and solutions to the issues we see, and may undermine our attempts to address them. In other words, our interventions may not work.

It is my belief that gender is a key and inadequately understood aspect of anti-poverty work.

Aptly, the event was opened by Ireland’s U.N. ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, who presides over the Commission on the Status of Women, who said:

It’s estimated if we don’t act, it will take 217 years to reach parity between men and women in pay and employment opportunities.

In other words, we can’t talk about the importance of aspirations or work as a route out of poverty without thinking about the reality of the current barriers specific to women’s advancement.

We can’t address poverty, without looking at gender.

Social policy is key

washing on the line

When we think about lifting children and families out of poverty, and designing systems in which all people are not only protected but can flourish, social policy is key. Just as we have systems that currently see the poorest get poorer, we can redesign systems to create equality.

We know that there is a menu of options that together can, and have been demonstrated to, lift children and families out of poverty, and create a more equal society.

These levers include:

  • benefits that protect individuals, for instance support those unable to work or earning low incomes, (such as job seekers allowance, disability benefits, child benefits)
  • pensions for those who are no longer able to work
  • childcare and early education to enable parents to work, while also aiding children to develop in ways that have been proven to significantly overcome the disadvantage of poverty
  • availability of healthcare provision
  • investment into transport systems
  • access to the judicial system
  • domestic and sexual violence strategies
  • education policy
  • funding for civil society infrastructure - providing support for charities exist and do their work

Together, this is a list about social protection, public services and infrastructure. These crucial topics are the focus of this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York.

We'll be keeping you updated with all the news from this year’s Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York via Katie McSherry both here on the Children North East website and over on Twitter.

Read Katie's New York Diary