As someone who considers herself a pretty global citizen nothing has prepared me for the mindblowing experience of being an official delegate at the UN Commission for the Status of Women, thanks to that amazing organisation punching well above it’s weight the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform  (NIWEP).

This year, with it being 25 years since the Bejing declaration and platform for action, it’s particularly special. There is serious focus on members of the UN to show how they have progressed with women’s rights.

Governments are obliged to report on their progress and nongovernmental organisations with official status can hold those statements to account. Not many people are aware that there is an official UN article UN1325 which was put in place simply because it was recognised in Northern Ireland that women’s participation in the Peace process made an impact.

In particular through the Women’s Coalition. The article has its 20th anniversary this year and has been used in many UN peace negotiations to help leverage space for women.
This year because of the pandemic all activity is online. Indeed, the global operation is a lesson in logistics, as ministers and diplomats from around the work report in.

Kamala Harris the new Vice-President of the US made a rousing speech about democracy itself before sharing a more gender specific viewpoint.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon of the SDLP was on a side panel on Women and infrastructure and gave interesting insight into the press obsession with her dress when she met the Queen. In Dublin when she turned up for a meeting about infrastructure, they asked when was the Minister arriving. 

There are side events and an amazing NGO platform of over 24,0000 people from around the globe where you can connect to interactive sessions with titles like, Empowering the Divine Feminine within Art, Theatre and Activism, and Empowering Armenian Women and Girls from Domestic Violence.

There is much talk of a shadow pandemic of Covid where women are experiencing more hardship in term of job loses, more caring responsibilities due to school closures and single parents being worst hit.

Globally there has been an increase in domestic violence as humans try to deal with living in close quarters for long periods. If women have experienced more hardships, then surely this should be reflected in the recovery plans? 

On an upbeat note, I participated in a discussion about artists during the pandemic and asked had any other country received direct financial support for artists. No other country participating had a scheme similar to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's emergency support scheme, or the support of the Freeland Foundation which has been supporting artists with grants.

Although the American artist Jet Black spoke of spending his stimulus cheque given by the US government "on some filming equipment and a couple of shirts”. He referred to a new art form blossoming in New York: online drag. From India, Joycia Thorat spoke of how, with more time on their hands, people have returned to artistic pursuits while indoors. In one instance, a dancer who had hung up her dancing shoes, dusted them off and would video herself dancing in the house and share on WhatsApp to “raise the spirits of everyone”. 

WHOLE WORLD IN THEIR HANDS: Local women leaders taking part in United Nations conference

WHOLE WORLD IN THEIR HANDS: Local women leaders taking part in United Nations conference

Ireland has a seat at the UN and a unique opportunity with its experience of the North of Ireland along with the British government to lobby for effective  use of the Article 1325, in places like Afghanistan.

I watched the briefing on International Support for Afghan Women’s Rights and heard that while 21 women have taken up new positions of power within the country, 20 women have been shot dead in recent times; judges, daughters and activists. Afghanistan is 157 out of 162 in the UN Global Gender Index.

The British government has designed and started implementing a gender specific framework within the country but it would be nice to see Ireland using its influence to push for a more effective use of UN article 1325. Both countries have unique knowledge of the peace process and many of the women who inspired the article are still around.

The NGO platform is amazing and never have I felt such a strong connection to the rest of the world, with one hopeful  click away you can be inspired by all kinds of humans working towards making the world a better place. 

In the area of ethical social enterprise, there were amazing organisations helping women including A thread of Hope, AMZAT ethical sneakers, Lamaro Studio which works with exprisoners, Global Mamas and many more with much less funding than is available here. Who could resist buying something from Radical Grandma’s collective weavers of Resistance fighting mining on their doorstep?

I have one more week of the UN commission of the status of women and already feel  a changed person by the experience. This week the UK and Ireland will give their status reports and The Training for Women network which has been working alongside Intercomm in Belfast deliver a panel on living in a post conflict society.

Imagining a Transformed Belfast

Back home, the Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics has started. If you're curious about what happens to all those raggedy flags hanging around the city, John Baucher from East Belfast has found away to turn them into art. He will give a live talk on Saturday 27 at 7pm. You can book direct on the Imagine Belfast website. 

In other good news, Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival has found a way for us jazz fans to stay connected and this year their music offering will be online. For a tenner, you can get access to all the sessions to watch any time you like. Recordings have been made in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Dublin, Maghera and good old Belfast.