A week after International Women’s Day, from March 9 to 14, six SUA students headed to New York to attend the United Nations’ 63rd Annual Commission on the Status of Women.
The full conference lasts two weeks, discussing both the needs of women worldwide as well as solutions to enable and empower their success. In doing this, the UN works toward its fifth goal for sustainable development: gender equality.
During their visit, juniors Kellie Hannan, Katie Koenig, Hannah Lesko, Saige Smith, and Kat Sweeney, along with sophomore KT Headley, had the opportunity to tour the UN, meet girls from other Ursuline schools, and sit in on conversations pertaining to women’s rights.
“The sessions we attended were incredibly powerful,” Kat recalls. “We got to speak with and hear from world leaders, such as the President of the Senate of Columbia--the first woman to ever hold her position--and the Minister of Education for Canada.”
As they sat in on various events, the students learned much about the situations faced by women daily in various parts of the world. Often, resources that are taken for granted in the United States are scarce in other regions.
Hannah provides one example of this: “We naturally know bathrooms to have a waste basket for used paper towels or feminine hygiene products. Millions of girls in places such as Zimbabwe don't have a waste bin available to them,” she explains. “What are they supposed to do at work? Carry around their trash until they locate a bin?”
These types of problems seem distant from the conditions of women in America, yet attendees of the commission learned that many issues exist within their own nation as well.
“What surprised me most about the trip is how similar each country is,” says Saige. “When people think of a place that has the most trouble, most will be quick to say Africa, but as the week went on I was quick to learn that each place has similar conflicts.”
The SUA students learned about issues through activities and demonstrations. In a virtual reality experience, Hannah experienced sex trafficking from a unique perspective. “I saw firsthand what it was like to easily be sold as a sex slave without realizing it. I had never visualized or experienced something so real. It was horrifying, and I momentarily forgot where I was.”
Hannah’s eyes, and those of her peers, were opened to the constant realities of women. “We can hear about the injustices others face, read articles based on their experiences, and even talk to victims themselves, but we will never really know what it is like to become a fatality in the face of corruption,” she observes.
Saige was similarly impacted and hopes to carry her new knowledge back to her community. “People are crying out for help, and pretending that you don’t see it is equally as damaging as the actions.”
During this trip, SUA students were empowered to take action. “There are easy solutions that we can implement in our own communities,” says Katie, “so we can be the voices that others unfortunately do not have.”
KT feels similarly, remembering the phrase “no one left behind” as an encouragement to spread the word about what she has learned. “I have started by telling my family and friends about my experience and hope to create a ripple effect of knowledge, but actions speak louder than words, and I hope to lead by example.”
This group of girls is already making plans to further spread the information they have taken away. “We hope to integrate a greater education on feminism and sexual assault throughout the school, and hopefully to students all over Cincinnati,” explains Hannah.
Kat expands on their plans: “We are reaching out to St. X and Moeller to teach seminars and classes on Human Rights and Women's Empowerment and their importance in society as a whole.”
Evidently, the impact of this trip expands beyond simply learning about women’s issues. As the girls develop ways to share their experience, they encourage others to consider participating in the future.
“If you are looking for a week of social justice amazing-ness,” says Kat, “this is for you.”