Twenty-two students from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and from Brigham Young University (BYU), along with several faculty members, recently spent ten days attending the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women/Beijing+20 conference at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The conference focused on the progress that has been made in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action twenty years after its adoption at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Participants also looked at current challenges that affect the Platform’s implementation and the ability of women to achieve gender equality and empowerment worldwide.
The trip was led by Dr. Valerie Hudson, who holds the George H. W. Bush Chair at the Bush School. Hudson, along with BYU professors Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen, is a co-principal investigator on a major Department of Defense Minerva Initiative grant studying how the overall status of women affects political and economic organization and inter- and intra-state sociopolitical conflicts around the world.
“Our goal for this trip was to gather richer and more nuanced data for our Minerva Initiative project by interviewing high-ranking representatives from countries and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) as well as members of permanent UN missions. One goal was to collect data on countries and/or subjects with which we’ve struggled in our research,” said Hudson. “We also wanted to provide the students with a unique opportunity to take part in such an important international event, from which they could learn a great deal and which would enhance their future career opportunities in the world of policy.”
The data gathered at the conference will be included in the largest and most comprehensive database on the status of women (http://womanstats.org), which has generated both academic and policy interest worldwide. It is now housed at the Bush School, and Hudson says it has more statistical information than the World Bank or the United Nations. She and her colleagues at the WomanStats Project have published a number of reports linking the security of women to the security of states.
“I was urged to attend this event by prominent human rights lawyer Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff. She briefly explained to me some of the issues that women in Sierra Leone were facing since the outbreak of the Ebola virus, and she said schools have been shut down for a year,” said first-year Bush School student Rainie Spiva. “This piqued my interest in how the Ebola virus was affecting women and children in Sierra Leone; and by attending this event, I was able to gather more facts on the current situation there. I was also able to collect valuable data from experts to add to the WomanStats database.”
While at the conference, the Bush School students attended events and conference sessions; asked questions of the delegates; and, where possible, conducted database training. Their work helped expand the WomanStats project list of international contacts that are willing and able to answer questions that could help fill gaps in the data. They also participated in a panel at a side event sponsored by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), which focused on the role of women in the peacemaking process.
Bush School student Gretchen Koeritzer (Master of International Affairs, 2016) said that attending the conference was the highlight of her time at the Bush School.
“This meeting at the UN gave me first-hand experience of what it would be like to work for an international organization as I met with representatives from organizations and countries around the world,” Koeritzer said. “I also learned how important it is to have good data when advocating for gender equality and that the WomanStats project is key to that effort because it provides data that can demonstrate where significant work needs to be done to improve the status of women, and it allows improvements to be tracked.”
Hudson said that the students learned about internship and job opportunities at a variety of levels within the international community. First-year Bush School student Rachel Hoorwitz, who attended the conference, has since been offered a summer internship with the Peace and Security Section of UN Women, the UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
“Students were also able to work on their research skills as they attended meetings where useful data was gleaned,” Hudson said.