Earlier this month, I was part of the Salvation Army’s delegation to the United Nation’s 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61). The two-week-long event was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and was attended by more than 9,000 people from around the world. Participants from The Salvation Army consisted of officers and employees from India, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium (EU office), Kenya, the United States and Mexico. Although we all came from different situations, it was inspiring to be part of a group that holds so much passion, experience and knowledge working for and with women.
This year, the priority theme was “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.” This theme is central to the UN’s larger Agenda for Sustainable Development. Women’s equality and rights are included in the Sustainable Development Goals—goal five is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and goal eight is to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Along with the official events, parallel events organized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) took place nearby, enabling NGOs and participants to share more about broader gender-based issues.
The Salvation Army highlighted some of its programs that help create more stable economic opportunities for women. At one of the parallel sessions, the Army presented its “Others–Trade for Hope” initiative. Others helps women and their families in Moldova, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kenya. In Sri Lanka, a similar program, Women of Worth, has recently been launched. The core concept for both programs is to economically empower people, especially women. Each product that you buy from Others and Women of Worth helps create fairly compensated work for people who would otherwise have limited opportunities.
In addition to its economic empowerment initiatives, the Army highlighted its work in combatting human trafficking. The Salvation Army presented in partnership with the Anglican Alliance about how it has increased the capacity of local church congregations to raise awareness and respond to human trafficking in local contexts.
Other NGOs presented on a broad range of topics, including combatting gender-based violence, working with unions to advocate for factory workers, breaking down barriers preventing women from entering the labour force, and promoting women’s work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
One of the most astounding statistics I heard was that if women were able to participate in the labour market in the same way as men, an additional $38 trillion would be added to the economy by 2030.
Throughout the conference, I was encouraged by the dedication, passion and innovation of women, but at the last session, an older woman reminded me of a sobering truth—as inspiring as the conference is, there is still so much work to be done. She had been involved in the women’s equality movement for 40 years, and this was the 15th time she had participated in the conference. I was in awe, but she apologized to me, saying she wished she had been able to do more.
She’s right. There is still so much to do for women to achieve equality, here in Canada and around the world. Structural barriers to gender equality and gender-based discrimination persist in every country, in both private and public spheres. Realizing women’s economic empowerment requires structural and social change. This change is happening, but it is too slow. In October 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take 170 years to achieve economic parity between men and women. Change will only happen if we all—women and men—continue to challenge our world and empower women everywhere.
More information about the sessions attended by Salvation Army delegates at CSW61 can be found on the International Social Justice Commission’s website.
Jessica McKeachie is the public affairs director for the Canada and Bermuda Territory.