The Executive Director (ED) of Sista, Yasmine Bjornum, was awarded a scholarship from UN Women Fiji Multi Country office to attend the Commission on the Status of Women 68 in New York from March 11 – 22. The key objective for this scholarship is to promote the voices of gender equality advocates at the CSW 68.

The priority theme of the CSW 68 session was Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective. There will also be a review of agreed conclusions of the sixty third session, on Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The ED participated in a panel discussion with our key partners from the We Rise Coalition called ‘Pacific Feminist Perspectives – Sharing Poverty Eradication Strategies’. The session focused on the lessons learned from poverty alleviation and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective. We spoke about our work on poverty alleviation through feminist movement building, advocacy, rural women’s networks, and resourcing women and girls with opportunities linked to education, and gender budgeting.

The ED highlighted that Vanuatu uses the word ‘hardship’ rather than poverty and said that to eradicate hardship in Vanuatu, we need to first see a stable government and build the capacity of women to understand what it means to be part of democratic process and and to feel confident and capable of holding our representatives accountable to why we voted them in for the first place.

Please see key excerpt from speech below:
• How can a country prosper if we are constantly facing political instability? We may have graduated from the world’s least developed countries in 2020 but 16% of our population lives below the national poverty line.
• We cannot provide service delivery such as water supply, health, education, and roads if we keep having changing governments. Priorities in services change with every new minister and the turnover of personnel is so high in government, it requires continuity of capacity development to continue to deliver services.
• For the first time ever, I can see my people suffering in a way I have never seen before.
• Communities have always taken care of all their members, sharing food and goods between each other. But this traditional system is now being strained by modernization, especially the growing need for cash, the shift away from subsistence farming, a growing population, and movement of people to towns.
• Economic growth appears to be the only realistic means to lift us out of this, but the capacity of people to participate in economic growth must be enhanced if we are to share in its benefits.
• So at Sista, we are striving to ensure women and girls have access to information and are empowered to use this information to understand not only their rights, but also know what to expect from the government.

The ED attended a few key events including:
• SIDS and Gender Equality – Charting the Course towards prosperity for all using a gender lens
• Disrupting Mainstream Economics: Feminist Experts on Poverty and Economic Justice
• “Resourcing Rights – Sustaining Feminist Activism in A&P” – CSW parallel event
• Localisation of WPS in Cameroon, Congo, PNG and Yemen
• Pacific Perspectives on the Sendai Gender Action Plan: Integrating Inclusive Peacebuilding Approaches into Disaster Management
• Collective action to drive Gender Equality in Pacific Markets
• Hidden Hours, Feminist Solutions To water, energy and period poverty
• The Fifth Wave of Feminism: Radically Inclusive and Intersectional
• Innovating Poverty Measurement for Inclusion: Leading from the Pacific
• The Role of Women in Shaping Justice Systems: A Conversation on the Forthcoming CEDAW General Recommendation No.40

The ED also had several other meetings including a We Rise Coalition meeting with UN Asia Pacific Director Alia El-Yassir and individually with Dennis Mello from Friends of Vanuatu (Peace Corps) and Victoria Khala for the We Rise 3 Evaluation. She was also supposed to meet William Sanlan at the Vanuatu UN Mission but he was not in-country, so met with Malcolm Dalesa, climate attache at the mission.

Check out all the photos from #CSW68: