By Erin Butterfield

My classmate Nicole and I arrived in New Jersey at 4:00 in the afternoon on Saturday, February 19th. We were welcomed by my Uncle John and the most adorable kid ever — my little cousin John Michael. After catching up with the family and letting Nicole fall in love with JM and his clever antics, after a few riveting rounds of Uno and one delicious taco dinner, we headed out to Julie’s house.

Julie is one of the heads of Girls Learn International, the organization that I represented at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 55. Julie, her comic-loving fiancé Matt, and their indescribable beagle Simon, warmly greeted and welcomed us into their lives and home for what would be the next week. We chatted and played Lego Star Wars Wii long into the night, and then found soft comfort in our beds. I slept wonderfully, but not long enough, a recurring pattern for us that week.

On Sunday morning Matt drove the three of us to the train station. We arrived in New York City at Pace University, where we met another GLI staffwoman named Georgia, along with dozens of other women and girl delegates of the CSW. Aside from the registrar first thinking that Georgia was a minor, and then thinking that she was my mom, everything went smoothly.

The keynote speaker of Sunday’s event of Girls Stand Up was a previous president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. She was the first and only (so far) female president of Chile, and many other countries (including the US, which claims to be so progressive) haven’t had one yet. She talked primarily about the group that she’s starting called UN Women, which is all about raising awareness and taking action for gender equality.

Many of these women are seen as staunch feminists, which is often thought of as women who think of their own sex as superior to that of men, but actually they just want equality. They want to be neither better nor given more opportunities than men, and no matter what some people say there is no country in the world that has complete gender equality yet. Ranging from issues like access to education, to equal pay, to how gender is portrayed in the media, women and girls all over the world face discrimination. Ms. Bachelet, along with many others, believes that the UN’s goals haven’t covered women and girls enough as they should, and UN Women will finally do that.

At CSW55 we talked primarily about girls and women in relation to the STEM field; that is, science, technology, engineering and math. We discussed why girls and women aren’t as common in these fields as men, and what we can do to change that. The review theme was violence, so we talked about sex trafficking, child brides, and other forms of violence against girls and women that are seen worldwide. In both the review theme and the primary theme we talked about boys and men, and how they played into these themes. I was grateful to hear many women say that they knew men weren’t the only perpetrators of violence or discrimination, and that boys and men are also victims.

Through the next week I participated in writing the Girls Statement that was presented to the UN General Assembly. I made connections with girls and women alike, and heard many wonderful speakers. But through all of this I didn’t meet one single person that thought that women deserve any more rights than men, which is a common misconception about this type of “feminist” or “female-dominated” event. We just want gender equality, and if men and boys ever start to receive less opportunity or respect than women and girls, we will all start attending a Commission on the Status of Men. But for now it’s the women’s and girls’ rights that have yet to be fulfilled that we need to bring to everyone’s attention. The main thing that GLI does is to help provide an equal education for girls worldwide, which is the main human right that is violated based on gender. There are others as well, and if you are interested please enlighten yourself, or talk to anyone in GLI or involved in gender equality and human rights.

To leave you with today…Ms. Bachelet ended her speech by saying that girls and boys are “not just tomorrow’s leaders, but also today’s.” Go forth and make a difference!