"As societies build walls of separation between communities,
ICAAD works to remove each brick to illuminate our common humanity"

Human Rights Defenders Unite at CSW to Share Successes in Advocating for Women & Girls’ Rights

Erin Thomas, Advisor, ICAAD: In March at the UN, there’s a buzz in the air. Thousands of women’s rights defenders gather in New York City to raise their voices about the injustices women and girls face all over the world at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year, the 62nd session was centered on rural women and girls.

The two-week long conference was full of making connections and knowledge sharing. ICAAD kicked off the conference at an event run by Tonga, the Pacific Community, UNFAO, and Canada on tackling climate change through the empowerment of women and girls. Throughout the two weeks, highlights range from the small connections with fellow women human rights defenders to watching history being made.

The UN Ambassador of Palau, H.E. Ms. Olai Uludong closing out the panel on tackling climate change through empowering rural women and girls.

On Wednesday, ICAAD attended an event at SAP on Women’s Empowerment Principles in the private sector and engaged with other innovators on design thinking in social change. UN Women and SAP have partnered to create the #SheInnovates app which will connect women and girl innovators with mentors, training, and events to push the agenda on SDG 5 for gender equality.

Women’s rights and tech has been a common thread through CSW 62 events. At an NGO-led panel, case studies on tech used to build agency, capacity, and advocacy efforts highlighted femLINK Pacific’s initiatives to involve women in the media.

Erika Kvapilova from UN Women Georgia sharing their best practices to implement Women’s Empowerment Principles in Georgian businesses.

The ICAAD team also witnessed history being made with the work of CEDAW general recommendation 37 which addresses how women are disproportionately affected by climate events. Many of these vulnerabilities are not inevitable, but are allowed by political and social institutions failing to engage in gender-responsive disaster planning and implementation.

General recommendation 37 will function to hold governments accountable to not only include women and girls in disaster risk reduction but to ensure that outcomes address structural inequalities. Gender-responsive climate action was spearheaded by Fiji’s leadership at the last COP23, and other Pacific leaders have helped guide the international community in intersectional approaches to climate change response and risk reduction.

Gender-based violence was often the focus of conversation. Advocates and leaders from around the world shared best research, prevention, and response practices. The World Health Organization hosted a panel on violence against girls which is an area ICAAD has been working on in the Pacific since 2013. Several of our programs have focused on gender-based violence (GBV) in the Pacific including: the report on gender bias in judicial sentencing patterns, the joint CEDAW report for Fiji, and the assessment of GBV in Niue.

Indigenous activist at Dewan Adat Papua, Elvira Rumkabu, presenting on the genocide in West Papua and the role of indigenous women in demanding ecological and climate justice.

CSW also provided ample opportunities for ICAAD to connect with other human rights defenders. Fellow change-makers from Australia presented on an innovative campaign where men in leaderships roles in the companies and organizations agree to be a Male Champion of Change which holds them accountable to improving gender equality in their organizations. They now have 130 male allies in leadership positions working to listen to, recruit, hire, and promote more women in Australia. Many other organizations also emphasized the importance of partnering with and engaging the private sector in order to realize the goals of CSW 62.

It was inspiring to hear other organizations and leaders in the international community sharing both struggles and best practices in our common fight to reduce structural discrimination for women and girls. In a statement that resonated deeply with the ICAAD team, Noelene Nabulivou of Diva for Equality in Fiji said that in learning and understanding the injustice in the world, it’s important to balance the fury and the love. It is through this balance that we break down barriers.

Please see the final version of the Agreed Conclusions from CSW62.


This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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