This year, Union of Education (Norway) had two political leaders as a part of Education International’s delegation to CSW62 in New York. We, Ann Mari Milo Lorentzen and Gro Hartveit, members of Union of Education (UEN)’s Executive Board, participated for the first time. We arrived on the 10th of March and returned home on the evening on the 16th. Milo is the leader of the UEN Equality and Discrimination Committee and Gro leads UEN’s Sami Committee. Our experience from the work in these Committees is important when it comes to discussing the priority theme for this year’s CSW: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.
We were told from the start that it would be confusing to be a first-time participant, and this was true. It was confusing, challenging and interesting. There are so many activities and side events going on at the same time that it is difficult to choose where to go, and also difficult to know which sessions could give the best outcome. Sometimes we both felt we were at the wrong place, and another event would have been better. Being part of EI’s delegation gave us the opportunity to meet sisters from other unions in different countries, which in itself was a great experience. And of course, seeing and meeting so many women from all over the world, knowing they are tackling the same questions as we are, and to some extent the same challenges, was overwhelming and moving. We must admit that we also found it special to have access to the UN building and be allowed entry every day for a week for work. We could have wished to spend more time together with the EI delegation, but a number of times, we had to prioritize arrangements where we could meet Norwegian delegates and politicians. This was important, both to hopefully present some of our views on the CSW62 draft Agreed Conclusions (the outcome document), and to make useful contacts for future cooperation at home. The action EI organized in solidarity with the US National School walkouts on the 14th of March was a powerful experience. Standing together, hand in hand in silence, thinking of the brave students out marching, was meaningful and special. UNIO, the Norwegian confederation of trade unions, had a strong representative, Liz Helgesen, present in New York. It can be difficult to get in touch with the right persons during CSW, but she helped us connect with people in the official Norwegian delegation. She also consulted us and asked for our views on the draft Agreed Conclusions during the negotiations, and we sent suggestions to the negotiators together. We benefited from her experience and the collaboration with her was both nice and of great value.
The official Norwegian delegation was led by the Minister of Children and Equality, Linda Hofstad Helleland, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, also participated. These are both women leaders, which is a good signal in itself, and they contributed and took part in several events. This shows that the CSW62 is prioritized and viewed as important by the Norwegian government.
We were, however, surprised that there were no representatives from trade unions in the official Norwegian delegation this year. The employers were represented, but not the employees. We also found it a bit strange that the negotiators were originally three men; due to illness, one of the men was replaced by a woman.
We learned that one cannot expect major changes in the outcome document. Even small steps forward take a lot of work. For UNIO and us, it felt like a big victory that the word childcare was changed to early childhood education, as part of the educational pathway. It might be wise for EI delegates to consider staying in New York during the whole session next year (i.e. the full two weeks of negotiations) to be able to get in touch with and influence the negotiators more directly.
The question, now that we’re back in Norway, is how to follow up? How can we, as an organization, and our members use the outcome document and benefit from our experiences? We want equality and discrimination issues to be more integrated in our work and policy as a whole, for all the groups we represent. The question is, how do we achieve this? UEN arranged a one-day seminar on the 12th of April where EI’s work with equality and discrimination, and UEN and UNIO’s work on those issues were discussed. This is a good start, but we have to do more.
Our experience is that both the collaboration within EI’s delegation and with UNIO was important for the work at CSW62. We believe that this collaboration is also useful for ongoing work even when the CSW is not in session. We share many of the same goals and should work more to take advantage of each other’s competences in our daily work on these important issues.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.