APA NGO Observer Dr. Kathy M. McCloskey attends the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2010

WPO had the opportunity to chat with Dr. McCloskey about her experiences during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

One morning in New York City, I was standing in line at Starbucks, right around the corner from my hotel.  I struck up a conversation with the woman in front of me, and shared with her that I was in town to observe the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, she asked, “They need a commission for that?”

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.  It is the principal global policy-making body.  The CSW is composed of 45 Member States that meet once a year at UN Headquarters for ten working days to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.  The active participation of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) is a critical element in the work of the CSW by helping to hold international and national leaders accountable for the commitments they made to improve women’s lives.  APA is an NGO with consultative status with the ECOSOC.  APA has a group of appointed representatives who work with the UN NGO community to contribute to the development of implementation of psychologically informed global policies that respect human rights and promote human welfare.  In addition to APA’s roster of appointed representatives, APA members can apply for a pass to observe specific commission meetings (i.e., sustainable development, population, science, social development).  I requested and was granted a pass to observe the March 2010 CSW.  From the outset, I was hopeful being there and having the privilege of seeing all the women working globally to change the lives of women and girls.

Evidence of such change was present in many of the sessions I observed.  In the Inter-Parlimentary Union plenary, “The Role of Parliaments Enforcing Legislation on the Violence Against Women,” speakers provided a brief update on the number of countries that now have laws on the books curbing violence against women, a 350% increase since 1995.  Representatives from Mexico and Spain reported the following: 

  • police officers, lawyers, magistrates, and other members of the court system have to be trained in what violence against women actually is 

  • without such training, unintended consequences of recently enacted laws hurt the women and children they’re supposed to protect 

  • without the resources to support full implementation, the complete benefits of legislating protections for victimized women still remain to be seen

A representative from the European Union (EU) reported efforts to develop and adopt unified laws within the EU at the federal level and strongly urged the CSW to educate and partner with nonviolent men who are strategically placed.  “Until we tell other men this is not acceptable, nothing will really change.  It’s our problem, not [women’s],” he said.  At the “Women, Faith, and Development Alliance: Religions for Peace and Justice” session, Mary Robinson, past President of Ireland and past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace and White House Advisor, presented their evaluation report which placed women’s rights at the center of faith-based social justice movements worldwide and together pulled success stories of religious and faith leaders now working to overcome economic, reproductive, sexual, physical, healthcare, and religious discrimination worldwide.

APA’s main representative to the ECOSOC, Dr. Deanna Chitayat, chaired the “Women’s Health and Mental Health in Times of Crisis: War, Natural Disasters, and Epidemics” session.  A report on the mental health effects resulting from the Sri Lankan tsunami in 2004 showed that women were more at risk than men for disruption and lack of resources immediately post-tsunami.  In the disaster’s aftermath, widows, teens, pregnant women/girls, single mothers, and others were isolated, trafficked, parentless, raped, and tortured.

A woman from Sierra Leone reported on the female population being disproportionately affected by years and years of war.  More civilian women have died in the war than have soldiers.  Women survivors immigrating to the U.S., Canada, and the EU are largely survivors of physical, sexual, and emotional torture during wartime still dealing with the aftermath of extreme trauma due to genocidal actions such as “Kill the Women” and “Operation Find Girl” campaigns.  Because of environmental barriers in immigration countries such as language, stigma, shame, fear, isolation, survival pressures (food & shelter), and general lack of safety within the immigrant country, the best approach is community-based services with language speaking providers.  The panel clearly shows the unique perspective APA brings to the CSW and other UN meetings.

“Needless to say, all in all, I found this experience was electrifying.  Being a part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women as an APA observer was the privilege of a lifetime -- I learned just how valuable our professional advocacy can be in bringing justice to women here at home and across the world.  The tools are clearly there and we know what needs to be done.  We simply need the professional and political will to implement change [because] the change is real, and a quiet revolution is occurring all over the world.”

Kathy M. McCloskey, PhD, PsyD, ABPP is a member of the APA Committee on Women in Psychology and an Associate Professor at the University of Hartford Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology in Hartford, Connecticut.