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Six women standing around a table

Pictured, from left to right, are PhD candidate Otila Osborne, Dr Shirley Gillett and PhD candidate Ioanna Katiforis, all of Graduate Women Otago, with Mira Karunanidhi of Graduate Women Wellington, then Otago undergraduate student Phoebe Rose Osborne and Gretta Mills of Graduate Women Manawatū. The women were attending the 68th Commission on the Status of Women in Manhattan, New York.

Five years ago, Graduate Women Otago member Dr Shirley Gillett attended her first Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference in Manhattan, New York.

She says it was “one of the best thing I’ve ever been to in my life” and that a highlight for her was a women’s march organised through Times Square.

“We all had to chant ‘women’s rights are human rights’. It was really a knockout, it was like going back to the ’70s.”

She says this event neatly sums up the purpose of the conference; championing women’s rights, and that is what has kept her diarying that trip in her calendar another four times since then, most recently, in 2024.

Shirley holds the role of Education Vice President on the Graduate Women International Board for 2023 – 2025. She is Immediate Past President of Graduate Women Otago and is the International Link for Graduate Women New Zealand.

Her attendance at the conference this year differed slightly from how she had enjoyed it in the past as she was attending in her role as Vice President to meet up with two other Graduate Women International board members.

She has a PhD in education, saying “education is my life blood” and she found value this CSW in a UNICEF event.

“It was about government policies regarding teaching needs for classes, and education generally in Africa and different parts of the world. I’m very interested in getting connected with UNICEF, I like what they do.”

Shirley has kept members of Graduate Women Otago up to date with her trips and what goes on at the conferences, and interest around the event has grown, so much so that earlier this year, two more members attended with her- PhD candidates Ioanna Katiforis and Otila Osborne, along with Otila’s undergraduate daughter, Phoebe Rose Osborne.

Ioanna says her research is around food insecurity and the theme of this year’s 68th conference was addressing poverty, which is an underlying determinant of food insecurity. There were many events taking place including presentations from national government delegations, NGO representatives, advocates and experts in areas such as gender and social studies, economics, and human rights, from around the world, she says.

Five women standing in front of flags of the world

From left to right, Phoebe Rose Osborne, Otila Osborne, Gretta Mills, Mira Karunanidhi and Ioanna Katiforis in front of flags of the world at the United Nations headquarters, where the conference was held.

“I thought it would be a valuable opportunity for me to attend to get a broader perspective of food insecurity and hear from people working in related areas from the grassroots level to intergovernmental agencies.”

It would be quite hard to gain access to such a range of experts otherwise, she says.

The event helped Ioanna better understand why women experience higher rates of poverty than men, the need to include a gender perspective to addressing poverty, and why feminism and achieving gender equality is important.

It “enriched” her understanding of some of the disadvantages faced by women.

She recalls some of the women she interviewed during her research had less time for themselves because they were busy caring for children which prompted a lot of questions for her around social norms, the value placed on care and domestic work, and maternity leave.

Phoebe Rose is in the final year of her Bachelor of Music and has an interest in political science and diplomacy. She attended hoping to gain a good insight into what other countries were doing to solve societal issues, possibly at a better level than Aotearoa New Zealand, and wonders if they could be applied here.

In particular, she enjoyed hearing how other countries handled parental leave.

“Many studies have shown children being with their fathers is just as important as time with their mothers,” she says.

She believes in this regard that “New Zealand could be doing better.”

Otila says she wanted to see learn more about what was happening in remote regions of the world and was particularly interested in issues regarding food poverty, women’s lands rights in Sub-Saharan Africa and female entrepreneurial pursuits, trade, and enterprise. She was impressed with the initiatives that were happening in Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

Otila made many connections with women from all over the world. She and Phoebe Rose also met four other mother-daughter attendees. Otila and Phoebe Rose plan on not only attending the conference next year, but also presenting at it.

All four women received funding from Graduate Women Otago to attend the event.

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