Reflections on CSW68: A Journey Towards Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

Lucy Skelton
68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, New York


Cold. I felt very cold as I lived out my dream of attending the 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York last March. Described by Helen Dalley-Fisher as "the biggest gender equality event you’ve never heard of", CSW68 offered a unique platform to witness firsthand the global efforts and strains towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. I felt incredibly privileged to help lead a delegation from 'Global Voices', a youth-led Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to nurturing the next generation of leaders through practical experiences in policymaking, international relations, and diplomacy. Our delegation’s activities included attending briefing sessions, side events, and private meetings with subject matter experts. Here’s a reflection on my journey and experiences at this pivotal event.

Expectations, insights and solutions

Before embarking on this journey, I had high expectations of what CSW68 would entail. I imagined a bustling hub of global leaders, activists, and policymakers, all united by a common goal. The reality did not disappoint. The excitement was palpable from the moment I arrived at the UN Headquarters. Small details, like having a UN pass that granted me access, with my photo and name on it, added to the sense of occasion. The sight of rooms filled with predominantly women, mostly all there to champion the cause of gender equality, was profoundly inspiring. 

One of the most significant insights I take with me from CSW68 is that no country is perfect when it comes to gender equality. Every nation, regardless of its development status, has room for improvement. This was evident in the discussions and presentations that highlighted the global challenges women face.

Statistics shared at the event were both sobering and motivating. For instance, globally, 10.3 per cent of women live in extreme poverty, and progress towards ending poverty needs to be 26 times faster to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The sheer scale of the financial investment required  an additional $360 billion per year underscored the enormity of the task ahead.

Yet, the solutions presented were equally compelling. Investing in policies and programs that address gender inequalities and boost women’s agency and leadership can yield enormous dividends. For example, prioritising education, family planning, fair wages, and expanded social benefits could lift over 100 million women and girls out of poverty. Additionally, investments in care work have the potential to create almost 300 million jobs by 2035, significantly boosting GDP per capita across all regions.

One of the most enriching aspects of CSW68 was the opportunity to interact with individuals from all over the world. From sporadic chats in the hallways to squeezing in to sit on the floor in packed rooms, seeing an understanding smile from the women who have been attending for decades, created unforgettable moments. The translator headsets were miraculous! Seeing translators in booths with glass windows on the edge of the session, keeping up in real-time, was extraordinary. This experience certainly added to the pressure and motivation to learn a second language currently, I am working on Mandarin as soon as possible. The ability to understand and participate fully in discussions, regardless of language barriers, was a powerful reminder of the need for comprehensive and inclusive approaches in policymaking.

Lucy Skelton
Lucy Skelton at the United Nations General Assembly

What's Next?

My journey of advocacy and learning doesn’t end with CSW68. On Sunday 26 May I will be heading to Geneva to attend the United Nations Global Summit on AI for Good. This summit will provide another incredible opportunity with 'Global Voices' to see the intersection of technology and policy, and to explore how artificial intelligence can be harnessed to solve some of the world's most pressing challenges.

Additionally, I have recently started a social enterprise called FORE Australia. FORE Australia is a new non-partisan and youth-led social enterprise that specialises in effectively communicating policy solutions to the government and to the public. We are partnering with the Equality Rights Alliance, ThinkForward, FairFutures, and more to create Australia’s first online and free 1-pager-based Solutions Library.

We hope that this library will be a go-to resource for public servants, politicians, and the public to access actionable policy solutions. It aims to bridge the gap between complex policy issues and practical, implementable solutions that can drive real change.

Attending CSW68 was the trip of a lifetime. I am deeply grateful to 'Global Voices' for their support and to my lecturers for their unwavering encouragement throughout my endeavors. (And yes, I promise I've caught up on my lectures!)

Lucy Skelton is currently pursuing a double degree in Public Policy and International Relations at ANU. Her studies and work as the founder of FORE Australia focus on translating research and lived experience into actionable policy proposals. She is particularly interested in the intersection of environmental sustainability and social justice and would love to research political literacy in Australia and effective tactics for creating policy windows. In her spare time, she enjoys learning Mandarin and Auslan.