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Friday, June 7, 2019

Wyoming High School Women’s Equality Club Visits the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

By Lila Weiser, Women’s Equality Club Cofounder

In second grade, my class went on a virtual tour of foreign nations using 3D Google maps hooked up to the smartboard. I don’t even remotely recall what nations we “flew to,” but I do remember the fascination of exploring another nation’s culture through the lens of a digital medium. Fast forward 10 years, and high school students are doing the same; this time through the lens of citizens with a goal to empower women.

The Wyoming High School students, teachers, and chaperones enjoyed the late evening atmosphere in Grand Central Station.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) is an annual two-week conference on the subject of global gender inequality that’s been happening for 63 years. Alongside this highly formal world meeting are parallel events: lectures given by notable speakers and NGOs, each focusing on a different topic and each from a different country. Through attending these parallel events, the public can begin to learn about problems unknown to them and create solutions to real-world problems. It’s an eye-opening, inspiring, and emotional journey created for both those just starting their feminist career and activists who have been honing their craft for decades. Combine the monumental experience with the thrill of being surrounded by the lights, energy, and opportunity in New York City and an unbelievable high school trip is born.

Wyoming High School teachers Terryl Meador and Lauren Karas posed with the Fearless Girl statue in New York City’s financial district. 
The Wyoming High School Women’s Equality Club, founded in the 2017-2018 school year (although I like to think we actually started on International Women’s Day 2016), is an organization dedicated to combatting gender inequality through organized activism. This club has raised awareness in school through projects such as “Why do you need Feminism?” and making female scientist posters for the science department décor, while reaching out to the community with events such as the 2019 International Women’s Day movie night. 

This group of Wyoming High School students walked the High Line and posed at the 17th Street overpass.
A club member brought the opportunity of going to the UNCSW to the club in its first year, and seven high school club members signed up for the life changing trip. This year, against all expectations, 21 people signed up for the trip, officially planned by the Women’s Equality Club. After hours of planning, we jetted off to the city that never sleeps (although we were exhausted by the end).
The opening parallel session brought a new app, created by female university students in partnership with Rose Academies, aimed at educating rural girls about menstruation and sexual health. The second half of the group attended a session in which four successful African-American women revealed how they grew businesses and careers while raising children. Students and chaperones were feeling more empowered by 9:30 in the morning (impressive for teenagers!). Through the rain, groups of trip attendees traveled between buildings for more awe-inspiring sessions such as the first. A portion of the group heard from a diverse set of panelists on girl-child and woman sensitive approaches to refugee crises, and along with mind-blowing expertise, session-goers also got a run-down on the UN Global Compact for Migration. Other trip members learned about media mis-representation and female mental health. By 12:30 p.m. on the first day, members were inundated with fascinating information on real, global, and crucial issues.

When the group visited the 9/11 Memorial they learned that on each of the victim’s birthdays, there is a white rose placed in their name.  
However, when you come face to face with a whole world of cultures, you are bound to run into opposing views. Unfortunately, some sessions went against the progressive nature of the conference, such as one session on how transgender rights were inhibiting women from gaining rights. Separately, another session-goer denounced how day care was, “like a concentration camp for children.” In any conflict that arose, the group was fortunate to have teachers who had skills to debrief students in the triggering sessions.

At the United Nations, the Wyoming High School traveling group had lots of photo opportunities. 
By the end of our first night, I had met three immensely empowered high school leaders, two women from Nigeria, one American child-sex trafficker survivor, one head chef at a restaurant that employed only immigrants, multiple UN delegates, a director of a Haitian organization, a Canadian local government official, one indigenous Taiwanese woman, and an anarchist, as well as become closer with 20 classmates. After exploring Grand Central Station, we settled in for a night at a classic New York sized hotel to get rested for a massive event the next morning: a tour of the United Nations headquarters.

The United Nations Security Council was very impressive for the students and the teachers to experience. 
As the rest of the trip had been in off-site locations, all trip members were eager to see what the inside of the UN looked like, and no one was disappointed. We were able to see four main chambers including the Security Council (where high school Model UN kids showed off in answering questions) and, most thrilling, the General Assembly. Trip members shopped ‘til they dropped in the gift shop as the group reconvened to head to more incredible parallel sessions. An evening trip to the MoMA, Times Square, and Top of the Rock for some led to a lovely New York evening, while others, not inundated enough with the previous feminist education, caught a show called What the Constitution Means to Me, which explored generations of women’s rights. 

In between the sessions of parallel events, the students found it helpful to discuss their thoughts and reactions with their teachers and with one another. Here Terryl Meador helped the students debrief after a mentally challenging discussion.  
After the wealth of information students received, they were ready for a break. To wrap up a moving few days of activism, we took our picture by the Fearless Girl statue, saw the 9/11 Memorial, and split up for the Tenement Museum or Chelsea Market and High Line. 

The official logo for the 63rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women designated the various sites for the parallel events. 
Each parallel session ends with a call to action. If every trip-attendee grows as an activist, there are 21 more well-informed people inspired to change the world than there were before the trip. Though I am disappointed I only had the opportunity to go (in high school) twice, I am excited to see what the future of the club holds for the future student body. The UNCSW is life-changing not only for the trip attendees, but everyone they touch, as well. Alice Walker once said, “Activism is my rent for living on the planet,” words I find that inspire me to keep going when it seems all hope is lost. If the Women’s Equality Club keeps contributing activists to society, I would be more than proud to have been one of the founders. As students become more aware of global issues, taking opportunities to attend trips such as these are crucial to an education that is instantly applicable (and doesn’t have a test!). If you have high school students, I encourage them to attend this trip. In fact, anyone can go. CSW 2020 is predicted to be a ground-breaking year. If you’re in New York City in March, hop on to the app to see where the parallel sessions are and listen in. I will give you a warning, though: you’ll want to bring a notebook. It’s impossible to keep all that inspiration in your head.

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