CSW62: Through the Lens of Arts and Cultures

What do Pakistan, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Afghanistan, The Netherlands, Bhutan, the NGO CSW Forum and the World Federation of United Nations Associations have in common?

Art. Dance. Song. Poetry. Weavings. Basketry. Fashion. Culinary masterpieces. Our cultures and cultural identities – this is what makes the human family and We the People connect and engage. Art is peace-building.

H.E. Prof. Tijani Muhammed-Bande of Nigeria and Ifeoma Fafuna on March 11 on stage March 11 at UN General Assembly Hall for an evening of art and hope with Nigerian Women.

For the countries listed above, perhaps others might say the commonalities are of entwined histories and modern day mash-ups to end terrorism and gender based violence. Yet others may find in common their fight against various global challenges: climate change, mass-migration, refugee influx, access to clean water and clean cookstoves, access to credit and banking, and quality education for girls.

Two weeks of nearly 450 sessions of side events and parallel events saw each of the countries noted above represented by Ambassadors to the UN and other high level officials. We also heard from NGOs and activists, like Monica Ramirez, civil rights attorney who works with Latina farmworkers. We heard about waste management from Europe’s Alpine Convention, and Gross National Happiness’ nexus with ecotourism from Bhutan’s Ambassador to the UN. Indigenous and rural, urban and academic, mountain people, prairie people, aquaponic farmers, and small-island states all weighed in on climate resiliency. I even had the chance to meet my hero Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and climate wonder-woman!

The Role of Women in Mountain Areas Side Event at the UN,
with Bhutan, Peru, Andorra, & the Alpine Convention represented.

Nigeria and other member states spoke on Boko Haram and kidnapping, female genital mutilation (FGM), climate displacement, the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the Global Compact for Migration. Delegates and speakers shared solutions across regions and across tables, shining a light on methods to mitigate protracted crises of terrorism, drought, censorship, torture, food insecurity and civil war. From over 4,000 grassroots NGO to high-level representatives and speakers in overflowing, sardine-packed rooms we sat on floors. And we listened.

Bangladesh, UN Women, IOM and others discuss rural women & climate induced displacement at the UN’s Express Bar.

Thousands of attendees spread throughout the UN headquarters and the Church Center to hear how country governments, alongside the private and NGO sectors, planned to meet their targets for the Sustainable Development Goals, end violence against girls and women, promote equality and ensure a 50-50 planet by leaving no one behind. They spoke formally and chatted informally about recommendations to the 62nd CSW ahead of negotiations and what they wished to see in the draft versions of the Agreed Conclusions. Visit the NGO CSW website to learn more: ngocsw.org.

What participants rarely spoke about – but in fact permeates and informs all the work done at the UN in stewarding international relations – is the power of cultural diplomacy. You may wonder with all the conflicts and emergencies faced by the UN and these remarkable NGOs: how does hope fit into all of this?

In fact, “hope” fit in beautifully from the very beginning of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women. On March 11, the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN hosted an evening of art and hope with a focus on Unity in Diversity. Spoken word, dance, song, comedy, and film connected the hundreds in attendance at the General Assembly. Hey now, I even got a selfie with Nigeria’s Ambassador to the UN!  And I met several other UN Ambassadors – from Bhutan, Thailand, Costa Rica, Philippines, Norway, Iceland, Iraq and a host of other member states.

Rachel Carillo CSW 62
H.E. Prof. Tijani Muhammed-Bande of Nigeria takes a selfie with me.

On March 12, Japan served wonderful sushi and fruits before their High Level Donor Round Table on Women’s Resilience, while Pakistan hosted No Turning Back: Women who Made History, a retrospective exhibit highlighting women trailblazers of the country – from Benazir Bhutto to Malala. Pakistan’s UN Ambassador, Maleela Lodhi, was featured in the exhibit and presided over the event; she reminded the nearly 100 attendees to enjoy the Pakistani appetizers circulating on trays.

Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Maleela Lodhi greets guests.


The Kingdom of Bahrain hosts the Global Award for Women’s Empowerment in the Delegates Dining Room.

The NGO CSW held several cultural and arts-focused events, from its opening reception off-site at NYU’s Kimmel Center and dance and music performances at its rally at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza to its annual artisan fair at the Church Center.

And South Korea Gracefully “fans” the rally of NGO CSW.

Their full-day event Leave No One Behind for a 50-50 Planet saw Brooklyn musician Mijori Goodwin and South African Poet Naledi Chirwa bring down the house and let flow the joy. This event was so popular that they had to turn hundreds of women away at the door with hundreds yet remaining in an over-packed ballroom off-site from the UN. We shared stories, promoted story telling, heard from rural and indigenous women from across the globe, met with the Executive Director of UN women AND we danced! All of us!

Poet Naledi Chirwa performs before an audience of hundreds at an NGO CSW, leaving no one behind.

There were no shortage of impact films and women produced and directed documentaries, with very powerful stories and voices. Perhaps my favorite was Nora Twomey’s animated feature-length film titled The Bread Winner about an Afghani girl who had to dress as a boy in order to support her family while her father was jailed as a political prisoner.

The Kingdom of Bahrain hosted the Global Award for Women’s Empowerment in the Delegates Dining Room, a new annual award of Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa honoring global rockstar women making an impact for equality. Tasty treats were served alongside a sweet ceremony attended by the E.D. of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who appeared the busiest and most sought-after person during the entirety of CSW62. Yes, perhaps more so than the Secretary General himself!

Of course, the UN Book and Gift stores boast some remarkable authors’ books and artisanal, sustainable crafts. Though for a truly special, hand-designed gift, you’ll find Joe Haddad’s Earth-Woman t-shirt, replete with laurel leaf. Joe is a decades-long volunteer at World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) gift store just across from the UN bookstore. Stop in and have tea with him next time you are at the UN!

Joe Hadaad, WFUN Gift Shop volunteer and artist allows me to share his self-designed “Earth-Day, UN- Women” t-shirt with the crowds at the UN.

International Day of Happiness (March 20) saw the Kingdom of Bhutan present a special art exhibit on happiness with a series of paintings, and UNA-USA’s own delegate Rolanda Smalls engaged the world (and UN Security!) with Free Warm Hugs signage just outside the UN building. I joined her and we met (and hugged) people from all across the world, including Kazakhstan, Mali, South Africa, Iran and New York City!

With Rolanda Smalls, UNAUSA delegate who created the Day of Happiness Hugs.

There were loads of special events on World Water Day (March 22), including the launch of the International Decade of Water in the General Assembly Hall with a high level luncheon earlier in the day.  To me, the clear favorite at the UN was the evening’s light show hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Waterlicht. This light show was held outside, along the East River and attended by hundreds of people. Fog machines sprayed mist into the air and blue-light was cast upon water droplets, giving you the feel of being underwater. The purpose of Waterlicht was to help participants understand the impact of floods and climate change. For centuries, The Netherlands’ Waterlicht outdoor light show on World Water Day, with ocean-like clouds covering UN grounds. Holland has been the leading innovator in flood management for as long as canals and flood management have been around…

The Netherlands’ Waterlicht outdoor light show on World Water Day.

From the opening until the closing of CSW62, the events that most inspired people to talk about solutions – and with one another – were those that incorporated art, food and spoken word. Peace building and eliminating violence against women and girls requires authentic conversation. The arts provide the venue for inspiration and dialogue, and the UN provides the space for those meetings to happen. And UNA-USA provides the opportunity to engage with the world: Thank you.

Thus I ask once more:
What do Pakistan, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Afghanistan, The Netherlands, Bhutan, the NGO CSW Forum and the World Federation of United Nations Associations have in common?


UNA Women

Apply to be a UNA-USA Delegate for CSW 63

UNA Women

Men's Roles in the Fight for Gender Equality at CSW62

UNA Women

CSW62: Through the Lens of Arts and Cultures

UNA Women

African Suffragettes, Me Too: Now What?