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Women hugging at a UN Observer event, with a purple overlay. The LWV logo is centered.

Championing Equality at Home & Abroad: My Experience as a UN Observer

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Blog written by LWV UN Observer Paulette Austin 

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations (UN) has played an important role in advancing international peace and harmony. The League of Women Voters (LWV) has held “Observer” status since the UN’s 1945 inception. This is because many major LWV goals, such as improving governance and the rights of women, are inextricably linked to the security and well-being of people everywhere.  

UN Observers are members of specialized agencies who are allowed to make formal statements to the UN and/or be consulted by its members on issues of relevance. As advocates for equality and justice on a national scale, the League of Women Voters has a role to play on the international scene by subscribing to deliberations and resolutions promoted in UN forums. Members of the Observer Group are well placed to lobby attendees from around the world on the importance of prioritizing the interests of women in policy decisions affecting people’s social and economic well-being.  

Through feedback provided by the Observer Group to the national League office, it has become apparent that there is a definitive link between the pursuit of equality and freedom on a national level with that of other nations around the world. 

My Experience as an Observer 

Since serving as a summer intern at the LWV Washington, DC, office in 1969 and pursuing a career at the UN from 1970 through 2002, I have closely monitored LWV positions on emerging issues and have concluded that there is a commonality of objectives.  

Picture of Paulette Austin

UN Observer Paulette Austin

After retirement, I joined both the Dallas and the New York City chapters of the League. My LWV experience centered around voter registration, and I was the team leader of the group that championed civic education and voter registration campaigns in junior and senior classes at the high schools in Irving, Texas. Additionally, since the LWV was the only authorized entity to register new citizens at the Office of the US Citizenship and Education Services, based in Irving, my team attended citizenship ceremonies each week from 2008 – 2013 and registered on average 60 – 100 citizens at each ceremony. 

At the same time, I worked on an international scale with the LWV Observer Group at the UN. 

As a member of the LWV Observer Group at the UN, I’ve observed that, through participation in the work of the UN, LWV is well placed to ensure that the views of the League are reflected in emerging issues — particularly those governing women's rights efforts, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, the NGO Committee on Social Development, and climate action. 

Women’s Rights and the Commission on the Status of Women 

Increasingly, the fight for women’s rights has become a mainstream political issue. Governments have gone to great lengths in codifying women’s rights into law. Notwithstanding, advances in global gender equality have been halting.  

The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women 

It is important that Observers like the League stand up for the protection and empowerment of women and girls in UN actions and discussions. They may do so through support of events like the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, which is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” 

LWV was instrumental in garnering support for the creation of the commission following World War II, and has participated in the years since. This year, the LWV Observers will host a “side event” at the Commission centering on women and election technology. In future years, we can continue to use this avenue to promote women’s empowerment on a global scale. 

The NGO Committee on Social Development 

The NGO Committee on Social Development works to keep people at the center of development efforts.

Committee members engage in advocacy around social issues, submit position papers, make oral and written interventions, serve in expert groups, collect examples of best practices from constituencies, publish studies, and create and submit petitions. The Committee also drafts an annual Civil Society Declaration.

The NGO Committee works with other UN bodies where goals overlap, such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women, UN DESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), and other specialized agencies. It also monitors the work of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (the UN’s Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee). 

During the 60th session of the Commission for Social Development in 2022, the NGO groups within the Committee articulated challenges, including resilient recovery from COVID-19, the promotion of sustainable livelihoods, and eradicating poverty and hunger.  

My attendance at the Committee on Social Development’s monthly meetings has highlighted the importance of social inputs in all of these issues, particularly recovering from the ails of the pandemic and engaging in sustainable development.  

The author in a "feminist climate justice" mask"

LWV member at Conference of the Parties 26

LWV can and should continue to promote these issues through its attention to and support of the Committee on Social Development. All are integral to the political rights and equity of women worldwide, including in the US. 

Climate Action 

Observers hone in on the climate issues each year at the UN’s Conference of Parties (COP), such as the most recent one in Egypt. When describing COP27, a League member wrote: 

“[S]peakers across multiple panels explained that climate change disproportionately affects women and girls by worsening existing gender inequalities. Climate change worsens sexual and reproductive health care and outcomes, intensifies economic hardship and the gendered opportunity divide, and can increase sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).” 

LWV has a clear investment in the well-being of women and girls everywhere and, therefore, an investment in sustainability and climate action. As Observers, we can ensure that these voices aren’t forgotten as the UN moves forward with climate plans. The lives of millions depend on it. 

These are just a few of the areas where LWV has valuable power as an Observing organization to speak to significant policy areas. I look forward to using my voice to advocate for changes that empower all people, particularly women and girls, in the international community. 

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