The Countess of Wessex travelled to New York to attend the 63rd session of the United Nation’s Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) this week.
The annual event spans a fortnight and will bring together more than 9,000 gender equality representatives from around the world. According to the UN Women website, the CSW is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”
This year’s session theme is “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”
During her two days in New York, the countess heard more about issues impacting gender equality and the empowerment of women, how women can get involved with the peacebuilding process, and met with those working to end sexual violence in conflict zones.
Sophie announced her involvement with Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) on International Women’s Day.
Monday morning, the countess met with Karen Pierce, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. Ms Pierce is the first woman to hold this post in the British diplomatic service.
Sophie also met with local high school students. According to Stroud High’s Twitter account, “HRH spent 40 minutes with our students, and they discussed a range of complex issues relating to gender inequality. HRH generously answered some pertinent questions posed and stated that she wished she could have had more time with them. An incredible experience.”
She then attended the opening ceremony of the CSW. Later, the Countess of Wessex headed to the United Kingdom’s Non-Governmental Organisation’s Reception, where she delivered a short speech.
Sophie admitted that “usually when I start to get involved with different issues I try as much as I can to blend into the background whilst I’m finding my feet.” When someone asked what she’d be doing in New York she’d replied she was planning to “keep my mouth firmly shut, or to use my mother’s words, to ‘butter my lips and wear beige’,” but she found herself giving a speech, anyway.
“It’s heartening to see so many people determined to protect the rights of every woman and girl around the world and I’m extremely grateful to have had the chance to experience it,” she continued.
The countess also attended a reception to mark Commonwealth Day at the Joint Office of the Commonwealth, joined by Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.
She gave a speech talking about her pride in being part of the Commonwealth and her dedication to “help promote the role of women in peace processes, those working at a local level building peace, and survivors of sexual violence in conflict, including children born of wartime rape.”
Tuesday, the Countess of Wessex took part in a meeting with activists, UN experts and UN Security Council members on supporting women human rights defenders and how women can build peace at the grassroots level.
Sophie and Lord Ahmad also attended a meeting about conflict-related sexual violence with The Mukwege Foundation to “discuss a holistic approach to supporting survivors,” according to Lord Ahmad on Twitter.
The Countess of Wessex summed up her thoughts on gender equality in a speech at the President of the General Assembly’s ‘Women in Power’ event on Tuesday.
“As I suggested to an all-male board on a recent trip, if all the seats at the table are full, you just need to pull up an extra chair.”