Racial discrimination and imperialistic standards of power: My experience at the Commission on the Status of Women

Brought to you by MECCA M-Power

When I first visited New York last September, I did not anticipate being physically assaulted in broad daylight within my first 24 hours in the country. 

In the short time I was in New York, I was sexually harassed and discriminated against multiple times, setting a precedent to be mindful of my safety. 

Almost six months later, my return to New York for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was stained with similar experiences of discrimination, however, to my surprise, it manifested directly within the walls of the world’s largest gender equality conference.

CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, bringing together government and civil society to document the reality of experiences across the world and shaping global standards on gender equality.

Wearing a hijab in the gender equality space has always been an unconscious sign of my ostracization, where I have had to consistently attest my reasoning for advancing gender equality.

Wearing a hijab in the gender equality space has always been an unconscious sign of my ostracization

Beyond the threats, it was as though my expectations of Australia’s feminist space had transpired via my route to New York; where amidst the claims that ‘intersectionality’ must be the core principle within these processes, diluted promises were present, taking the form of imperialistic standards of power.  

For the past few years, I have witnessed a guised definition of ‘intersectional feminism’ take the format of blatant racism and segregation in upholding meritocracy as a standard of celebration. 

Whilst I fundamentally believe in dialogues like CSW; holding the largest gender equality conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York already warps conversations of gender equity to unknowingly adopt prestige and privilege.

It is no secret that the visa process to the USA can be gruelling, however, what is hidden in the stories of advocates denied visas, is even our own ignorance of introspection to identify how avenues of discrimination incept at our very birth.

My experiences of CSW were disappointing, not solely because of the sheer racism and harassment I experienced, but because of my blurred judgement in believing spaces like CSW would be transformational in providing inclusive and aware communities that were almost always rare to find in Australia.

My experiences of having my hijab and religion covertly criticised by my own colleagues, consistently being politicised for being Iraqi and Palestinian, and experiencing online sexual harassment and death threats are not unique.

It was also not a one-off to hear stories of homophobic rhetoric, witnessing hierarchies exclusively limit meaningful youth participation, and reinforced classist behaviour that exclude Indigenous and Dalit perspectives.  

My greatest revelation of CSW, however, was the limited awareness present in rooms by government, civil society, and even young people, to decipher how our actions of complacency can equally contribute to further excluding the voices of those most marginalised. 

In the rise of movements like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Women Life Freedom, Free Palestine, and other equally powerful movements; it is more urgent than ever, to recognise how hegemonic power dynamics are a root cause of segregation. 

When there is no alliance even within powerful systems like CSW; we must recognise the imperative urgency to co-create systems to sustainably rebuild power to especially be amongst the people who were not afforded the opportunity to be present in the room.

When we deprive ourselves of awareness, spaces like CSW are meaningless; we cannot call for systems change, without internal accountability.