IRSAM at the UN: A Photo Experience of CSW 59

In the second week of March, the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM) sent a delegation to the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. IRSAM is one of the two student-run organizations in the world with granted NGO status and the chance to sit in at the yearly conference. The delegation had the chance to speak to many representatives and participate in side events as part of the conference, as writer and delegate Margot Charles accounts in the previous articles of this series: “When we nodded along“; and “When we shook our heads“. We tried to bring you a more visual experience of the conference, and how it affected our delegates, through a ‘Humans of New York’ type photo-journalism piece, with the participation of the IRSAM delegation to CSW.

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

One of the most important things about CSW was our team. Everyone went to New York with different skills, backgrounds, and expectations. This might seem like a recipe for clashes, but in reality the opposite happened. A team dynamic quickly developed that emphasized support for one another as we chartered these strange new waters. In this brief amount of time, we grew as a team and as individuals. Each of us found that our ambitions were refreshed and put into perspective at CSW. For most of us, a world that before had seemed far away was within our reach.” – Nicholas D’Ascanio

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“Marching for a cause seems simple enough, much like supporting women’s rights seems morally self-evident. But perhaps the most potent mobilizer for action and policy is the sheer number of positive outcomes closely linked to empowering women and the multiplier effect with it. For me the key word is intersectionality; the recognition of how cross-cutting of an issue women’s rights is.” – Nicholas Buhne

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

Nick and I both made this trip our mission, defined by a joint vision to share our interest in gender equality and love for the United Nations with other members of IRSAM. From September to March, we spoke of the trip constantly – often contacting each other at random points in the day with streams of updates, ideas or suggestions to how we could make this the best possible experience. I am so proud of him, of us and our delegation for realizing the goals we wanted to achieve before and throughout the trip and look forward to seeing it progress and evolve in the years to come.” – Sara Gold

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“I remember what was written under the Globe situated in the the News Building lobby when we went there to meet one of the permanent delegations to the UN: “If the Sun were the size of this Globe and placed here, then comparatively: the Earth would be the size of a Walnut…” Unfortunately, in such a small place we still witness horrible atrocities and watch the world not acting to stop them. Yet, should we lose our hope in diplomacy? I believe not; it was noteworthy to ask challenging questions to the delegations of some “powerful countries” in order to remind them that we, the younger generations, are aware of what is going on in this world and will take action when and where it is necessary in the present or in the future time.” -Diem Dogar

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“For me, meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev highlighted the value of examining how the ambassadors were addressing our delegation, in addition to the content of their speech. I found their manner of addressing us just as revealing, and sometimes more so, than what was being said. While certain representatives spoke in charmingly gilded half-truths and evasions, others, including Sergeyev, were much more genuine in their discussions. Albeit, one must still be weary of personal and positional biases, but I appreciated the open discussion we were able to have at the Ukrainian table. Being part of IRSAM’s delegation to the UN gave me valuable experience in navigating the complexities of the international arena and opened my eyes to the many professional opportunities in the field. And don’t get me wrong; we had a ton of fun too!” -Jessica Mank

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“It started off as a diverse delegation of thirteen international relations students and one science major, yet in a matter of days, bonds were shaped and memories were made, unintentionally. Together, we marveled at the New York City skyline, and complained about our tired feet. We bonded over our passion for gender equality and our love for Rafiqui’s street food. By the end of the week, we were reading each other’s fortunes from teacups and calling each other “Mom” and “Grandma”. Most importantly however, this experience allowed us to learn collectively: from the thought-provoking side-events, from the (sometimes awkward) discussions with diplomats, but from each other’s personal experiences and stories, too. The city, the United Nations, the never-ending metro rides, the novelty of it all made for a truly memorable shared experience. Scotty’s anyone?” – Annabelle Semerdzhieva

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“I’ve been obsessed with the UN since high school: my keys are carried on a UN key chain, I live and breathe Model UN, and my birthday gift from my roommates this year was a poster of the UN Headquarters with the caption “your future home!” Despite this, until CSW I had never had the pleasure of actually setting foot on the UN’s hallowed grounds in New York (beyond the gift shop, of course). IRSAM gave me the opportunity to walk through the same hallways as the diplomats I so admire; to listen to (admittedly hollow) debate in the UN General Assembly; and to eat in the UN Cafeteria while surrounded by people of all nationalities and origins. Though the trip exposed me to the same critiques of the UN I have heard for years, it also gave me a renewed drive and desire to make a difference in these institutions of global governance. Hearing so many inspirational diplomats and UN Staff speak on the mandate and successes of the UN reaffirmed my belief that, in the words of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, “the UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”. Regardless of its failures and inefficiencies, the UN stands as a beacon for the maintenance of international law and justice.” – Marta Canneri

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“As the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Doctor Lodhi was newly inaugurated on February 6, 2015. A very busy diplomat with an extensive resume, she managed to find thirty minutes of her day to talk with us about Pakistan’s fight for gender equality. Ambassador Lodhi represents everything the Commission on the Status of Women strives to accomplish. She is the first female to hold her position, and spoke with such elegance and grace she managed to capture the delegates’ attention for so long they were late for their next meeting. Answering our questions concisely and genuinely, Doctor Lodhi inspired the group with her honest approach on the social struggles of gender divides: “You can legislate all you want, but you can’t change anything unless you change culture.” ” – Catherine Gao

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“We were shown into the conference room of the Iranian Permanent Mission to the UN, and we thought: better act professional. So that’s what we did. And by professional, I mean that we all snapped poses of diplomats involved in intense, world-changing debate. The lively and intellectual topics we then discussed, such as whether we were currently providing day-time entertainment to an intelligence officer back in Tehran, made us worthy of any reality TV show where candidates are pitted against each other. I just wish the Iranian people could have voted for me. By the time the delegation came in, we were all but ready to indulge in the pistachios they graciously offered us while they convinced us that Iran was the new retreat spot for women. Thankfully we got back on track and asked the good questions like: why can’t Iran and Saudi Arabia just be friends?” – Margot Charles

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“This group was amazing. We had a microbiology student, a law student, IR and Poli-Sci students, but ultimately we had a group of unique life experiences. Everyone came to the table with their own set of questions, interests and experiences and ultimately we were able to have productive, engaging conversations with everyone we approached. I think the only Permanent Mission that really took us by surprise was the Saudi Mission. We went in there expecting one thing, and got the complete opposite. Lets just say that we can now check ‘getting schmoozed by international diplomats’ off of our bucket lists.”

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“One night, I went up to the rooftop of our hotel and just looked out at the city. Every single light in a building is a person and a story that I don’t know, yet. It made me really understand why New York was perfect for something like HONY to really blossom and made me grateful for the people I spent this week with, for they will no longer just be faces in the crowd or an occupied seat in the library. Seeing the Empire State always makes me very introspective – something about its timelessness is just so beautiful. It really makes you wonder how many of those little lights/lives in the distance you’ll be able to change.”

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“Scotty, of ‘Scotty’s Diner’ on 39th and Lexington, has been serving top notch diner fare for over 25 years! Whether you are in the mood for all day breakfast, or just a cheesecake nightcap, Scotty and his staff have got you covered. While at CSW, we made planning our daily itinerary over coffee and waffles at Scotty’s a morning tradition, one we hope to continue the next time we are in New York. Favourite ‘Overheard At Scotty’s’ moment: “Guys, can this be our NEW midtown diner?”” – Stephen Reimer

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“By the last night, we were all fairly delirious in our fatigue. It was hard to pay attention at meetings and side events. Our brains had been so loaded with information, questions, experiences and we all were ready to go home. However I’d have to say that the best part of this trip for me was how real and liveable the city felt. I’ve been to New York before, so I avoided the tourist attractions this time. It just felt like waking up, going to Scotty’s, go to work at the UN, come back, have dinner with friends, do some work and sleep. We carved out our niche in the city and found cute little places like Delirium, Lucid and other sleep-related coffee shops. It was a different side of the city.”

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Photo by Gautham Krishnaraj

“New York was some of our delegates’ home turf. Ameya showed us around and took us to some of the most random places to eat that were absolutely amazing every time. One night we hit up this fried chicken and waffles joint called Amy Ruth’s in Harlem and I think we’ll still have grease left in our arteries years from now. We had street food, got hoodwinked into buying $21 tea, and oh, and saw the top of Hilary Clinton’s head and heard her voice. It was the real American experience.”

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