Attending the Commission on the Status of Women has been a powerful experience for me. I’ve sat in rooms with delegates, ambassadors, leaders of companies, pioneers and groundbreakers. I’ve listened to testimonies and pleas, accusations and plans of action. The voices of these women spoke passionately, and their messages have resonated deeply.
Throughout all of this, the most common phrase these speakers would reiterate was, “We just want a seat at the table.”
A seat at the table. An opportunity to have a voice. A chance to make a change.
Equality for women has come a long way in the past century, especially in the Western world. Today, there are more “seats at the table” than ever before for women, people of color and minorities of all kinds.
I think it’s amazing that diverse voices are speaking for equality. As a woman myself, it’s incredible to see a woman—as a world leader—negotiating about human rights. It’s a reminder that every voice has power, and every person has the right to speak up for what they believe in.
But, as the famous quote goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
Many powerful people gathered in the United Nations Headquarters during CSW, often with clear political agendas. Many of them focused on policy rather than the people they professed to want to help. And if other governments or organizations were opposed to these policies, they were considered enemies.
The United Nations has the goal to “confront common challenges, manage shared responsibilities and exercise collective action in an enduring quest for a peaceful, inclusive and sustainably developing world.”
But that peace and inclusiveness needs to extend to everyone—even to people we don’t agree with.
Power can be a great thing, but it can also be easily abused. In order to keep from abusing that power, men and women in positions of authority need to hold themselves responsible for their actions.
These leaders need to remember that they represent more than just themselves. These men and women are speaking for a country, an organization, a gender or a people group, and they have the responsibility to use that power wisely.
The CSW conference is all about equality and human rights. Nothing speaks more to human rights than remembering that everyone—ally or opposer—is a human being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Every person in a position of power has that same responsibility toward their fellow humans.
So go ahead. Take a seat at the table. Let your voice be heard. But remember the responsibility you have to yourself and to others, because having a seat at the table means your voice will be heard. Let it speak of kindness and respect. Let it be a testimony to those who hear it.