YW4A Stories of Leadership: Madonna’s CSW67 story

Photo: Madonna Rizk, a young woman leader and YW4A peer educator from Egypt.

The Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A) initiative continuously identifies and optimises opportunities for young women to exercise their leadership and participate in critical conversations on various advocacy platforms. 

The initiative uses a merit-based approach to engaging young women and offering opportunities to young women whose interests and potential align with the specific opportunity. This has provided equal opportunities and motivated young women to take part in advocacy spaces. This is especially for marginalised young women that have limited access to such opportunities and resources. 

From Egypt, Madonna Risk (20) was among four young women selected to participate in the Sixty Seventh Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) that took place from 6 to 17 March 2023 in New York, USA. 

In this interview, Madonna shares her experience and lessons from the international convening. 

 Question: What was your motivation to apply for and to attend CSW 67?

Madonna: I was sure that through this conference I would gain experience by travelling abroad alone representing my country. Through the conference content, sharing cultures from different countries all around the world and networking with other young women. 

Q: What was your overall experience at CSW67? How did you connect with other young women there?

I am happy to share my experience in the CSW67 conference, I was able to meet many women and young women, and we talked about many issues. I’ve learned about the challenges they face in their countries, many of which are very similar to what women face in Egypt.  It was a great opportunity to discuss their problems within a safe space and propose solutions. 

We shared our struggles as young women from each country and the social norms that are a barrier. It felt great that we were talking about the same things, despite our different cultures and countries, we were living in the same conditions, and that we were all in this place because we decided not to accept situations that were bothering us, to break our silence and change our reality, and we’re all working together. 

Already from the conference, we started to connect and communicate through social media platforms.

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Photo: Madonna at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

Q: What topics, presentations, sessions, people etc. interested you the most and why? What inspired you?

During the conference, I attended many of the sessions that were very helpful to me. The main two sessions about Egypt, the first session was about violence against women, especially kidnapping and forced marriage of girls in Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. I was shocked by the stories I heard from every country, especially Nigeria, since I already knew about the situation in Egypt, and I knew that there were many girls being kidnapped and forced to get married.          

I knew that Pakistan had that problem too, but I didn’t know that Nigeria suffered from the same situation badly, where there are entire camps where girls are kidnapped and parents are aware that their girls are in this place and they can’t do anything about it, that’s painful. That is why this session was one of the most touching, and the presentation was remarkable.

They explained the situation in each country, asked us for solutions, and pointed to the solutions that technology and digitization helped to create.

Photo: YWCA and YW4A delegates from Egypt and Palestine with the Australian Ambassador for Gender Equality at CSW67, from left to right: Zanieh Salah Ibrahim Ayaad (Palestine), Amal Tarazi (YWCA Palestine General Secretary), Stephanie Copus Campbell AM (Australian Ambassador for Gender Equality) as well as Dalia Shomaly and Madonna, both young women leaders in the YW4A programme.

As for the second session, it was another wonderful session where the presenter was talking about mental health and how to treat people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We can summarize the session in three points: psychotherapy, the use of chemicals and sensory therapy.

This session was very important because it was a strong motivation for future, to use the outcomes during the sessions of RiseUp! Leadership Manual. For example, one of the young women from cohort two triggered from psychological problems and issues being discussed.

They were discussing different topics, but at the same time they were linked under one theme: Technology, the digital age and how that achieved gender equality and women’s empowerment. There were other different topics like technological violence, lack of easy access for women, especially in rural areas, etc.

Among the sessions I attended was a session titled “Education can Provide the Preconditions for Inclusive and Active Citizenship”, it was about the changes that have taken place in the digital market and about efficiency. Women and their merit in this market and that when women get a good education, they are like men and sometimes better.

I also attended a session that was talking about the situation of women in Palestine and the session was about introducing the condition of Palestine as a country and introducing the conditions of women in it, it was a very effective session where I discussed the topic very well and developed interventions as well. Also, India, Nepal and Kenya have all presented their problem faced on their countries.

Q: What is the main lesson that you took away from CSW67 and how will you apply it to your life and to the success of the YW4A programme moving forward?

Since coming back from the conference, I have started to share my experiences with my colleagues at the university and following peer to peer education with the other young women in my organization. So that knowledge would grow, awareness would spread, and because we become stronger when we work together, this idea was strongly emphasized at the conference. We are planning on reaching out rural areas and vulnerable women in society to raise their awareness.

Concerning the intervention with the YW4A Programme was the importance of involving young women in the process of changing societies to more inclusive and promoting the young women to network with their community leaders and take roles in decision making.

Photo: Delegates from the YWCA movement and partners across the globe at a reception event organised by YWCA USA during the CSW67 conference week.

Q: What can your organization work on to improve the experience for young women in future CSW conferences?

I suggest improving the experience through building young women’s capacities in area of language, communication skills, report writing, presentation skills, networking and build coalitions. So, they will be qualified and well prepared to engage in such conferences.

Q: Each of participant under the YW4A programme was asked to create an audio-visual documentation of any area of interest during CSW67. May you please summarize what your audio-visual project is about?

I made videos with some women and young women, and I asked them to give messages to the women who couldn’t attend the conference, and most of the message was “you are strong, and education is the most powerful tool you could have” and there were other messages of encouragement to attend the CSW conference. And the purpose of these videos was to make the most of the benefit for young women who couldn’t come and encourage them to come the next time.

Q: What were some of your favourite sights / experiences in New York outside the CSW67 sessions?

I went to Central Park and enjoyed it a lot, and took wonderful pictures there. It was a fun time, and I walked a lot through the streets of New York City with colleagues, which was beautiful, especially at night, when the lights were shining everywhere, and the view was wonderful. I also wish to mention that other participants and people in general were very nice to me, which made me feel more comfortable. 

I would love to repeat the experience.

Photo: Madonna in New York