Edith Coliver Intern Lindsay Freeman 3L
Despite the intense weeks of researching, writing, practicing oral statements, and lobbying through role-play with my classmates, there is nothing that could have prepared me for the excitement and terror of approaching my first delegate or having the floor for two minutes to address a room full of UN General Assembly members.
The priority theme for the 56th Commission on the Status of Women was the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. When asked to pick a topic for my research that fell within this overarching theme, I immediately thought of my past experience in Guatemala. Before law school I did research on violence against women and impunity in Guatemala as part of a task force with the Pacific Council on International Policy. During this trip, in the rural highlands near San Juan Comalapa, I learned the term “chronic malnutrition” from an American doctor running a health NGO to treat impoverished, sick, and malnourished Mayan women and children.
Chronic malnutrition comes from a persistent lack of food diversity, as opposed to acute malnutrition, which comes from a lack of caloric intake. Acute malnutrition, which usually results in the wake of a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe, manifests in starvation and affects the general population relatively equally. Chronic malnutrition, which can be caused by various economic, political, social and cultural factors, as well as long-term climate and environmental challenges, manifests in physical and mental stunting, and susceptibility to disease. The resulting physical weakness and cognitive underdevelopment leads to diminished lifetime earnings for individuals and puts a strain on the overall economy, lowering GDP by 2-3% per year. Since women tend to be more economically and politically disenfranchised, and socially and culturally marginalized, chronic malnutrition has a disparate impact on the female population. People in rural areas, which lack the market access and the infrastructure of urban areas, suffer from chronic malnutrition to an even greater degree.
Since one of the goals of this year’s CSW was to promote food security for rural women, I felt it was important to include in the Agreed Conclusions a mandate, not just for the right to food, but the right to nutritious food. Everybody is entitled to a healthful, culturally appropriate diet, and the traditional food aid (cheap carbohydrates) serves only as a band-aid and not as a sustainable solution to world hunger. My first objective was to bring attention to the issue of chronic malnutrition and to distinguish it from acute malnutrition. This involved approaching foreign delegates and giving out copies of my report, available here.
In my recommendations for the Agreed Conclusions, I suggested that data on malnutrition should be disaggregated based on gender, region (urban vs. rural), and type of malnutrition. During the first week, I had the opportunity to speak to the UN General Assembly in a panel on financing for women’s equality and empowerment. In my research, I found that most countries’ public health ministries test for malnutrition by measuring children’s weight relative to age, and disregard other important indicators such as height relative to age and cranial circumference. In my oral statement, I stressed the importance of proper monitoring and evaluation techniques to properly understand the issue. I also encouraged states and international organizations to dedicate separate funds to combat the separate problems of acute and chronic malnutrition.
From this great experience I learned how the United Nations operates, how to advocate for a cause and, most importantly, how to creatively address the challenges that present themselves along the way. Although no Agreed Conclusions were produced from this year’s CSW, a first in its 56 years of existence, I believe we were successful. After a grueling two weeks in New York, I know that more members of the UN and NGOs have heard of chronic malnutrition and are better informed about what it is, how it impacts rural women, and why it is an important issue to which they should be paying greater attention.