Filled with nerves and excitement she walks through the doors of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. World leaders sit before her as she listens to a conversation about advancing the rights of women in their respective countries. As junior Sophie Cattalini attended the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women March 10-15 thoughts and ideas raced through her head.
“I was just really excited,” said Cattalini, President of Sequoia’s Young Feminists Club, a chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI). “I’ve never gotten the opportunity to promote activism or do serious change at such a large scale before, so it was really humbling.”
While at the U.N., Cattalini attended a number of sessions as well as a brief portion of the U.N. General Assembly, where each country received five minutes to present on what advancements in promoting women’s rights they had accomplished over the past year. While listening, she noticed that many of the countries presenting used vague language and failed to mention women.
“Norway stood out to me because they spent most of their 5 minutes talking about education for girls and what they are doing in terms of education,” Cattalini said. “None of the other countries talked about education.”
A large part of her time at the U.N. was spent working on her Advocacy Project, where she along with six other GLI students from across the country researched a feminist issue and presented potential solutions based off of one of the U.N.’s sustainable development goals. Her group chose to focus on how society is inclusive of individuals with disabilities and specifically the visibility of women with disabilities.
“The legal institutions put into place for people with disabilities specifically refer to men and they leave out women in that conversation. There’s just a different social standard,” Cattalini said.
One of her favorite parts of the week was working as part of the Girls Caucus Team, a group of 12 students who made edits to the U.N. Outcome Document—the official document containing the conclusions that all the U.N. member states agree on about what they are going to do in the next year to advance the rights of women. Together they made official changes to the Outcome Document, which they submitted to the U.N. Women. The member states then took their changes into consideration and Canada implemented them.
“A lot of the clauses said, ‘work towards building this’ or ‘take steps in this’, so we changed those few words to ‘implement these structures’ or ‘create these structures’ to make them a lot more finite,” Cattalini said. “We also added girls into a lot of the clauses because a lot of them just talked about women.”
She first got involved with feminist issues by joining Sequoia’s GLI her freshman year. There she learned about how the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the US Constitution that would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex, had failed to be ratified. Learning about the ERA cemented her desire to advocate for women’s rights.
“As I got older, I was more aware of the disadvantages you have as a woman. The first time I was ever catcalled was freshman year,” Cattalini said. “From there I learned more about the wage gap and discrimination issues.”
After coming back from the U.N., Cattalini presented to Sequoia’s Young Feminist Club about the specifics of what she had learned and worked on.
“She came back totally energized and just really excited,” Young Feminist Club adviser and art teacher Mozy da Costa Pinto said. “It’s enlightening to see the political process and to actively play a role in making some changes. It’s quite an experience to actually feel like you are doing something rather than idealizing or theorizing about it.”
With the help of the knowledge she learned on her trip, the club hopes to push for changing the language of Sequoia’s sexual harassment policies as well as ensuring that all students are aware of their rights.
“We noticed that it’s extremely vague and basically copies and pastes the general education code for California,” Cattalini said. “We noticed that there isn’t a lot of support for victims and that there isn’t a lot written about what happens when you share your story, so we want to add stronger wording to show more support.”