Fresh off the train from the 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City, where I engaged with dozens of passionate gender enthusiasts from around the globe, I am filled with hope for the future. Over two weeks, the CSW will have hosted over 270 meetings, and while I couldn't be in every room, I had the privilege of attending four crucial discussions centered around this year's theme: Investing in Women – an opportunity that we have collectively recognized and been ideating for decades, with slower impact than we would have aspired for.

Conversations at the CSW highlighted persistent challenges such as time poverty, gender financing and wage gaps, labor market access and leadership inequities, where women continue to face undue burdens in access to basic resources of time, freedoms, and money on par with men. Yet, there is reason for optimism. As a woman and a member of a women-owned, women-led organization, I am eager to spotlight the resilience and fortitude demonstrated by courageous women and male allies worldwide, many of whom I had the pleasure of hearing from first-hand (while acknowledging the smaller actions that many others continue to take every day unheard). Here are some cross-sectoral developments that are slowly but surely moving the needle towards intentional gender equity:

1. Women as entrepreneurs

At a session organized by Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a speaker emphasized the quote, "Business as usual is a business dominated by men." This resonated deeply with me, recalling my experiences researching women's entrepreneurship in Mekel'e, Ethiopia. Today, initiatives like the WE Finance Code are mobilizing funding for women-led enterprises globally, highlighting the immense potential women bring to the market. Supporting policies which prioritize women’s safety and/or guarantee maternity benefits among others are also crucial to sustain women's participation and enable their success, as noted by several speakers. I remember the profound moment when a young woman entrepreneur in Ethiopia responded to our survey, defining success as the ability to send her child to a good school, unlike conventional responses received from male counterparts. Today, we are able to quantify this sentiment further to showcase that investing in women translates to investments in whole communities, and services such as health, sanitation and education for all – a point emphasized by the United Nations ESCAP data from Asia and the Pacific.

2. Women as community and local leaders

Stories like Violet Shivutse's success in institutionalizing "Governors Day with Farmers" in Kakamega County, Kenya, demonstrate the transformative power of women's leadership at the grassroots level, highlighted in a session organized by UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme). Violet, a community health worker and founder of the grassroots network, Shibuye Community Health Workers, was able to organize 500 women farmers to meet with local authorities in the county when she started this effort in 2021. This year, over 20,000 farmers joined the meeting, which now has a committed budget in collaboration with the county, securing its role even amidst political transition. In India, women’s involvement in district-level budget decisions brought down corruption in infrastructure procurement and improved financial viability of projects. Similar examples from Burundi, Kisumu County and other regions underscore the pivotal role of women in community and local leadership in modifying social norms and driving change within their communities. In a separate meeting I attended, Minister Aurora Vergara described her own journey to national politics as the Minister of Education of Colombia, crediting the small town that opened her eyes to progress and helped find her voice. The pipeline for women in political leadership starts in their neighborhoods and communities.

3. Women as people

With the growing prevalence of digital communications, the rise of online anti-gender misogyny and hate is a fundamental issue that affects every facet of women’s identities. An important example is the connection of data privacy and sexual & reproductive health and rights of women, especially in the context of recent drastic shifts in legal rights to care and related issues. Panorama Strategy in collaboration with the Kati Collective organized a discussion on this important issue on the sidelines of UNGA78 in 2023. Investing in women signals the recognition and respect of their inherent rights as individuals, both within and outside their homes - that alone should be reason enough to direct critical resources and support.

The author, with Suyen Barahona, Executive Director of the Women’s Political Leadership Fund (l), and Aurora Vergara, The Honorable Minister of Education of Colombia (r).

In reflecting on the insights gained at the CSW, the call to action must be to reaffirm our commitment to supporting and fulfilling women’s agency worldwide. One critical step in this direction is a renewed call for collaboration and transparency across the donor ecosystem in prioritizing investments in women. Cooperation among diverse funders, such as bilateral donors, funds, and foundations, wields significant influence in building momentum and raising resources into these untapped issues. Each actionable step brings us closer to a fulfilling collective future.