Commission on the Status of Women
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the sixty-sixth session of Harvard National Model United Nations! My name is Sophie Feldman and I am a rising sophomore at Harvard College. This year I have the honor of directing a committee that is very near to my heart: the Commission on the Status of Women.
My interest in women’s issues stems from my broader interest in human rights. At Harvard, I am pursuing a joint concentration in Government and Linguistics, with particular emphasis on the ways that vulnerable populations can gain social and political acceptance. As a high schooler, I was involved in the competitive MUN circuit, and I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to continue learning about and teaching Model United Nations here at Harvard. This past year, I was an Assistant Director in the Non-Governmental Organizations Programme at HNMUN and the International Organization for Migration at HMUN (our high school conference). Outside of HNMUN, I am a research assistant at one of Harvard’s Linguistics Labs, an infrequent hiker, and a writer for Harvard’s Policy Program. In my free time, I enjoy reading and writing graphic novels, working out, thrifting, and teaching Norwegian.
I could not be more excited to direct for the Commission on the Status of Women this year. It is a fascinating committee with a long and important history; the CSW is responsible for the use of the word ‘human’ instead of ‘man’ in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, after they successfully argued that this terminology was not sufficiently inclusive. In the seventy-two years since its founding, the CSW has discussed long term solutions to combat violence against women, gender discrimination, economic inequality, and more. Women’s rights are never guaranteed, and the CSW must adapt to face the challenges of a new era.
The issue of child marriage intersects heavily with questions of culture, populational vulnerability, and sexism. I look forward to seeing the solutions that you all create in committee, and perhaps more importantly, the respectful dialogue that I hope you will foster amongst yourselves. In the coming year and at conference, please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns. I am at your disposal, and I greatly look forward to meeting you all.
All the best,
Director, Commission on the Status of Women
Topic Area: Child Brides
Each year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 enter into a formal or informal union with a person their age or older. In eight countries, more than 50% of girls are in some form of union before they reach the age of majority; currently, a staggering 650 million women alive today were married before their eighteenth birthday. Child marriage comes from a variety of different causes, and is closely associated with patriarchal family structures, economic insecurity, and cultural practice.
Communities in which female children are considered to be a financial burden are more likely to engage in both dowries and child marriage. Girls in poorer rural communities are also more likely to be married off, which in turn may force them to move far away from their homes and families, robbing them of their support systems and any opportunity for vocational or educational training. Child brides are significantly more likely to die in childbirth, contract STDs like HIV/AIDS, and die from cervical cancer and malaria. The highest concentration of child brides can be found in South Asia and Central Africa. However, child marriage is a worldwide issue. Recent statewide legislation based in the United States has explicitly forbidden child marriage in a select number of states, but it remains legal in the vast majority of American states. Therefore, research done on this issue must focus on the developed and developing world alike. As you try to determine what long-term preventative solutions will protect girls from child marriage, also consider how your ideas will intersect with culture and tradition. How can we incorporate local governments and communities into the ongoing struggle to prevent this practice?