Anthropology Professor to Speak at U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

(March 2, 2020) – Heather O’Leary, an assistant professor of anthropology, is an invited speaker at the upcoming United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, an intergovernmental body that champions gender equality and women empowerment globally.

O’Leary is an expert on global inequities related to women’s rights, water politics and the environment. Her research focuses on empowering community engagement in impoverished communities to enhance sustainable development.

Her talk will highlight the need to reframe women in developing nations as active agents rather than victims, who through their day-to-day activities produce economic and environmental resilience for their communities.

“A lot of my work is on inequalities when it comes to women and water, the disparities in on-the-ground justice and epistemic justice and how we can produce more equity in the ways we think and talk about women and water,” said O’Leary. “I plan to not just give a talk on these issues, but also be an educated voice in the room to champion these causes and issues during higher-level discussions.”

The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946 to promote women’s rights and set the agenda for implementing global standards on gender equality. Each year U.N member state representatives, NGOs and other U.N. entities meet for two weeks to discuss progress, gaps and emerging issues related to global gender equality.

At this year’s conference, the commission will focus on the progress of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. According to the U.N., the Beijing Platform “is the most comprehensive global policy framework and blueprint for action, and a current source of guidance and inspiration to realize gender equality and the human rights of women and girls, everywhere.”

“This platform laid out the critical markers needed when it comes to establishing gender equality, and this year’s meeting will focus on how much has been accomplished, what are the current barriers and what do we need to re-prioritize and add,” explained O’Leary.

The Platform for Action covers 12 critical areas to aid in gender equality and women empowerment. Several of those areas focus on women’s role in the environment and sustainable development, O’Leary’s area of expertise.

“At the session, U.N. representatives will consult with experts in academia and other institutions to build new benchmarks for the next era,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary joined USFSP as a faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Social Sciences program in 2019. She conducted more than a decade of ethnographic research in India, where she worked with families in tenements and illegal slum communities. She has served as a scientific reviewer for the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs and participated in a water security task force for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

O’Leary is currently establishing an EcoFem Lab at USF St. Petersburg, a think tank that explores the hidden connections between environmentalist and feminist ways of understanding the world’s most pressing problems. Student researchers in the lab will document cultural evidence of assumptions about nature and gender to analyze how these assumptions undermine, reinforce and reshape environmental justice and gender equity.

The 64th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women convenes at U.N. headquarters in New York City from March 9-20.