Origins of the US Women’s Caucus
The US Women’s Caucus began in March 2016 with conversations among NGO representatives to the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The representatives were concerned that US women did not have a good avenue of communication at the CSW and saw the need for a network to share information about the US Mission and other matters. The conversations included Susan Lee from Sociologists for Women in Society, Kay Meyer and Lee Fogarty from Zonta, Kathryn Horvat from Women Graduates USA, and Brigid O’Farrell from the National Writers Union.
Over the following year, Susan Lee made connections with Marilyn Fowler of Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN), an experienced feminist activist with broad connections. Marilyn agreed to work on developing a network for US NGO representatives at the CSW. Marilyn and Susan planned an organizational meeting at the Ms. Foundation for Women, Brooklyn, during CSW 61 in March 2017. A wide spectrum of feminist activists attended including WIN members Marilyn Fowler, Robin Endres, Lenka Belkova, and Sarah Pike; SWS representatives Susan Lee, Jennifer Rogers-Brown, and Heather Hurwitz; Beth Dehghan of WomenNC; Donna Lent from the National Women’s Political Caucus; Lee Fogarty from Zonta; Gail James of US Women Connect; Helynna Brooke with the Red Web Foundation; Jane Bernard Powers from Democratic Women in Action; Lynnaia Main and Jennifer Allen of the Episcopal Church; and June Zeitlin from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Together we agreed to form an organization and drafted a preliminary mission statement. We decided to call our new organization, “The US Women’s Caucus at the UN.”
Over the following months, other organizations joined, notably the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) with its representative Pam Perraud; and Women Graduates USA represented by Kathryn Horvat. We developed a logo, set up a website, and entered into an agreement with WIN to be our fiscal agent. We continued to recruit organizations and individual members. Reneé Coppock from Zonta and Vicky Demos from SWS joined the organizing group. Through monthly conference calls, we planned our first public meeting for CSW 62 in March 2018 and reserved space at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks from UN Headquarters where CSW is held. We worked up a policy statement on the CSW 62 theme, gender equality for rural women and girls, and sent it to Laurie Phipps, the point person for women’s issues at the US Mission to the UN.
A month before that public meeting, our co-founder Marilyn Fowler suffered a serious medical setback and had to drop out of active participation. Marilyn was critical to the birth of the Caucus in recruiting organizations and offering wisdom from her long experience in feminist circles. It was a blow to our young Caucus but we resolved to carry on, as we knew Marilyn would expect us to.
To our delight, the public meeting on March 15, 2018 drew over 60 women from a wide variety of organizations. We had two guest speakers, Krishanti Dharmaraj who spoke about Cities for CEDAW, and Soon-Young Yoon from NGO CSW NY. We signed up many new members and were greatly encouraged by the validation of the need for a US Women’s Caucus. Over the following year, we continued to organize via monthly Zoom meetings to recruit new members and develop our organizational capacity. In March 2019, we held a second public meeting during CSW 63 as well attended as the first one. We were especially pleased when the US Mission sent a representative to greet us and listen to our views. With the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020, we pivoted to a virtual meeting after the last-minute cancellation of CSW 64.
By late 2020, the organizing group recognized the need for a more formal structure for the Caucus, and we incorporated in February 2021 as a non-profit with our first Board of Directors. Susan Lee became the first president of the Caucus and Pam Perraud accepted the role of vice-president. Initial Board members included some of the early members of the Caucus such as Kay Meyer, Kathryn Horvat, Jennifer Rogers-Brown, Beth Dehghan, Donna Lent, Gail James, and Reneé Coppock. Several newer Caucus members joined the Board as well, including Junemarie Justus, Kolieka Seigle, Patricia Bradley, Kelly Fisher, Shaila Mistry, and Luci Chikowero. With those formalities, the US Women’s Caucus at the UN entered a promising new phase of its advocacy mission.
In 2023, the US Women’s Caucus applied for ECOSOC consultative status to formalize our relationship with the UN. At that time, we learned from UN offices that the use of the acronym “UN” was frowned upon for organizations outside the UN structure. In response to a UN request, the Board of Directors agreed to drop “at the UN” from our name and become officially the US Women’s Caucus, a shortened name that we already used informally. The change of name renewed the commitment of Caucus members to pursue our purpose of feminist advocacy at the UN.
Submitted by Susan H. Lee