United Nations Delegate for a Week

Brianna O'Steen was chosen to serve as a temporary delegate at U.N. Headquarters during meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women this month.      Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

By Barbara Melendez
      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (March 5, 2015) – One of USF’s most dedicated advocates for women will have to miss some of National Women’s History Month events on campus. Graduate student Brianna O’Steen has an especially good reason, though, one that will benefit her work and women’s interests.

The Anthropology and Community and Family Health major is one of only 13 students chosen from throughout the country to participate in a prestigious United Nations program taking place March 9 to 12 in New York City.

She will gain experience in the art of advocacy before the United Nations through sessions to be held in conjunction with meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations headquarters.

This practicum offers an opportunity to observe how the United Nations works to address issues requiring multilateral engagement and coordinated action. O’Steen will gain temporary delegate status, attend official and non-government organization (NGO) sessions, and contribute to the official documentation of both official and NGO meetings.

In addition to learning about negotiating, advocacy points and networking, O’Steen must complete several assignments, the most important of which is to create an advocacy project when she returns to the USF campus.

This will be the seventh practicum at the Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW focuses on gender equality and the advancement of women, with the U.N. drawing representatives of governments to address the problems facing women around the world.

O’Steen found this opportunity on the Anthropology Department’s listserv.

“I applied to be a delegate and Dr. Kevin Yelvington wrote a letter of recommendation on my behalf,” she said.

Her interest in “the intersection between anthropology and human rights – specifically human trafficking,” may have factored into her being selected.

“My research is centered on domestic minor sex trafficking in Florida,” she said. “I am analyzing the ways in which the Florida Safe Harbor Act is redefining the population and their access to services.”

Working on dual master’s degrees – one in applied anthropology and the other in public health, O’Steen expects to graduate in the summer of 2016.

In addition to being a student, the Gainesville native is the senior education liaison for Redefining Refuge, a local nonprofit that operates a safe house for commercially sexually exploited teens in Hillsborough County. O’Steen oversees all educational components for the program as well as volunteer involvement.

And there’s more to come.

“I intend to pursue a dual J.D./Ph.D. program – ideally at Northwestern – in human rights law and a Ph.D. in applied anthropology,” she said.“An even longer term goal would be working at the policy level for Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or other NGOs that aim to protect and uphold human rights around the globe.”

Spending time at the United Nations fits perfectly into her plans.

“I have presented at many professional conferences, have interned at the Smithsonian, have worked for nonprofits but I think participating in the Commission on the Status of Women will be the most extraordinary opportunity yet,” she said.“I stand to learn so much that will better prepare me for a career defending women's rights.

“The U.N. is drawing representatives of governments to address the problems facing women around the world. More than 4,000 registered representatives from NGOs will lobby the delegates about current issues and work to put new ideas on the table, and I get to contribute to the official documentation of both official and NGO meetings. I am very excited to head to the Big Apple for this experience!”

This isn't O'Steens' first time there.

"This will be my third trip to New York, the most memorable one was ringing in the New Year in Times Square in 2010," she said.

And O'Steen is no stranger to travel. In addition to making two cross country road trips, she taught English in Bali, Indonesia and volunteered and conducted research in the Dominican Republic and in the Philippines.

This project is sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Center for Women's Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University, Boston.

“We teach the students how important it is to be informed and included in these talks,” said Melissa Torres, International Board Representative of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, who serves as faculty for the UN Practicum on Advocacy. “They get to experience how the system works, learn how to network with NGOs, meet government officials and participate in proposals that can be adopted by U.N. bodies.”

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was founded in 1915 during World War I, with Jane Addams as its first president. WILPF works to achieve, through peaceful means, world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all. Learn more at wilpfus.org.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563