March 12, 2018
Women on Walls travels to the UN for the Commission on the Status of Women
By: Dr. Michelle Cullen

Today marks a landmark in the Women on Walls movement when portraits of 12 leading Irish women academics, commissioned by Accenture in association with the Royal Irish Academy will be on display at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations, New York.

Ireland is also making history as Her Excellency Mrs. Geraldine Byrne Nason is the first Irish person appointed Chair of the CSW. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, attended by delegates from around the world.

The portraits have always been about honouring women’s achievements and making women leaders visible, in public spaces to inspire the next generation. The idea behind the women on walls movement, is to break down barriers, so that women of ability and ambition can also flourish, alongside men. We are delighted that they will now receive international attention.

When they were unveiled by Minister Frances Fitzgerald she spoke about the word unveil—commenting that “it means so much more – in this particular case—than it usually would. The contribution of women to every aspect of history has been largely invisible. In a very real sense, it has been veiled.” This was part of a conversation taking place on both sides of the Atlantic, with the most-shared tweet of that year calling, "To all the little girls watching...never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world."

Having the Women on Walls paintings at the CSW at the UN is hugely symbolic for the campaign and for Ireland. The story of Women on Walls captured the hearts of the nation in the beautiful documentary which perfectly captured the stories of the subjects and the care and attention taken by the artists Vera Klute and Blaise Smith in this historic commission to put women on walls at the Royal Irish Academy for the first time in its 230 year history. Their presence at the UN for this seminal meeting, attended by representatives of all UN Member States, is a powerful testament to the power of art to aid reflection, encourage debate, and to drive positive social change.

We hope that the presence of the Women on Walls exhibition at the UN will inspire others around to the world to join us in the quest to make women leaders visible and correct the cannon of leaving so many stories of leaders untold.

Speaking at the launch of the Women on Walls Exhibition at the UN Headquarters in New York, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said:

As Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN, I am thrilled to have the honour of chairing these important discussions. We expect some 4,000 delegates representing States, civil society and UN entities to converge on New York for what is the principal global forum to discuss gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is an incredible opportunity and a big challenge.

As we set about this work, it is particularly important for me that we are joined on the walls of the UN by the inspirational Irish women, present and past, whose leadership in their fields was rightly recognised by the Royal Irish Academy, in partnership with Accenture, and who are so beautifully captured by Blaise Smith and Vera Klute.

As the chair of the CSW, and an as Irish woman myself, I find it poignant that the Women on Walls message of making Irish women leaders visible, is now capturing the attention and imagination of the thousands of UN delegates, Government Ministers and thought leaders who will be at the UN during this CSW week.

The United Nations is in the DNA of Irish Foreign Policy. I am proud that Ireland is taking a leading role in contemporary discussions of gender issues at the United Nations this year, as we celebrate 100 years since women were first granted the vote in Ireland.

Joined by many Accenture leaders in New York, Alastair Blair, Country Managing Director of Accenture in Ireland, added:

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is instrumental in shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world. I’m honoured to represent Accenture Ireland here today and to see the achievements of these outstanding female academics acknowledged on an international stage. As we prepare to embark on the next chapter of Women on Walls, the focus is on changing how we look at gender inequality, ensuring that the next generation can be inspired by the last.

We are delighted that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) are now part of the Women on Walls family who last week announced an Open Call to Artists to commission a series of new portraits for the Board Room located in RCSI’s historic building on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. These portraits will recognise the pioneering achievements of eight extraordinary women and enhance the visibility of historical women leaders in medicine. You can find more information about the Open Call to Artists here.

We would like to thank Business to Arts for their expert work in partnering with us on Women on Walls from the outset and, in particular, to acknowledge the leadership and commitment of Andrew Hetherington, CEO, Business to Arts for being with us on every step of the journey.

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