Our Voice at the United Nations: Nairobi

Our Voice at the United Nations – Nairobi

Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is widely encompassing of global, regional, and national environmental conditions and trends; developing international and national environmental instruments; and strengthening institutions for the wise management and stewardship of the environment. Importantly, throughout 2023, our UN Representatives, Mary Muia and Beatrice Oluoch, have played an important role in advancing Soroptimist International’s (SI)

The Centre is host to the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA), including their meetings and their preparations. Committees of Permanent Representatives (CPR) meetings and Sub-Committee meetings take place regularly to inform the decisions made during the UNEA meetings. The UNEA meetings, on the other hand, are always preceded by the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF). Soroptimist International (SI) is well represented in the Women’s Major Group, and there is interest to expand our work in Nairobi to the Major Group on Children and Youth following successful recruitment of new SI UN representatives designates.

For SI, this environmental focus is important, as it allows us to raise key issues on the interconnections between gender and the environment. It also ensures SI can champion projects which work towards elimination of poverty and hunger in all its forms through education, women and girls’ empowerment, as well as reversing the effects of climate change. In 2023, the Nairobi Centre has been a beehive of activities at the UN centre but also within other regional and national events as summarised throughout this issue of Our Voice at the United Nations.


More recently, SI President Siew Yong Gnanalingam and our team of representatives in Nairobi attended the 6th session of the UN Environment Assembly. The event saw global leaders converge to address urgent environmental issues, with calls for collective responsibility and multilateral action echoing throughout. From advocating for renewable energy sources to combatting plastic pollution, key figures such as the UN Secretary-General and the President of Kenya emphasised the need for decisive action. Their insights underscore the imperative for Soroptimist International to play a pivotal role in advancing the global environmental agenda. For further details on their activities at UNEA-6, you can read more about their initiatives in the following blog articles:



In January 2023, our Nairobi representatives were involved in two pivotal events which underscored global efforts to tackle environmental challenges. Firstly, the UNESCO International Water Resources Association (IWRA) Online Conference highlighted the urgent need to address emerging pollutants, stressing the intersection of science and policy to safeguard water quality and ecosystem health. Discussions emphasised the imperative for enhanced research, monitoring, and policy interventions to mitigate risks to human health and the environment.

Around the same time, the 160th resumed meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives to UNEP underscored the organisation’s role in conflict areas and its commitment to gender and geographical balance. Delegates urged member states to fulfil their financial obligations and applauded UNEP’s transparency initiatives. The meeting also emphasised the integration of human rights with sustainable development, signalling collective efforts to support UNEP’s mission in safeguarding the environment.


Later in the year, in July, SI UN Representative, Mary Muia, and a member from the Rwanda Soroptimist Union, Grace Kayirangwa, participated in the 6th edition of the Women Deliver Conference (#WD2023) held in Kigali, Rwanda from July 17 to 21, 2023.

With a theme of “Spaces, Solidarity, and Solutions,” the conference aimed to create inclusive spaces fostering solidarity for sustainable gender equality solutions. The dialogue emphasised the adverse impact of conflict on women and girls, underscoring the necessity of peace for achieving gender equality. Despite progress, gender equality remains elusive, necessitating access to quality education, leadership roles, and economic independence.

The conference convened over 6300 delegates, featuring discussions on restructuring systems to reach young people, the importance of solidarity across sectors, and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups. Mary and Grace also visited Soroptimist projects in Rwanda, including the San Marco School and Muhanga Community Education Centre, supporting education and vocational empowerment for women.

Read Mary and Grace’s blog on the Women Deliver Conference here.


Soroptimist International made a significant presence at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS23) held in Nairobi, Kenya from September 4 to 8, 2023. The summit marked a crucial moment as African leaders rallied behind a shared commitment to tackle the pressing issue of climate change.

Despite Africa’s minimal contribution to pollution, the continent faces the most severe impacts of global warming, as emphasised by President Ruto in his opening speech. In alignment with the summit’s spirit and to inspire youth engagement in climate action, 300 trees were planted at the State House Nursery Day School grounds on September 4, 2023. Soroptimist International Nairobi Central Club took on the responsibility of caring for these trees as part of their Greening Nairobi City Project.

To learn more about this event, read the full blog here!


In October, our representatives played a supporting role in advancing environmental policy at the Final Intergovernmental Consultations on Nature-Based Solutions in Nairobi. These consultations, following global and regional meetings earlier in the year, aimed to compile best practices, assess proposals, and identify investment options to support nature-based solutions (NbS). The consultations yielded consensus on various fronts, including the need for clear definitions, standardised criteria, and enhanced financing mechanisms to scale up NbS initiatives effectively.

The comprehensive Final Co-Chairs Summary outlined key takeaways, underscoring commitments to policy development, equitable distribution of benefits and costs, and increased financial accessibility at local levels. This pivotal event marks a significant step forward in the global dialogue on NbS implementation and its integration into broader sustainability agendas.


The issue of plastic pollution took centre stage at UNEP in November 2023, during the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) discussions, marking another significant step in global efforts to combat this pervasive environmental challenge. With plastic waste contaminating every corner of the globe, from landfills to oceans, the urgency to address this crisis has never been more apparent.

This theme is also reminiscent of the focus of last year’s World Environment Day, which SI UN Representative Mary Muia also participated – stressing the urgency to find solutions toward tackling plastic pollution.

Read the Blog here.

During the INC-3 discussions, delegates grappled with divergent interpretations concerning the full lifecycle of plastic, emphasising the need for measures addressing both production and waste management. The INC Chair called for a mandate to prepare a revised draft and possible intersessional work towards INC-4, highlighting the ongoing commitment to advancing the development of the instrument. Meanwhile, World Environment Day 2023, hosted by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherlands, centred its theme on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution, emphasising the imperative for collective action to address this pressing environmental issue.

Later in the month, our representatives in Nairobi also attended the 0th Annual Sub-Committee Meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) convened to review various aspects crucial to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) operations, covering topics from budget implementation to environmental multilateralism. Dalia Márquez, Co-chair of the UNEP Women’s Major Group, urged member states to establish a global Working Group on Gender and Environment, emphasising the need to integrate gender perspectives into environmental governance. The full report and final summary of the meeting are accessible on the UNEP website.

Moreover, an informal meeting on 20th November 2023 aimed to strengthen partnerships between representatives from Major Groups & Stakeholders and Member States. Frezer Yehsis, representing the Women Major Group, proposed initiatives to enhance coordination, including establishing focal points for draft resolutions and inviting Major Groups to contribute to official side events during UNEA. Discussions emphasised the importance of timely input from Major Groups & Stakeholders in informing Member States’ decision-making processes, particularly to amplify marginalised voices.

Concluding Thoughts

In reflecting on our engagement at the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi throughout 2023, as well as more recently at the UN Environment Assembly, it’s evident that SI’s voice is resonates powerfully and shaping global environmental discourse. From pivotal conferences like Women Deliver to critical summits addressing climate change, our representatives have advocated tirelessly for sustainable solutions. Our commitment to advancing gender equality and environmental stewardship remains unwavering, underscoring the interconnectedness of these vital issues. As we look ahead, let’s continue to amplify our impact, driving meaningful change for a more equitable and sustainable world.



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