Rural Women and Girls Take the Spotlight at the U.N.March 08, 2012
This week, at the 56th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the challenges, hopes, strengths, and resilience of the world’s rural women are taking center stage. This year’s priority theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges.” Women are central to the development of rural areas — they make up more of the agricultural labor force than men, produce the majority of food grown, and do most of the unpaid care work. Improving support for these women will make a major contribution to ending poverty and hunger, accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and realizing sustainable development. For those of us in the nongovernmental organization community, the excitement began when hundreds of women and girls of all ages came together from around the world on February 26 for NGO Forum Consultation Day to lay the groundwork for two weeks of workshops, panels, discussions, and interactions, both within the United Nations and at parallel events hosted by NGOs.
“We need to take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing for too long.”
— Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Laureate
Dozens of AAUW members hailing from all over — from California to Washington, D.C. — came together to participate as speakers, workshop facilitators, and advocates. They came from states and branches to the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund and Women Graduates-USA, ready to learn, share insight, and connect with the global family of women.
During the event, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet provided an update on her organization’s first year and noted progress in a number of areas. The opportunity to hear Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia was a special treat — she passionately told us to “take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing [the site of the Fourth World Conference on Women] for too long.”
We also heard from representatives of governments, international organizations, and multilateral organizations about the progress being made in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Passionate activists and grassroots leaders shared successful projects that are lifting the veil of poverty and helping women who are challenged by corruption, patriarchy, and apathy.
But what does it all mean? I heard from representatives of Norway, Cuba, South Africa, Portugal, Mexico, and Mozambique, among others, extolling the many policies and initiatives to promote gender equality. Organizations presented compelling projects with successful results in building microfinance, increasing economic security, and addressing legal rights. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, if all of these policies are really being carried out, why are women still the majority of the world’s poor and uneducated? Where are the female presidents, CEOs, legislators, and other decision makers? Why can’t women own or inherit land in some places or have control over our own bodies? Why is pay inequity still rampant around the world?
The U.N. events, which are taking place through March 9, are accessible via social media — you can follow the proceedings at @UN_CSW on Twitter and via the hashtag #CSW56. Many sessions are being webcast so that anyone can listen and watch. There is also a growing movement in support of convening a Fifth World Conference on Women (5WCW) that include efforts to encourage ambassadors to sponsor or co-sponsor a draft resolution proposing the conference in 2015.
We need action, legislation, and more political will for all women and girls to move forward.