The Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) is participating in the UN Women 62nd session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) in New York from 10 – 16 March 2018. This years focus of the CSW is on the Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. We are participating in various side events. The purpose of our participation is to highlight the situation of rural women and young girls in Africa. There are 6 rural women who travelled to New York representing the following countries; Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the next days we will report on our experiences and reflections of CSW.
DAY 1: Reflections, experiences and observations from the Women’s Rights Caucus Strategy Meeting
The first meeting we attended was the Women’s Rights Caucus (WRC) Strategy Meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to provide a background of CSW, update and outline the global key issues that emerged from the agreed conclusions.
This meeting was very critical for the RWA because it served as an orientation of the CSW and provided us with a background understanding of the CSW.
Mamelefetsane Phakoe from the Lesotho Rural Women’s Assembly reflects on the key issues that stood out for her during the first WRC Strategy Meeting.
WE are in New York as part of the RWA delegation participating in the Commission on Status of Women. As part of the orientation we joined the first Women’s Rights Caucus Strategy Meeting on the UN 62nd Session of the CSW. The meeting started with an introduction and background of the CSW. It also provided an overview of what transpired at CSW last year. I learned that critical issues were discussed and key decisions were made in 2017. Some of these issues focused on land ownership and control, early pregnancy of school girls and how to get them going back to school, unpaid care work and structural barriers which prohibited the enjoyment of human rights. We were told that the issue of HIV/AIDS was falling off the ladder. There were also the updates on the negotiations which included: guaranteeing the effective of provision of food security and improved nutrition.
CSW is supposed to be a global meeting for women to reflect on what is transpiring in their daily lives, their challenges and their successes. It is also a space for learning. The CSW is managed and led by UN Women and its intention is to advance, defend and make policy that ensures the rights and dignity of women globally are not violated.
However, the space is not open to all as there was a concern that young women and girls who wanted to participate in CSW from countries of the global South, were denied Visas. I also observed that there was an overrepresentation of some continents, especially Europe and the USA. There was also a lot of unevenness in the Africa group. In some countries there were preparatory meetings while in other countries there were not. In other countries
There was also a debate on the language used in negotiations. By language they mean the political commitment/ content of the agreements of the CSW. One such debate was the use of the term ‘rural women’ we were told that there was a policy proposal to change the wording from “rural women” to refer to women in rural areas. This suggestion came from the Africa group (negotiating group) in particular who was drafting the change of language, they argued we should instead say women and girls who live in rural areas. There was also a suggestion that instead of using the term indigenous people we should use marginalised people. These suggestions are interesting but I felt it strips the political meaning from these terms.
As part of the meeting we were divided into groups and we discussed various topics including the funding of civil society organisations (CSO) and women’s organisations. One of the key issues that emerged from these discussions is that there are challenges in all the continents. Most importantly, there is an increase in the closing of feminist organisations and the shrinking of space for women’s organisations. In most countries CSOs are seen as opponents by their governments while in other countries they are expected to be service delivery agents. This makes it difficult for CSOs to be effective and pursue their own agendas.
Lastly, CSW is a very good platform for women globally to address their issues however there is a need to make it more visible to all continents and also change the way they are doing things now as they are not different to the governments. They should consult and be more inclusive.
I was also surprised to see MEN in a women’s space and I kept on asking myself whether there were no women in those countries where these men come from? Or was it a matter of patriarchy? I still contemplating these questions and in search of the answers for it.