The blog post below was written by Cristina Velez, a graduate intern at the UU-UNO.
International Women’s Day is not only symbolic; it also coincides with an important yearly forum called the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists prepare over much of the year to present and discuss on the many pressing issues facing women all over the globe. CSW takes place this year from February 26th to March 9th and the priority theme for this 56th Commission is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”
This year’s NGO CSW Consultation Day – a kick-off of sorts – took place on Sunday, February 26th. As a woman and a student of women’s activism, I spent a great deal of this day simply soaking in my surroundings. From the moment I approached the building steps, made my way through the lobby and into the auditorium, the buzz and excitement of the day’s energy was palpable.
Advocates and officials spoke throughout the day about the year’s achievements, as well as needs and goals for the future. Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michele Bachelet, took the podium to set the tone for the upcoming two weeks of CSW and emphasized the need for greater fundraising on women’s peacekeeping initiatives. The keynote address was given by NGO/CSW/NY Woman of Distinction Awardee, Mirna Cunningham Kain, an indigenous woman from a community on the Nicaragua-Honduras border, who is also a physician and activist. Ms. Cunningham-Kain gave a face to the rural indigenous woman and spoke of challenges and needs that her community still faces, as a result of issues like climate change, lack of access to credit, personal AND institutional violence against women, along with increased land seizure.
The two panels of the day provided depth and scope on regional trends related to rural women’s issues. Panelists included a mix of global women’s rights activists, rural women’s rights activists, UN Women representatives, and one ambassador to the UN from El Salvador. Discussions on challenges for rural women regarding issues like forced child marriage, teenage pregnancy, climate change, nuclear radiation threats, as well as violence against women were among the many topics of the panel. In addition, tension arose on various occasions when panelists challenged UN Women and government officials to the UN to become more involved with civil society groups. Ms. Lakshmi Puri, a UN Women representative, stated that the formation of regional UN Women advisory groups is anticipated to be fulfilled by mid-2012 and the expectation is that this will increase access and collaboration between NGOs and UN Women.
By far, the most energizing part of the day was the afternoon address from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia. Some of this very compelling address can be found here. Gbowee charged that empowerment efforts should be firmly rooted in enhancing rural women’s power to engage in societal change on all levels, as well as in widely supporting and enhancing the existing women’s efforts toward development and conflict resolution. Finally, three training breakout sessions concluded the day’s events.
All in all, it seems that the undergirding theme this CSW for NGOs and rural women alike is to see the formation of tangible goals toward gender equality for rural women, specifically in the areas of climate change, gender-based violence, and women’s involvement in security and peacebuilding. To this end, most women’s advocates firmly believe that the path to formulating these goals includes efforts at greater accountability and enforcement of CEDAW, as well as Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Additionally, many believe that the work done at CSW 56 regarding women and climate change serves as a crucial foundation for making rural women central to the discussions at Rio+20, the sustainable development and climate change conference in Rio de Janeiro this June 2012. If you would like to take a look at this year’s CSW webcasts, announcements and other resources, you can do so here.