The Commission on the Status of Women – annually the most well attended event of the UN Calendar – with women for all walks of life coming to the United Nations, New York to advocate basically for the human rights of women and girls. I find a certain tension in the agreed conclusion between the need to address ‘all’ women and girl including those living in rural areas Paras 2, 3, 14, 25, 26, 32, 41, 42, (c) (l) (aa) (jj) and (ww) when in fact this year was specifically dedicated to ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women girls.’ Maybe this is reflective of the dynamic tension, enthusiasm, and controversy concerning gender equality that is evoked from start to finish of the Commission. Is there a fear that some women and girls – ‘those furthest behind’ – might gain at the expense of the whole? This is impossible as the pre-ambular paragraphs only reference previously agreed, international law and frameworks from CEDAW to Beijing to the Sustainable Development Goals and the agreed conclusion are what they are ‘agreed conclusion’ and not legally binding.
While the focus was specifically on ‘rural women and girls,’ yet prior to the commencement of the Commission the was a sense of unease about the meaning of the phrase ‘rural women and girls.’ A suggestion was made many times that the phrase ‘women and girls living in rural areas’ would be much more acceptable – focusing on the intersection of women and girls and the very specific geographic location where they are living. While much advocacy was done to have the terminology changed, the bureaucratic institution of the United Nations approves the concepts used and ‘women and girls living in rural areas was not one of them’! Likewise girls living in rural areas, while appreciating their visibility in the document, would like to see their human rights issues addressed specifically and separately from women focusing on the intersectionality of discrimination against girls and a specific geographic area, the ‘rural’. Another bureaucratic hurdle for another time.
Interesting in reviewing the document there are a few times when the phrase ‘women and girls living in rural and remote areas’ – Paras 36, 37 and (aaa) – has been incorporated into the document – so maybe we as advocates have some new agreed language – referencing these agreed conclusion going forward. An NGO group advocated to have reference to ‘mountain’ women in the agreed conclusion so I wonder how they feel with ‘remote areas’? Does that include them?
I found some reflections and comments on the agreed conclusion. UN Women had this headline – UN Commission on the Status of Women delivers a blueprint to ensure the rights and development of rural women and girls. ‘Food security and nutrition, land water, food, work and a life free of violence and without poverty as main issues to tackle.’
Soroptomist International had a reflection contrasting disappointment and rejoicing. One Group sorely disappointed were Widows for Peace through Democracy who were advocating for the inclusion of widows in the agreed conclusion knowing first hand the multiple and intersecting discriminations widows in rural areas experience.
Femnet – the African Women’s Development and communication network commented that CSW62 ‘It is rejuvenating, reenergizing and exciting to have such a progressive outcome document out of CSW…’ If you read on you will see their summary of gains and losses. One loss is that labour rights for women was not shifted to the global level.
We have a comprehensive, complex and eclectic agreed conclusions but where does one begin to implement and evaluate? Who is implementing what, where and how? Apart from the preamblur paragraphs and the closing paragraphs there are three main section:
- (i) the normative, legal and policy framework
- (ii) implement economic and social policies for the empowerment of all rural women and girls. But this begs the question which economic and social policies do we specifically need for women and girls. Maybe the answers are in OP’s (m) to (iii) What of environmental policies – the effects of climate change, climate induced migration etc?
- (iii) Strengthen collective voice, leadership and decision making. During the first week of CSW 62 we were confronted with the murder of Mariella Franco. The issue of the inclusion of Human Rights Defenders in the agreed conclusion was contentions up to the end mentioned in Para 42 and OP (rrr).
Are the two weeks of CSW merely a time of playing around with words, engaging in political rhetoric, maintaining national sovereignty and entrenched cultural and religious positions, while being blind, deaf, and unmoved to action by the daily suffering caused by poverty, hunger, and violence that women and girls living in rural areas experience. The continual lack of food, threats to food security, no social protection, no land rights, scarcity of water, lack of provision of health care, education and decent work coupled with natural disasters and climate induced migration are features of the feminization of poverty. A concluding paragraph in Rev 1 of the agreed conclusion read ‘ The Commission call upon Governments to heed the urgent United Nations humanitarian appeal to assist counties facing drought, starvation and famine with emergency aid and urgent funding, and underlines that, if no immediate response is received, an estimated 20 million people, most of whom are women and children, risk losing their lives.’ This paragraph was not in the final document! READ more …
My answer to the the question I posed above is that such debate at the global level is not only necessary but vital to inching forward gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women living in rural areas. Action is taken by the very same women who come to CSW year after year. In the case of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd see our documentary out of India Mahila – A Women’s Movement Rising