Written by Mercy Nganda
The 62nd Commission on the Status of Women is a yearly interactive platform where individuals, civil society organizations and member state representatives discuss and consult on issues that affect women and young girls all over the world. As a participant attending this high level inter-generational dialogue, it was a humbling and eye-opening experience that allowed me to broaden my knowledge beyond the borders of Kenya and become much more aware of the common issues that affect young girls and women and seeing first hand how working together to bring long lasting solutions can have a positive global impact on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls living and working in rural areas. One of the important lessons gained from participating in this conference as a young woman selected to advocate for the rights and freedoms of other young girls and women globally, was that of taking control of the narrative that we want told about us, especially in Africa, of the continuous struggles and successes that we face daily. Telling our own stories has a bigger impact than it would when told by foreigners and aid agencies especially since we are well versed with the underlying issues. It is by controlling the narrative that we are able to come up with practical solutions instead of relying on western systems to solve our problems for us. The Nhanga Binti SpaceThis was a safe space, the first of its kind to be created and managed by young African girls and women during such a high-level meeting. It was a space where young girls and women could come to share freely about their experiences and thoughts on each day of the conference. Topics discussed included but were not limited to;
Media and ICTs
Food, Water and Security
These were the topics that stood out the most during the one week of the Nhanga Binti space being open. While the space was initially created for young girls, older women also came by and participated in these discussions. Both sides had valuable inputs to share on the challenges that are faced by today’s young generation, noting how different things were for the older generation and what cut across both generations. From these discussions, we realized that it was important to learn to listen and not just pushing for what we think is right for us as young women. As part of the team that managed this space, I had the opportunity to meet, interact with and learn women in government, those in top positions in International Organizations as well as those in business. Media and Communication EffortsAs with any event, whether big or small, recognizing the role of media and communication can go a long way in ensuring that the public hears about events one is holding. Engaging the right target audience is crucial in delivering the message you want including what one would want the public to do with that information. For CSW advocacy purposes, social media played a crucial role in delivering the message on the importance of the inclusion of women and girls living and working in rural areas. Social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were most used to generate interest and awareness of the Nhanga Binti Space, Leave No One Behind and the Youth Dialogue.Across the social media sites hashtags such as #CSW62, #ruralwomen, #TimesUp, #Migration, #WomeninSTEM, #SpotlightEndViolence, #GenderEquality, #FeministVision etc were used to generate interest and create global awareness of the importance of CSW62. Participants also took pictures and linked them some of the hashtags.Skype was also used to enable some of the young girls and women who were not able to secure visas and travel to the United States to tell their stories and share thoughts on the issues that continue to affect them and what they wanted their respective governments to change. Side Events Attended
Ending child marriage and supporting girls who experienced marriage
This was a panel led discussion on ending child marriage and on exploring interventions and activism that is girl centered in order to control the narrative; real people, real issues especially those girls that are at the centre of child marriage since they understand what issues affect them and can offer better input on how to assist those caught in child marriage. The following are some of the key discussion points:Cause and consequence - Education is the key link in that a lack of it drives people to engage in child marriage as means to a better economic standing within the community. However, this is not always the case. Majority of the communities that carry out this practice do not know that child marriage is rape. Improving education access and quality in these communities is the first step to ensuring a collective effort in ending child marriage. Legal Framework - Gaps in law must be addressed, educating the community leaders that statutory law outweighs customary law and/or traditions especially where it concerns children and marriage.Recognizing the role of Men - The involvement of men, young and old, is just as important as that of education in ending child marriage. Changing the mindsets through educating the younger generation on the ills of child marriage in order to stop the cycle of engaging in child marriage, whether for forcefully or willingly.
Leave no one behind
An inter-generational conversation on what the standards should be to ensure that no woman and girl living and working in rural areas are left behind. It was noted that women and girls living in rural areas face some of the most daunting challenges and that lack of policy and accountability translates to not being able to achieve equality, end discrimination and violence for women globally. The main purpose of Leave No One Behind was to work on a set of recommendations that will set the standards on what needs to be done to ensure the inclusion of rural women and girls in the global discussion. It is no longer acceptable to work in silence. Topics on the multiple deprivations that affect women and girls were the centre of the discussion and the hope that the recommendations will truly reflect the realities of these women. Multiple panel discussions resulted in some of the following key points:
There are enough policies on women and girls issues, the challenge that remains is to hold governments accountable to implement them.
While it is important for women to have a voice, there is need to have a collective one in order to ensure they are included in social dialogue mechanisms.
Informality - while informal economies contribute to development of a community and nation, they are damaging therefore there needs to be a gradual transition into formal economies.
Education and the access to quality public (health) services for women are needed so as to harness their full potential.
Collaborative approaches by government, civil society organizations and traditional leader
Improved Gender responsive budgets and the provision of adequate resources to carry out the implementation of the recommendations
More male involvement in programs and projects.
Bring down patriarchy by ensuring interventionist mechanisms are available at every stage of a girl’s life.
Direct representation and participation on all issues that affect women and girls living and working in rural areas; look into how the participation can be made possible especially in policy creation including acceleration of these processes.
Buy-in into the communities in order to implement the proposed policies instead of super-imposing or replicating policies that are not well suited to the issue at hand.
Granting women equal power not as a challenge but as a form of ensuring progressiveness.
Dealing with issues of rural women and girls from urban areas and/or perspective not ideal. Acknowledge that it is best explained by women and girls who live and work in rural areas. A rural-based approach.
A youth led discussion supported by the older generation. It allowed for the opportunity for both sides to listen and understand on the approaches and preferences that youth use to deal with the challenges they encounter every day. The youth dialogue resulted in some of the following recommendations;
Addressing structural inequality in all areas.
Accessible gender sensitive services.
Proper training of law enforcement on handling victims of gender based violence, including enforcement of laws surrounding this while not forgetting online violence which has increased in part due to advancement in technology and use of social media sites.
Free quality education plus comprehensive education on human rights and gender equality at national and international levels.
Consultation and representation in global decision making spaces and use of affirmative action from governments.
Additional infrastructure to be provided, especially where there is a clear challenge on provision of basic services such as schools, clinics and hospitals and electricity and water supply.
Addressing of the high visa fees
Provision of legal resources to overcome birth registration and land rights.
Addressing the lack of decent employment opportunities and access to adequate financial resources for the purpose of getting into entrepreneurship opportunities that majority of youth face.
Better support from the government in youth led innovations.
Accountability and transparency in addressing the illicit flow of funds meant to finance for the provision of infrastructure and services
Creation of inter-regional exchange programs to allow and facilitate an exchange of best practices while being cognizant of the fact that it is a co-learning approach.
Create a culture that supports speaking up on issues considered taboo in society.
Resisting international laws that continue to colonize and suppress the economic development and growth of the southern block.
Provision and support for STEM based education opportunities, especially for the girl child living and working in a rural setting.
ConclusionThe overall effect of participating in the 62nd Commission on the status of Women with a special focus on women and young girl’s living and working in rural areas was wholesome. The cultural exchanges provided for an opportunity to learn and improve on knowledge and policies regarding Women’s Rights. That the language surrounding how women are described , especially those in rural areas needs to change so as to improve the general standing of women globally.