As part of our United Nations Liason Program, the Human Impacts Institute will be participating in numerous 2011 CSW side events focusing on sustainability in the upcoming weeks. Please, join us in a community conversation about the topics being discussed: What role can we play in our communities to advocate women’s rights as human rights?
This past month has provided a wealth of inspiring and thought-provoking forums and discussions on the current sustainability challenges facing our communities, particularly those of our mothers, daughters, and sisters around the world. On Wednesday, March 2nd, the Human Impacts Institute (Hii) was privileged to participate in a powerful exchange between the new United Nations agency-UN Women-and women-leaders from communities they are attempting to reach and impact. With the assistance of the Huairou Commission, grassroots women from around the world shared their experiences and concerns with the new Director of the UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, and members of the UN Women Executive Board. Participants also expressed their vision for what UN Women will be as an agency and platform for women’s voices.
Photo: UN Women’s Michelle Bachelet hears a story of grassroots woman from Uganda
Representing diverse communities, those grassroots women who shared their stories also shared common themes, including: Women face extensive systemic and institutional impediments to their socioeconomic prosperity. Participants emphasized that women and communities across the globe are overcoming these challenges through political and economic empowerment, as well as educational campaigns. A representative from Nicaragua emphasized that women must cannot have equal rights without access to political and economic capital. She also noted that this access to capital allows women to achieve physical autonomy and say no to sexual violence and posed the question, “If women do not believe themselves free and an agent of their own body, how can they defend it?”
Participants also consistently raised the issue that grassroots women’s participation in consultative spaces is crucial to the development process. Representatives from Peru, Brasil, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda, among others, requested that UN Women help to incorporate more grassroots women into the discourse at all levels of decision-making. Additionally, several participants inquired about a fund specifically allocated for grassroots women’s efforts. According to the UN Women representatives, this role is currently filled by two funds within the UN system: the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Fund, and the Fund to End Violence Against Women.
The questions still remains: how can we facilitate grassroots women’s access to these funds? UN Women Director Michelle Bachelet responded that UN Women can’t accomplish all the tasks of the UN System. She expressed unity with grassroots women and their expressed concerns and goals, however, she also emphasized the role of grassroots women as agents of change in their own community. Bachelet called on grassroots women to act as organizers in their community and emphasized the need for them to select leaders among their communities and regions, commenting that only so many people can come to the decision-making table.
Overall, the event provided global, grassroots women women a space to address the new UN Women agency, as well as certain country delegates and partners in the audience, as well as share their stories. However, it was evident that there is still a large, hard-to-fill gap, in addressing the participation of the grassroots in decision-making processes. Many in the crowd addressed concern that the issues shared were the same issues expressed by women ten, twenty, and thirty years ago: Women’s voices being heard is only a first step in a long process of badly needed institutional reform.
Women’s voices were heard by the governmental representatives from Nigeria to the United States. By sharing their experiences, grassroots women were directly involved in putting a previously-ignored issue on the radar. This is powerful, but there is still much more to be done.
By Emily Gilbert, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern