By Charlotte Lorick, VGIF UN Representative
It has been an eventful CSW56 Conference thus far, featuring inspirational and oftentimes eye-opening talk on rural women’s rights. Amidst the discussion about gender equality in rural communities, there has been an underlying buzz of concern among attendees. Despite the fact that an estimated 4,000 women from across the world have made it to the conference, some are concerned that many women’s voices are still not being represented. According to Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development in South Africa, their voices may be the most important of all.
At the Socialist International Women (SIW) Side Event on Thursday, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Italy, Dlamini shared her views on the situation of rural women in South Africa. Much of her discussion focused on the many problems that rural women are facing in her country, including patriarchal cultural practices, little access to leadership positions, and inadequate control over their own resources. The last point she made was most notable of all – she expressed her concern that many of these women are incapable of sharing their personal stories with the world. She feels that the very women that this conference focuses on have little impact on the diplomatic process at the UN and have very little power to change their situation. As she put it, “We all have come here to New York and left most of the rural women at home. We are talking about their futures and well-being and they are not even included in this discussion.” I have heard similar concerns at some of the other meetings, complaints that many women were denied a VISA, or that many simply do not have the funds to make the trip. She then went on to say that the women who do manage to make the trip to New York have faced some challenges. “We are traveling so far and yet many events have no translation and we do not have access to the rooms where decisions are actually being made.”
She appealed to the NGO community, the international community, and the UN member states to rethink the current system. NGO members have not come here just to talk. They have come to New York seeking change, and to improve their lives and the lives of the millions of women they represent. The time has come for action. We all know the problems. We all know the solutions. Now it is a matter of political will and getting the governments to implement the necessary changes. To accomplish this, to encourage government action, and to ensure that the right decisions are made, it is important that politicians hear from the rural women who need their help. Or as Dlamini so rightly concluded, “Nothing about us, without us!” We now must ask ourselves: How can we, as individuals and NGOs, ensure that action is taken and that we carry her message over into CSW 57?