Voices of Rural Women at CSW

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FEMNET Update from New York
February 29, 2012
56th Session of the CSW
Theme: Rural Women’s Empowerment

Voices of rural women at the CSW
By Leo Wamwanduka

Today FEMNET hosted a successful side event for rural women to showcase strategies they are implementing at community and national level to promote sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment of rural women. Grassroots women from Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Mozambique shared some innovative ways women in rural areas are responding to livelihoods challenges in their contexts and establishing recognizable interventions that are making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of their communities. Examples of biogas plants set up by rural women in Kenya, oil pressing ventures by women in Zimbabwe and rescuing of girls from early marriages by brave women in Cameroon animated the session and generated a lot of discussion as participants from across the globe wanted to know how rural women had developed such sophisticated enterprises to secure their livelihoods. The voices of rural women who spoke today, unanimously echoed the sentiment that rural women are capable and what they need is investment in their local initiatives, not pity.

Today also marked a momentous occasion as women discussed the recent passing of a resolution to ban female genital mutilation which is one of the most heinous violations of women’s rights in most parts of Africa. During the session it was highlighted that Hilary Clinton had pledged funds for Nairobi University to lead in research in this area and the French government had also provided funding support for widespread programs to prevent female genital cutting in areas where it was occurring. It was noted that although the issue was severe in Africa, other countries such as the USA, Egypt, Iran and Germany had pockets of their societies that still practiced this initiation practice where girls labia and clitoris are cut as part of passage rites into adulthood. Women from Kenya, Norway and the USA shared experiences on this issue and expressed hope that the ban on this practice at UN level would have an impact at country and community levels.

Leo is the Executive Director of Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust. He is in New York attending the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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Demystifying Media at the Grassroots: Rural Women Using Media for Change
By Bessie Madziwa

During the session organised by International Association of Women in Radio and Television
Sharon Rolls Executive Director of Femlink in the Pacific Islands emphasized the role played by community radio in her nation Fiji in engaging communications for peace building, education and gender equality. Fiji media environment has been defined by the 2006 military coup which has made it difficult for women issues to be discussed in this space. Community radio involves going to the grassroots women and girls and broadcasting a session with them rather than wait for them to listen. She highlighted that this has enabled rural women to engage in dialogue themselves, to dialogue with decision makers hence community media process has given women a chance to be heard and created space for women in the policy space. Various speakers on this shared highlighted the following critical issues:
-Communication and dialogue are part of solving local problems and therefore women should take to the microphone
-Community radio can help those with low literacy levels to make decisions about their lives as more and more women share their experiences of good practices in their areas.
-Organisations were encouraged to use theatre for social and political change

Critical recommendations that came out at this session given at the end of the session s that women are as follows
• Unless women talk about their problems they cannot be solved therefore rural women some be given a chance to speak through community media such as radio and theatre in other words communication and dialogue are part of solving the problems.
• To achieve sustainable development and work towards the recommendation of UNSCR 1325 on Women ,Peace and Security to support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution and involve women in all of the peace agreement implementation mechanisms, media has to capture views from grassroots women
In conclusion all women across the world should Be informed, Be involved and be Empowered

Rural elder women and the right to health
Speakers in this session organised by International Network for the Prevention of elder Abuse pointed out that, it is a fact that women generally live longer than men, are poorer than men more so when they are old and are in the rural area context. It is saddening however that issues of the elderly are often missing from events concerned with women. And yet older women are in the majority of rural women. Older women’s voices are also missing in the UN agenda for women. To say that older women are taken care of in the bracket of women is unfair and the speakers recommended that the UN should come up with specific binding human rights for older women/persons. Women have a multitasked life; even when they are old they are busy doing something .Old age makes rural women more vulnerable to violation of human rights. They face chronic poverty, economic hardships, undocumented abuse, separation from families through migration and displacement, malnutrition and social exclusion as some are labelled as witches. Ageing comes with a myriad of health issues that affect older women these include chronic diseases which require them to have special medical and family attention. The speaker reminded the audience that young women cannot afford to ignore these issues as one day they will be elderly and enjoy the same rights.

Here are some voices from older women at the session:

“l want to tell my children stories of my life but they are busy, not too interested in my legacy”

“I am lonely ,my husband is also old, has dementia. I feel isolated, ignored”

“I once was young and beautiful now l am old and have wrinkles, but l consider myself to be still beautiful. I want to celebrate my age and life and do not want to be invisible for a single second of my life”

In conclusion the strong recommendations that came out of this session are
• CEDAW general recommendation 27 is generally, older women are calling for binding resolutions that are age specific
• African culture and traditions sometimes make it a sin to be old; as you grow old the more socially excluded you become. The UN and all governments should ensure that older women have access to free health care and the attention they need.

Bessie is the coordinator of the Zvishane Water Project in Zimbabwe. She is in New York attending the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

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