On International Women’s Day, the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, Bev Jullien, looks ahead to the meeting of the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women (UNCSW), which begins next week in New York.
In the week of 12 March 2018, representatives will gather from across the world in New York for the 62nd Annual Meeting of the United Nations’ Commission for the Status of Women (UNCSW), for which Mothers’ Union has accredited status. I am delighted that I will be attending, with a delegation of members from both the Global North and the Global South (the USA, Canada, Ghana and Zambia).
Each of our delegates has experience of advocating for the rights of women and girls in their own countries, for example with a focus on widows, single mothers, or young women from deprived areas, and all plan to continue their campaigns following the meeting.
In preparation, we surveyed our membership worldwide to gain an understanding of the issues facing them – and received responses from a wide range of countries. What surprised us was that the underlying issues were similar everywhere, with the rural context magnifying common challenges faced by women.
As one of our members in South Africa stated: “poverty . . . bears the face of a woman”.
Isolation and limited access to health and education services remain a key challenge, leading, for example, in developing countries to higher rates of maternal mortality, and in developed countries to difficulties for the elderly and women with young families.
Attitudes to gender remain a particular challenge in rural areas. One member from the UK stated: “In some rural communities the traditional background of male dominance by the nobility, the village squire and farmers can restrict women being able to play their full part in rural communities”. Additionally one member from South Africa stated that: “Patriarchal society still confines women to the background and their issues are not considered important”.
Women’s participation in peace-building, whilst invaluable, is seriously limited, with less than four per cent of signatories to peace agreements, between 1992 and 2011 being women. Women on the whole are uniquely affected by violence and conflict, and rural women in particular, who are unprotected, isolated and vulnerable bear the brunt of this.
So we are advocating for reform on a range of key issues, for example:
- Investment in women’s economic empowerment, through safe access to quality education, skills training, and decent paid work; and ensuring that gender-based violence and discrimination within these settings is addressed.
- Creation and implementation of laws and policies which give women equal rights within the law, including ownership of land and property; inheritance rights, including for widows; and access to financial capital and institutions.
- Creation and implementation of laws and policies which ensure investment in infrastructure and essential services in rural communities, including adequate maternal, neonatal and healthcare; roads and transport links which reduce isolation.
- Ensuring the meaningful participation of women and girls in rural areas, in decision making processes and political life at all levels, particularly in the planning of rural infrastructure and development processes, and in mechanisms around peace-building and conflict resolution.
To read our statement in full, and to follow the delegates at UNCSW, please go to our website: mothersunion.org.