It’s day two of the 2010 Commission on the Status Women (CSW) Global NGO Forum for Women, and I am at once overwhelmed and inspired about the twelve days to come. This week thousands of women’s rights activists from all around the world are gathering in New York for the 54th CSW and the 15th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA). Hundreds of these women (and some men!) gathered to reflect on the last 15 years of the BPFA, the status of women’s rights around the world, and priorities for implementing the BPFA and promoting women’s rights agendas in the UN and other arenas in the coming years.
As someone new to CSW and the UN, I appreciated learning about the history and context of the World Conferences on Women and the BPFA at the Global NGO Forum. I am struck both by the progress for women’s human rights organizing in the last 15 years and by the immense challenges women continue to face.
In some ways, it is truly a different world today from the First World Conference on Women in 1975. During one panel, Mahnaz Afkhami reminisced about coordinating the planning for the Mexico City Conference by snail-mail! The Internet has undoubtedly enhanced (when and where technology is accessible) global collaboration and solidarity among our movements. At another panel, Cai Yiping celebrated how technological advances have enabled women to take media into their hands and tell their own stories. She recognized the different languages or voices women use when they communicate with different people and sectors – be it other activists, local leaders, the UN, the mainstream media, their own media sources, or their families. With a smile on her face, Cai Yiping challenged the women in the auditorium to use their own voices, their own language as they engage with the UN, government leaders, and each other over the next twelve days. The Global NGO Forum also tackled some very exciting policy topics, including a call to action for the GEAR campaign, which has the goal of seeing through a properly funded and resourced women’s division of the UN with decision-making power!
The past two days also demonstrated the astounding diversities of women’s rights activists and the challenges (and, I think, opportunities) for inclusion, common agendas, movement-building and the promotion of human rights for ALL women. In discussions and open mic sessions, many women spoke up about the urgency for genuine inclusion of women with disabilities and LGBTIQ women, as well as the need to further engage men in these discussions. Women of all ages raised their voices to call for better representation of young women on panels. After regional breakout sessions, many regions reported back about the need to involve both older and younger women in women’s human rights work, especially for constructive intergenerational work.
I also spent much of the past two days frustrated about the lack of inclusion, visibility, and recognition for activists from the CEE/CIS region. There was no Russian translation, except for ad-hoc group translation done by the activists themselves, and no space for the activists in regional meetings, as Europe was dominated by Western European feminists and no one seemed to have thought about whether Central Asian and other CIS delegates should go to Asia or Europe. Except for a presentation by European Women's Lobby during the regional priorities panel, there was absolutely no representation of women from Europe/CIS throughout the Global NGO Forum. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I couldn't help but be disappointed, especially as I met and talked to more of the women from CEE/CIS and witnessed them struggle to find spaces to share their experiences.
My spirits were lifted Saturday when Nyaradzayi Gumbodzvanda closed the afternoon panel by acknowledging how women’s funds have contributed to the sustainability and institutionalization of women’s human rights activism. To the sound of applause from the audience, she said women’s funds are crucial for resourcing women’s movements, and that the existence of women’s funds have provided activists both more independence in their work and more leverage in seeking funding from other donors, specifically for women’s rights programs. These words have been echoing in my brain for the past 24 hours – watching the buzz of a lunchroom filled with active and powerful women, I felt both pride and responsibility for the role of the Global Fund in supporting women’s movements around the world.
Betsy Hoody is on the Europe and the Former Soviet States Program Team at the Global Fund for Women