VOW board member Hannah Hadikin reports on her trip to UNCSW 2012
Voice of Women for Peace at the United Nations
Since the 1970’s the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) as an accredited non-government organization (NGO) has maintained an affiliation with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This affiliation allows for VOW to officially participate at the annual meeting of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. This participation takes the form of workshops around the priority theme for the year, the preparation and delivery of briefs and meeting with the Canadian Mission to the UN. Each year the CSW identifies a priority theme and often an emerging issue. The overall focus is always, gender equality, development and peace. During the first two weeks of March, between 2,000 – 5,000 women activists gather at the UN to learn, teach, lobby, examine progress and network extensively. Most of these ‘gatherings’ take place at the UN Church Centre, a highrise building located across the street from the UN headquarters. Member States and representatives of UN entities, along with ÉCOSOC organizations hold high level, formal meetings where they are expected to provide information, insights and recommendations on the priority theme. The principal output of the CSW is the agreed conclusions on priority themes set for each year. “Agreed conclusions contain an analysis of the priority theme and a set of concrete recommendations for Governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level.” (CSW website)
For the larger majority of women attending the CSW, it is the parallel events that are organized outside of the formal programme of the Commission, that offer a chance to meet inspiring women from all parts of the global community. Over the course of the two weeks, women delegates attend panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, forums. There are also evening events with many interesting social flavours. Stunning headdresses or traditional head wraps, as forms of cultural expression or in some cases as signs of spirituality, grace the workshop rooms. Luxurious African textiles, accessories of beads and bags, truly offered a journey through cultural passageways. Women delegates from Africa, to the eastern Mediterranean region, from the Americas, to Europe, from Asia to the Western Pacific region, share their efforts to implement gender-responsive approaches. Women sharing both their promising and often challenging stories–stories of strength and courage in dealing with persistent realities of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, conflict and wars. It’s an opportunity to bring these critical issues to the forefront of our understanding. I met with women from many countries, including Rwanda and the Congo. I listened to their testimonies of how sexual violence and rape become deliberate strategies of war, robbing the lives of women and girls. I also heard how in Rwanda, post conflict, women are actively engaged in using their wisdom and compassion to ensure sustainable peace.
Over the past 56 years, themes have focused on education and training for women, women and health, women and the media, women and the environment and the girl child. This years theme: The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges, provided me with an opportunity to participate on the VOW panel addressing militarism and the alarming amount of public funds going to bloated military budgets and away from social programs in rural areas. My presentation provided a lens into our local, rural landscape and the situation facing many women and their families, not unlike of those in developing countries. According to the HungerCount 2011 report, some 850,000 people relied on food banks across the country each month, of these 37.9% were children. Many live in rural areas. It is inexcusable that in a wealthy country such as Canada, up to 2.5 million individuals are food insecure. This situation becomes all the more dire, in remote aboriginal communities. As the UN right-to- food envoy Olivier De Schutter observed in his recent report following an 11 day tour of Canada’s, northern communities, rural and inner-city neighbourhoods: “Canada needs to drop it’s self-righteous attitude about how great a country it is and start dealing with its widespread problem of food insecurity”. To this I would add, the immediate reigning in of the excessive military budget and re-directing it towards social programs and peacebuilding initiatives.
Many women I spoke with at the CSW, shared my sentiments for a need to transform from the current failing economic system to a sustainable and equitable one which ensures gender equality, human rights and environmental justice through sustainable livelihoods and poverty eradication. Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and currently Executive Director of the new UN women’s organization UN Women which was established two years ago, championed women’s rights in her keynote address: “ Research shows that empowering women is not just good for women…it is good for all of us — for peace, the growth of our economies, for food security, for human security — in short, for the well-being of current and future generations”. Ms Bachelet went on to praise rural women in particular, as being in the frontline of knowing about “’ peace and security’’ and “ by expanding rural women’s rights, participation, opportunity and choices, we can bring about healthier economies and societies…and none of us can afford to perpetuate the barriers facing rural women or leave them out of decision-making…”
Women’s equal participation in political and economic life is central in the process of promoting women, as this inclusion ensures that the goals of equality, development and peace will be achieved.
As always, I remain thankful for the opportunity that VOW provides for me, each time I participate at the CSW. It is always an amazing experience. I continue to process the life stories, the passion and courage, shared by so many women over the duration of the conference. I also believe very firmly that the UN needs women to hold Member States, including our own government accountable in the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the impact of war on women and calls for a gender perspective in peace, security, policymaking, peace negotiating, and peacekeeping. For VOW to continue its peace dedicated work, it needs your help. Please consider a membership or donation. Check out our website at www.vowpeace.org