BLOG: CSW 2011: Ordinary Women Not Part of the Discussion

Lindiwe Makhunga (Gender Links)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 19:00
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General Women, Peace and Security
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New York: A passionate comment from a Cameroonian woman, appealing to the African Women's Caucus that gender advocacy must begin at home and address ordinary women, reminded me of two things yesterday.

The first is that when African women gather in groups of more than one, as we were at the African Women's Caucus during the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), it will be loud and bustling.

The second is that for millions of women across the globe whose lived realities are lives of abject deprivation and the struggle for dignity, the Commission on the Status of Women is not about the excitement of New York or even about this year's particular theme: Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women. It is about asking governments (and donor agencies that fund them) to make their lives better.

Yet ordinary women and girls seemed so far removed from the process. They are still a disembodied and monolithic "them" that was hardly likely to ever have official accreditation at the UN or meet the individuals who decide whether or not they will be able to access education or decent work.

We as "civil society" try our best to put the interests of ordinary people, our primary constituency, on the agenda, but it sometimes seems to be an accessibility issue and also is still so dependent on whose ear one has.

Yesterday I attended an NGO parallel session on costing the implementation of Resolution 1325 - which addresses the role of women in wartime - and it highlighted this particular dynamic.

The resolution underscores the vital role of women in the prevention of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacekeeping, peace-building and humanitarian response in post-conflict reconstruction. Most importantly, it calls for their equal participation in all efforts to maintain peace and security.

Sitting in a room of about 70 people who were all hanging on the words of international donor NGOs, I thought about the fact that one crucial indicator of the success of Resolution 1325 was missing: its ability to include women in peacemaking at all levels. This includes government and civil society, who should be enabling women to own their processes of change.

As these donor NGOs talked about how successful their advocacy efforts for allocating money around Resolution 1325 have been, I felt there was a great absence.

At not one point in any of these presentations did we get to hear the voices of women talking about their experiences around the costing of Resolution 1325 and its role in rebuilding their societies. This needed to be front and centre, and it was not. In addition to appealing to donor communities and the private sector to invest in post-conflict countries (in all their many different shapes and forms) we need to include women, isn't that the point?

The focus should have been on strongly lobbying governments to promote women's equal participation in the decision-making structures of post-conflict governments. This, to me, would serve as the best indicator of the success of the resolution's implementation. It is also vital to discussions of peace-building in Southern Africa.

According to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, "State Parties shall endeavour to put in place measures to ensure that women have equal representation and participation in key decision-making positions in conflict resolution and peace building processes by 2015 in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security."

Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are two post-conflict countries in the SADC region whose women are still experiencing insecurity. However, they both also have vibrant grassroots women's peace movements. The voices of these women must also be represented at a higher level.

At present, these two states represent opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of women in formal-decision making structures. Angola has the 10th highest number of women in parliament in the world, somewhere between Belgium and Denmark, with 38.6%. Yet DRC lags far behind with just 7.7% women in parliament.

International non-governmental organisations, as well as government, including the member states of SADC, need to address women's movements and what they require to implement resolution 1325. This, along with prioritising the needs of donors and the private sector, should be a paramount consideration.

Donor support is absolutely necessary, but not at the expense of ignoring women at both grassroots and decision-making levels. If we can't get it right at UN events in New York, what message is this sending to governments in Africa?

Lindiwe Makhunga is the Gender Links Alliance Programme Officer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service special series from the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.