Grassroots Women Speak Out on UN Women
Last Wednesday, a room of over 100 people sat captivated as 12 grassroots women from around the world shared their development experience and made recommendations on the need for UN Women to include them in consultative processes, speaking directly to Michelle Bachelet, UN Women staff and representatives from the governments on UN Women's board. With much delight, Bachelet made clear her firm commitment to the full inclusion of grassroots women leaders at all levels of work and to the issues that matter to them and listened wholeheartedly to the words of the women present. In her concluding remarks, Charlotte Bunch, representative of the GEAR Campaign and a long time leader in the global women's movement, also affirmed and appreciated the voices she heard, agreeing to support the idea proposed by women in the Speakout and proposing to working together to create a grassroots women's fund. The idea of holding preparatory consultations with rural women leaders prior to next year's CSW on Rural Women was proposed by Haydee Rodriguez and strongly taken up by Michelle Bachelet.
One after the other, women stated clearly the change they are making in their communities as the basis for their recommendations to UN Women:
"We, the women producers, hold up the economies of our countries, and we have trained our local governments...Why? Because we're women experts," stated Haydee Rodriguez from the Union of Cooperatives Las Brumas, of Nicaragua.
"I started my organization, Slum Women in Development, with 29 other grassroots women housed in overcrowded and unsafe homes who wanted to improve our living conditions." Because of the work that Joyce Nangobi and SWID has done in organizing Local to Local Dialogues to talk with their governments, they now hold local power: "We influence local decisions and they [local authorities] invite us to participate in planning and budget allocation."
Kathy Tom from Papua New Guinea called for safer cities work. "This is a new opportunity for UN Women to work with grassroots women. We ask that governments listen to our recommendations in planning for safer cities. So we call for consultation, support for peer learning.
Bachelet responded with enthusiasm: "We need to empower them [women] politically, so that grassroots leadership is heard. Women lives can be improved, skills developed and get help economically. This is the only way to have real autonomy. A woman can say no to violence if she has income . . . Many of you have seen me in other meetings and I've always said one of my concerns was not reaching women at the grassroots, in the most difficult situations, how do we get to women in communities?"
She made clear her independent position: "I believe that the people (El Pueblo) aren't only part of problem, they're part of solution. I'm not trying to be nice to you. This is music in my ears. The question is how to have two to four grassroots women to be made part of the advisory board."