CSW61 and Women’s Economic Empowerment
Working under the priority theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work,” thousands of women’s activists gathered in New York from March 14th to 24th for the sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61). The Huairou Commission was delighted to welcome delegates from twelve countries of Africa, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though Winter Storm Stella stopped all UN activities for a day, Huairou delegates brought ardent spirit and dedication, meeting all day at the Living Learning Center in Brooklyn to focus on their policy activism and organizing at CSW and beyond.
Collaborating with a wide range of partners on events throughout the two weeks, Huairou entered the forum with the clear picture that the economic autonomy of women is a prerequisite for them to realize equal political, social and economic rights. Autonomy depends on the ability to generate income and control assets and resources; this means upgrading the informal economy activities where women dominate in urban areas, and publicly investing in rural and indigenous women as environmentally-responsible farmers producing affordable, nutritious food. These themes cut across each Huairou event.
Kicking off the CSW activities, Magdalena Garcia of Mujeres Iberoamericanas en Red (MIRA) represented the Huairou Commission in a half-day event on “Locally Elected Women: Making the SDGs Happen,” organized by the United Cities and Local Government (UCLG). Magdalena highlighted the significance of recognizing women’s organizations, particularly grassroots women’s groups, as key stakeholders with strong track record of delivering practical, scalable results: a critical factor for effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and achieving the SDGs, particularly Goals 5 and 11. Later that evening Sri Husnaini Sofjan, Senior Administrator and Strategist, represented Huairou and the Advisory Group on Gender Issues (AGGI) in the event organized by UN-Habitat, “Women’s Role in the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda: Harnessing and strengthening sustainable urbanization using participatory methodologies for women and youth empowerment.” In her intervention, Sri pointed that women’s empowerment and gender equality efforts, cannot be just a ‘box to check’ in urban planning and financing. Procedures and incentives are needed to involve women leaders of coalitions such as informal settlement groups, informal workers’ associations, and community caregivers; and to integrate grassroots expertise as data generators, expert planners, and urban developers, who can partner on, produce, and transfer gender-responsive results. Sri furthermore urged governments and donors to invest in such processes that demonstrate how grassroots-led gender transformation ‘fuels’ urban transformation and motivates cities to mainstream people-centered approaches.
In “How to Make Cities Work for Women’s Economic Empowerment,” Huairou partnered with the National Democratic Institute’s Gender, Women and Democracy program to discuss synergies between grassroots and elected women, and joint opportunities for creating implementable gender-responsive policies in cities. Meryl Frank, former US Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, moderated an engaging panel of speakers that included Mimoza Kusari-Lila, Mayor of Gjakova (Kosovo); Patricia Chase-Green, Mayor of Georgetown (Guyana); Lana Finikin, Executive Director of Sistren Theatre Collective (Jamaica); and Joyce Nangobi, Founding Director of Slum Women’s Initiative for Development (Uganda). Panelists identified various leadership opportunities for urban women, such as creating safe and environmentally friendly cities, prioritizing gender budgeting, and contributing to food security; and they looked to local authorities to respond to the needs of grassroots women in their cities, such as greater access to credit and decent work, secure land tenure and ownership, and other key challenges. Mayor Kusari-Lila gave particularly inspiring examples of transforming her municipality into a leader of transparency and a partner to women in Kosovo. The New Urban Agenda represents further opportunity for women mayors and grassroots women to collaborate on widespread urban inclusiveness.
The Huairou Commission brought the issue of land to CSW with the event “Secure Land Rights for Women: Essential Building Block for Economic Empowerment,” in conjunction with Landesa, the International Land Coalition, Oxfam, Rights and Resources Initiative, and Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground Campaign. Underscoring that women in rural areas commonly lack rights to the land on which their livelihoods, shelter, and identity depend, the panel called for shifting policy and gender norms to recognize women as legally entitled to access and control over land and natural resources. As Wairimu Kanyiri explained in the Kenyan context, women’s control over land is inhibited by a patriarchy deeply rooted in cultural views; she and 3500 other grassroots women of GROOTS Kenya have collectively advocated for and achieved different degrees of land ownership, and have received training on entrepreneurship and farming technologies, resulting in significant economic empowerment. In order to institutionalize gains such as these, other panelists stressed the need to train women and communities on their land rights, and to monitor national development agendas, to ensure that these commitments are implemented.
“We produce organic coffee, we preserve native seeds, we preserve the environment, and work against climate change with our best practices. This makes us women who aren’t clients, but who are women of change.”
– Marling Haydée Rodriguez, President of the Unión de Cooperativas Las Brumas, Nicaragua
Focusing specifically on rural women, who constitute at least 45% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, the Huairou side event in partnership with IFAD took on the theme, “Empowering Rural Women to Develop Resilient, Sustainable Livelihoods and Communities.” A panel featuring rural women leaders called attention to their critical role in ensuring food security and reducing rural poverty. Shorai Chitongo, founder of Ray of Hope Zimbabwe, reflected on her mother’s struggles as a subsistence farmer and how that influenced her to become a champion for women farmers in both the rural and urban spheres. Marling Haydée Rodriguez, president of Unión de Cooperativas Las Brumas, proudly works with 1000+ women farmers in Nicaragua to build community resilience; yet in order to strengthen their economic independence, she stressed that they still require key resources such as secure land tenure, access to markets, certification for their produce, and even crop insurance in times of natural disaster. As the “silent revolutionary” of Madhya Pradesh, Rekha Pandram is also creating change via the Tejaswini Rural Women’s Empowerment Programme in India. She explained that when cultivating wheat as a cash crop faltered, a return to organic farming of indigenous millets became a steady source of both income generation and food security for women in her region; her counterpart in the Indian government further noted that “today these women are no longer alone, nor are they poor.” Relinda Sosa Perez, President of CONAMOVIDI Peru, shared her experience of mobilizing over 150,000 women to advocate for resources and state support in implementing National Law 30355, which is focused on promoting and developing family farming. The Deputy Representative of the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica validated these efforts and outlined his government’s sponsorship of a UN International Decade of Family Farming 2018-2027, with the aim of accelerating poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. To expand the evidence base on these issues, Nicole Bohrer launched the Huairou Commission’s report Rural Women’s Empowerment in the Sustainable Development Era: Priorities, Partnerships, and Policy for Transformational Change —available here.
After another successful CSW, we look forward to building and expanding partnerships for implementing the New Urban Agenda and achieving the SDGs. As outlined in paragraph 21 of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, women’s empowerment is a key area for achieving sustainable development that will significantly improve economic growth and productivity. Sufficient budgets, monitoring systems, and an expansion of opportunities for women to inform and strengthen governance will move us further, faster. And that is what we want to see happen.
Read the CSW 61 Agreed Conclusions (Advanced unedited version) here.