“UN Women will not yield results without grassroots women at the table!”...CSW 11 Day 3
She wore a beautiful African dress, shades of brown and blue adorned her from head to toe, standing as a perfect image of mother earth and its ocean. There was a cracking in her voice as she spoke that echoed in the room reminding us of the cracks in this world, in the bodies, minds and spirits of women created by the violence in their country. Tears streaming down her face making us witnesses to a story only she can tell.
" Tell me, how can I , how do you educate your children when you are being raped in front of them?"
This was the last voice in the Grassroots Speakout on UN Women held yesterday at the Church center. Unfortunately, UN Women Secretary-General and Executive Director Michelle Bachelet wasn't there to hear her.
On March 2nd, over 200 women gathered to give testimony to their story and put in request and demands to the new UN Women Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet and Members of the UN Women Executive Board.
It is my 3rd day at the UN Commission on the Status of Women 55th Session and I am about 12 inches away from the first female former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. It is only 30 minutes into the speak out 15 of which Michelle introduced herself and the mission of UN Women. The other 15 minutes where divided into 8 women who got on a microphone in hopes that she would hear their plea.
I didn’t quite understand the process of how women where getting selected to talk but from the looks of it, it seems like a process that was done before this event. I am speculating but it seemed that the NGO’s that registered to attend the conference also got an opportunity to register for speak outs and UN events before hand, so that makes me think it’s not so grassroots at all.
However the process, a couple of things where clear, this was not a speak out and the event was a set up for failure as Michelle left the room with an hour left of women to speak. She only heard the first 5 women representing hundreds of thousands of women in their country and yet barley scratching the service of women’s issues globally. Women spoke from Brazil, India, Nigeria, Peru and the Philippines, some had computers to talk from while others had paper they had scripted and many had translators not leaving much space or time for more sisters to speak.
No matter the language, the messages where still the same….
“UN Women will not yield results without grassroots women at the table!” and
“Nosotras no somos solamente receptoras de ayuda pero tambien una voce politca, Women are not just receivers of aid but political voices as well! “
In the hour and a half allocated for the Speak Out, approximately only 15 women spoke. I am not sure what to make of this. It’s like affirmative action, as women of color are we suppose to be excited because no matter how we get a foot in the door , we are in or do we move forward with caution as this space was a gift not a right of ours.
Nonetheless, the woman who spoke had a hard task at hand as many of them where the only representatives of their country. One Nigerian summoned it up when she said “Information is Power, I never heard of this organization till I got to New York City”. I laughed because I had never heard of it and I was in New York City, actually, I hadn’t heard of UN Women until I was at the event days after the inauguration.
This woman also came very well prepared not just to tell her story but make clear demands of UN Women.
1. Define clear mechanisms of how they were going to involve rural women in the process.
2. Do a needs assessment so their goals are aligned with grassroots women.
3. Since grassroots women carry the burden on the ground they need to walk with UN Women.
4. Create clear regional partnerships events so they can partner with grassroots women
5. How will they be using technology to reach grassroots women around the world
I remember the silence in the room as this women spoke cause the power in her voice commanded attention but I also remember the response that came next as she was the last women to speak right before Michelle Bachelet left.
With empathy in her voice and reassurance that she stood with us because she too identifies as a rural women, being president of Chile and all, and being a women herself, Michelle Bachelet proceeds to remind us that she and UN Women cannot do it all, in fact, she states “ You need to be the ones to organize who will sit at the table”, “ you need to organize and tell us how to reach women”.
I wanted to laugh because I have heard this so many times before and not to be sarcastic but isn’t that what we were doing by organizing this event?, coming to this conference and speaking?, to only be disappointed at the 30 minutes she had to spare before she ran out. I wanted to cry, typical political move, I can just imagine what it took for women to get here and once again the message is you need to do it. I wanted to yell “we already are and have been for hundreds of years!”
If you have been to these events before you can almost script the words that came out next, “ I need you to help me because I don’t have any funding”. Right now we have 2 regional offices and 5 women working for UN Women. The, I am in the same boat you are story we get at every rip.
Not to discard this reality, but hey Michelle Bachelet have you looked in mirror lately, you are a white skin women with tremendous political power and privilege, you ran a country for goodness sake. Maybe at some point in your life we could sit at the table and be empathetic but lets look and talk about race and class, you are not on the same boat as these beautiful black rural grassroots women on the ground that struggled to find a way to be here today so you could listen to them. Not your reporters or representatives, you!
However, with a smile on her face, she proceeded to tell us about the upcoming goals she has, like a PSA announcement. Over the next years, UN women wants to expand to 15 regional offices in Latin America , Africa, the Caribbean, the Arab World and Europe and she wants to find mechanisms to put funding out to rural women as women need economic and political power too. More importantly, she says “ I want grassroots women as part of our advisory group, please contact us”. Right!
As she walked out of the room so did half on the women sitting there , maybe with lost hope or just running to the next workshop. Leaving those of us who stayed recollecting ourselves, finding the pride within, remembering why we are here and doing exactly what we always do being resilient even in the face of doubt & disappointment, even if it means speaking to the representatives she left behind.
At the end of the event, I met with Zulma again and we headed to a meeting with Gear Campaign, an organization instrumental in advocating for last five years for the creation of UN Women and who co-sponsored the Speak Out today. Their goal is to monitor how the UN “implements the promises it has made and ensure that civil society participation is formalized and the women's rights groups are consulted about the program and future of UN Women”. To find out more about GEAR Campaign and the wonderful work they are doing please visit their website at http://www.gearcampaign.org/
I am excited about a future partnership with GEAR Campaign and World Pulse to get Pulse Wire women voices closer to UN Women.
In conclusion, I leave with you with the words of Zulma, “I have been coming to these events for at least the last 10 years and I am surprised of the turnout this year. I don’t know if it’s the economic crisis , funding or both but I am concerned that if women cannot participate at this event then what will their participation look like at UN Women?”.