By Kim Weichel, CEO
Peace X Peace
Participating in the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference at the UN is one of the highlights of my year. It is the time when thousands of accomplished and passionate women of all ages come together in one place to share their work, wisdom, experiences, and successes to empower women. It’s inspiring, humbling, illuminating, and a huge joy to meet such extraordinary women from so many communities!
CSW is a commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), charged with evaluating progress and formulating concrete policies that promote gender equality. The CSW was established in 1946, and in the years since its mandate has expanded to include the empowerment and advancement of all women, as well as identification of key trends and challenges.
CSW provides a forum to evaluate signatories’ progress in keeping their commitments, and has been one of the most important mechanisms for policy makers and civil society to discuss progress and obstacles, exchange ideas, and make substantive policy contributions towards increasing gender equality. Official government representatives meet side by side with leaders from civil society.
This year’s CSW, held from February 27th through March 9th, focuses on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication. While rural women face many of the same challenges that women in urban areas do, they are particularly affected by climate change; limited access to resources such as water; poverty, malnutrition, lack of jobs, limited transportation and infrastructure; and violence.
For example, 70% of the 1.4 billion extremely poor (living on less than $1.25 a day) in the developing world live in rural areas. The conference explored all of these issues, providing both the challenges and a variety of solutions from different areas.
A common theme throughout the sessions was that despite decades of treaties, laws, resolutions, statements, meetings, and promises, the well-being of women and girls remains lagging behind that of men due to inequalities in access to opportunities, resources, and services, including education, health, and protection.
The situation is particularly dire for women in rural areas. We continue to fail rural women when only 5% of agricultural extension services are provided for women farmers. We continue to fail rural girls when they are twice as likely as urban girls to be out of school and married as child brides. And we continue to fail rural women when they are shut out of decision-making, cannot lead healthy and productive lives free of violence and discrimination, or die during childbirth.
We heard about the teacher training programs in rural areas of East Africa that enable more children to attend school, micro-credit programs in South Asia that have empowered women to launch their own small enterprises to help their families and communities, the Girl Scouts and Girl Guides international campaign to educate and speak out about violence against women, the program in Tibet to ensure that vulnerable girls from poor families get a chance for complete education and thus save them from being sold as sex slaves, the national gender policies in Burundi that are part of their 2025 program, the programs to train men and boys in respectful communication and collaboration with women, and programs to reduce illiteracy, participate in peace-building, and improve the welfare of women and girls in Sudan. All of these and many more give me hope.
Rural women are leading change. Rural women are on the frontline of climate change. They are managers of natural resources. They are building peace in their communities. They are providing education and health services. They are establishing businesses and creating jobs.
We all heard and committed to the call for action. By expanding rural women’s rights, participation, opportunity, and choices, we can bring about healthier economies and societies.
Peace X Peace is committed to raising and multiplying all women’s voices. Let’s hear yours!