By Rebecca Justus, March 14, 2018 —

The United Nations’ 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) officially kicked off this week! Women Thrive staff and several Alliance members will be at the events in New York over the next two weeks. While we wish more members could join, we are excited to be joined by ten member organizations — four of whom Women Thrive was able to provide full funding for! Our members, such as Sybil Nmezi and Louisa Eikhomun from Nigeria, Sophia Donald from Tanzania, and Nyari Mashayamombe from Zimbabwe, have been very active at CSW speaking on behalf of their organizations and the communities they represent. 

Alliance members Sybil and Louisa at U.N. entrance

Sybil will be showcasing the work of Generation Initiative For Women and Youth Network (GIWYN) while Louisa is representing Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA). Both of these organizations work in rural and urban areas of Nigeria and focus on economic opportunity for women, as well as on other issues such as gender-based violence, youth, political empowerment, and peace and security.

Our four members, with their wide range of focus, will be able to lend a voice to those unable to attend and can be in the room representing those who are not, speaking out for grassroots women’s rights advocates.

While we are fortunate that these four women could attend CSW, it was not an easy process for them, nor for any non-U.S. citizen. Each person pursuing the opportunity to visit the United Nations (U.N.) during CSW experiences a myriad of challenges, one of which is the visa approval process. Many potential CSW participants were denied visas and therefore denied access to the events. As a result, many will not have the opportunity to be #InTheRoom, have their voices heard, and represent women living in rural areas from their respective countries. A situation depicting the exact theme of this year’s CSW: “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.

How do we expect things to change if the same people continue to be in the room and the same people continue to make important decisions without input from those closest to the issues? We should not have decision-making conversations about women and girls from rural areas without them being there or being included. Even a pledge from the United Nations regarding the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) articulates: leave no one behind.

In light of these challenges, we are even more grateful to have several of our members present! Seeing as 60% of Women Thrive’s members work in both rural and urban areas and 30% work strictly in rural areas, this year’s priority theme is particularly fitting. Our members have proven time and again how essential it is for them and other grassroots women’s rights organizations to be involved in high-level discussions and to be able to provide input to decision-makers.

Nyari speaking during CSW62

With the theme of CSW in mind, we are particularly proud that Nyari and Sophia are able to be at CSW representing their countries, organizations, and our Alliance members at the U.N. events and side events in New York. Nyari’s organization, Tag a Life International (TaLI), in Zimbabwe, works in both rural and urban areas and the organization’s primary focus is creating a safe place for young women and girls through building their agency, voice, and movements. Sauti Ya Wanawake Ukerewe (The Voice of Women), represented by Sophia, works mainly with women and girls living in rural areas on gender-based violence, environmental issues, and protection, male engagement in Tanzania. Although, all of our members are able to contribute rural and urban voices to conversations that may typically be less inclusive of local, on the ground voices.

This year’s theme comes at a crucial moment in the global women’s rights movement when spaces at the grassroots level, in particular, are shrinking as those who fear women’s empowerment attempt to silence the voices of those fighting for their rights. The CSW side event that Women Thrive is hosting, “Feminist Movements Under Attack,” aims to discuss this very issue because, unfortunately, so much of what the international women’s rights movement does is simply trying to maintain what ground we have.

To this point, Louisa said, “I am hopeful the Commission will compel governments to ensure that gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls and their human rights are central in national strategies, tools, and instruments for implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.“ We share Louisa’s hope that this year’s CSW will drive progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. Yet many of Women Thrive’s members have repeatedly stated that the only way to truly advance in this fight of ours is to do it together, united — not siloed. Our members continue to have to prove that they are the ones best equipped to deal with issues within their own communities; however, in doing so they need the support of one another and the knowledge that only in solidarity can their work continue to advance. Hopefully, this year’s CSW will provide an opportunity for these grassroots women’s rights advocates to get #InTheRoom, connect, and mobilize!