UN Women

The United Nations’ largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s rights, (CSW62), met in New York earlier this year with the intention to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls

Being amongst the representatives from civil society organisations, government representatives and NGOs who had descended on the UN’s headquarters in New York for its biggest event on women’s rights was one of the most eye-opening and educational trips I’ve taken yet. This year, the theme of the two- week session was “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”

The rural poor make up 75% of the world’s poorest population, and women face significant disadvantages and inequalities due to, mostly, cultural barriers. Ilitha Labantu, one of the women rights groups from South Africa, highlighted in one of the discussions that in some rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal, women are still denied land ownership in their family farms even though they are the primary workers of the land.

Another most memorable and saddening discussion I attended was about the prevalence of ‘ukuthwalwa” (a form of abduction that involves kidnapping a young woman or a girl with the intention of compelling her family to endorse marriage negotiations). I was shocked to learn that this ancient practice is still being practiced in many countries globally.

The gathering resolved to take steps to lift rural women and girls out of poverty and to ensure their rights and well-being were protected. These include ensuring their access to land, ending poverty, decent work, education and health - including their sexual and reproductive health and ending all forms of violence and harmful practices.

The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her closing remarks, said: “The Commission’s agreement on measures to bring substantive equality to women and girls in rural areas is a vital step forward. In the Commission’s two weeks of dialogue we have heard clearly from the women and girls themselves what they want: from the rights to own property, to the need for quality infrastructure, to the rights to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. Effective action to bring the changes they need will take the continued engagement of all partners, from governments to civil society. Rural women themselves must be able to speak up and be heard in all consultations, and youth delegations must be included at all levels. These agreements are made in the meeting rooms of New York but must take effect in the lives of women and girls we are here to serve.”

It was an honour to be part of this thought provoking conference as it gave me perspective and appreciation of my privileges and the freedom that I have.

- Buhle Hanise

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