The complexity of working on gender issues
The launch of UN Women was a pivotal moment in world and UN history. UN Women is a reality thanks to the many NGOs and people behind the campaign. At the launch last month, Ban Ki Moon acknowledged these efforts and pledged to continue raising funds.
It was a star-studded event with speeches from UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman, actress Geena Davis and singer Shakira. The night was peppered with audio visual presentations of the struggle for women’s rights and vignettes from people around the world envisioning a future where girls and women have the same opportunities as boys.
The complexity of working on gender issues was highlighted in two sessions at the conference. One was entitled “Rising Above Socio-Cultural Inhibitions: The Key to Empowering Women and Girls in Africa and America” was hosted by the Widows Development Organisation (Nigeria) WIDO. The founder of WIDO, Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi pointed to good practices in working with community leaders to change harmful cultural practices.
WIDO tackles the three ‘Ds’ that widowed women face in Nigeria, ‘dethronement, defacement and disinheritance.’ Because of cultural practices, women lose their land after their husband dies, they are no longer allowed to appear attractive, and they lose financial security. Dr. Nwadinobi’s presentation was very motivating as she concentrated on the many successes that WIDO has achieved and the women they have helped.
We also attended a UNICEF and UNFPA joint launch of the ‘Women and Children’s rights; making the connection’ policy. Many of the connections being quiet obvious – issues of family planning, sexual and reproductive health, reducing maternal mortality and promoting the rights of adolescent girls including eliminating child marriage.
Stephen Lewis, the Canadian HIV and Gender activist, who was on the panel, highlighted the potentially problematic linking of women’s and children’s rights where women are seen as purely ‘reproductive vessels’. He stressed there is a need to take women’s issues vastly more seriously. He spoke of the “inherent misogyny with which the world responds to women in very difficult circumstances” giving the telling example of the HIV positive mother whose own health is unnecessarily jeopardised in order to prevent HIV transmission to her unborn child – demonstrating a very real case of where one set of rights is ‘superseding’ another.
The conference highlighted that in the area of gender issues, there is a lot for VSO to consider.
By Polly Kirby and Soraya Senosier