2018 CSW: What lessons can we take forward to promote gender equality in our work?


April 9th, 2018

62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 12-23 March 2018

Last month, I participated in arguably the largest global gathering on gender equality – the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York alongside Arun Hial, our M & E Manager from the India office. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. During the Commission’s annual two-week session, normally held in March, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, academics and UN entities gather to discuss progress and gaps in the empowerment of women and girls. While Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress in political, economic and social fields, the session also provides a springboard for a lively agenda of civil society-hosted panels (which take place on the fringes of the high-level plenaries), on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to women’s economic empowerment, their representation in the media and more.

A global platform for reviewing progress on gender equality

This year, the priority theme for the session was “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. Central to this is the realization of rural women and girls’ fundamental human rights, which are necessary for their livelihoods, well-being and resilience – as well as to broader sustainable development for all. These include the right to:

  • an adequate standard of living,
  • a life free of violence and harmful practices
  • access and own land and productive assets
  • enjoy food security and nutrition
  • an education and healthcare, and
  • sexual and reproductive health and autonomy

Arun and I participated and shared Practical Action’s experience and lessons learnt from two projects namely the ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ project that seeks to raise awareness and knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst rural girls in India and the cocoa value chain work in Bolivia that seeks to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets.

Loise Maina, Gender Advisor making a presentation on the cocoa agroforestry work in Bolivia

Arun Hial from India Office making a presentation on the Sunolo Sakhi Project

Implications for our work at Practical Action

While there were no major surprises in the messages shared at CSW, some of the issues discussed are clearly directly linked to the topics that we work on at Practical Action. So what does this mean for us and our work? Firstly, out of the seven key priorities highlighted by UN Women as critical to empowering rural women and girls, it is important to note that we already have significant on-going work relating to three of the areas: sustainable energy and technology, clean water and sanitation, and increasing women’s climate resilience. However, as sadly noted in most sessions of the CSW and from the UN Secretary General’s report to the Commission, lots remains to be done, given that on virtually every gender and development indicator for which data is available globally, rural women were found to fare worse than rural men and urban men and women. We must consider why that is and ensure we look at the different impacts of our work not only on men and women generally but also from different social-economic backgrounds, in the knowledge that women’s experiences are far from homogenous. Areas we need to focus on in our programmatic and policy influencing work include:

  • Increase women’s access to essential rural infrastructure such as safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, water for irrigation, and technology including information and communications technologies – and empower women in the decision-making processes around these areas.
  • Focus more attention on food production to achieve food security and improved nutrition, particularly in poor and vulnerable households, many of whom are led by women.
  • As part of our women’s economic empowerment efforts, we also need to focus on financial inclusion and access to financial services for rural women farmers who remain largely marginalized, yet continue to play a critical role in sustainable agricultural production and in building food and nutrition resilience in many of the communities where we work.
  • Engage men and boys, as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, including those in rural areas.

We hope to continue taking these recommendations forward through close engagement with relevant country offices and by having strategic discussions at different levels of the organization particularly with the newly reconstituted Global Gender Group and change ambition hubs.

In the long-run, we should also consider opportunities to implement actions around other identified priority areas that we currently do not necessarily prioritize, namely: decent work and social protection, education and training, eliminating violence and harmful practices and empowering women as decision-makers and leaders. Ultimately, a successful approach to improving the impacts of our policy and practice work for women (and men) requires a holistic approach; acknowledging that many of these factors are interlinked and interdependent in women and girls’ lives, and that interventions seeking to address just one factor are likely not to achieve the sustainable and meaningful change that we hope to see for the people we serve.

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