Anticipation and enthusiasm overflowed last Saturday. The sounds and sight of an excited mob of grey and white haired ladies is not one you can miss. This weekend there was a large gathering of all walks of women’s human rights defenders. All forms of women’s organizations was represented. They were mostly old and they were ALL very active. The organizers did a great job invited a variety of inspiring speaker such as Dr. Sima Samar, Charlotte Bunch, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Alexandra Garita.
Though it was great to have such a large gathering of women in all their diversity, there was also a great sense of frustration. This was both due to sense that not much has been achieved in the last 15 years and due to some logistical organizational shortcomings. At the end of the first day of the NGO forum, there was an open mic. The majority of women stood in line and waited (not always patiently) for a chance make themselves heard. There was such a hunger to be heard that there were very few silent listeners. It all dissolved into a cacophony of comments. In all the noise I picked up a few things:
It is high time for the ladies to hand over the torch to the next generation. This is necessary for a sustainable women’s movement. There needs to be an intergenerational dialogue and meaningful participation of youth.
Also, one of the panelists said, we should not forget that we are the mothers of those bad men we speak of. We can and should reprimand them! Also equality between women and men starts with upbringing, the way we educate our sons. This is of course not to say that the only space for women to influence men is at home. Women are increasingly active in decision making in the public as well as commercial arena.
No matter how many doors are shut, no matter how many voices are silenced women will continue to come because we want the UN to work for us. The NGO forum was great to bring people together. But let us not forget the critical points, because what would the women movement be without criticism? Regional working groups were organized however there was no clarity about what these groups were supposed to discuss. At the end of the forum a call for action was circulated. No one knew who the author was and everyone was annoyed at the fact that there had not been a consultation on this. These would be the first of many closed, opaque non participatory processes here at the CSW.