About 300 people, nearly all women, in the main room of the Salvation Army are full of excitement. It is the day before the official start of the CSW and we are already together to share our contact cards, experiences and ideas. On top of that, Michelle Bachelet who is the head of UNWomen and a great example comes to speak! Expectations are high…
Civil society: partners of UNWomen!
Michelle Bachelet starts off with sweet words in a room full of women activists and organisations: “today, the NGO consultation is the corner stone of the CSW.” When Bachelet states that civil society is part of the solution to reach greater gender equality, she gets a standing ovation from the NGO representatives present in the room. UNWomen depends on the support and partnership with civil society, and “NGOs are key partners of UNWomen” says Bachelet. Action is added to the words as the question is posed: “How do you, as NGOs, see your involvement with UNWomen?” The level is set high and it looks promising for the coming two weeks.
UNWomen: a Catalyst of Change
How is UNWomen going to make a difference within the large UN network? Clealry, UNWomen is still trying to find its place within the UN structure. It seems confident in knowing what its added value is. Bachelet argues that UNWomen is there to besides reaching its own goals, also to influence and contribute to the agenda of UNDP, UNICEF and other UN institutions. “UNWomen should be seen as a catalyst of change.” The question that remains is whether UNWomen will become a kind of gender watchdog within the UN, or whether it will step beyond that with its own programmes. The answer is given swiftly: “We don’t tackle education directly, this is the responsibility of UNESCO. We don’t tackle health direclty, this is the responsibility of institutions such as the WHO”. UNWomen seems to be the gender igniter, ensuring that all existing UN institutions mainstream gender in their policies… but don’t we aspire it to be much more than that?
“WOMEN CAN, YES WE CAN!”
Going more into the content after all the institutional talk, Michelle Bachelet discussed the vision of UNWomen. “Women will never have equal rights if women are not empowered”. Empowerment is the main theme in her argument. Women should be empowered by improving their political participation and making their voices heard. Secondly, economic empowerment is essential and instrumental. Access to, quality ánd relevance of training and education need to be taken into account. Lastly, voices of women need to be better heard in particularly conflict mediation. “Women in conflicts are powerless”. Increasing the number of female mediators is one way to tackle this problem, but also, Michelle argues that male mediators need to be sensitized to the voices of women in their constituencies. Attention for men in addressing gender issues comes back sporadically throughout the consultation but to our taste way too little…
Rineke van Dam
Junior Representative WO=MEN