During the first week of March, I had the opportunity to attend part of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) organized by the United Nations at its headquarters in New York. This year’s CSW session, focusing strategically on “Gender, Education, Science and Technology, and Employment,” was special as it coincided with the historic launch of The UN Women—created from the amalgamation of the various gender units of the United Nations. The UN Women has a strong foundation from which to build, drawing from the lessons learned by the various gender units that have now combined to create the new collective approach for addressing women’s rights and empowerment. Thankfully, the organization’s focus on connecting with grassroots women already is a positive sign for engaging and amplifying the voices of women and girls who for long have been invisible and marginalized in the mainstream women’s movement. It is exciting to know that UN Women will draw from multiple talents from diverse backgrounds to accomplish its mandate.
The Commission’s strong focus on youth is a key, as youth leadership is crucial to designing innovative solutions to the world’s challenges. Young women and men who are part of networks such as the Moremi Initiative, an organization with the vision to engage, inspire and equip the next generation of women leaders and Young Women’s Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI) showcased the leadership potential and on-going creative solutions being generated by youth for social change, at the CSW event. Sitting in the various spaces where these dialogues and sessions occurred, I felt not only a glimpse of hope, but also gratitude for the abundance of resources not in the traditional sense of money, but in the potential for what strategic engagement and investment in youth could contribute to addressing the world’s challenges in a holistic and equitable manner.
Being part of an organization that is filling in the gaps and making linkages between women and the environment via innovative solutions to food, land, water and climate justice, it was invigorating to see the urgency the CSW created around addressing the impact of climate change, particularly as it affects women. Several panels and sessions focused on creating integrated solutions and resilience to this issue, and in the African context, it was groundbreaking to see grassroots women leaders and groups as well as youth from Uganda, the Gambia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Namibia and Kenya, sharing their stories of how they are mitigating the impact of climate change. At the same time as the CSW program, Groots International/Huairou Commission organized an extended session on leadership training for grassroots women globally, who are working directly at the intersection of gender and the environment.
I made some personal and important connections at CSW that will allow for a deeper engagement with networks and organizations on the ground in Africa to ensure economic and environmental security for women. These connections along with Women’s Earth Alliance’s core programs in capacity building, communication and advocacy will strengthen our work in Africa and contribute to making meaningful and sustainable changes in the lives of women and girls on the continent and in the diaspora. They will also inform our partnership model based on mutual respect for local knowledge and expertise, peer learning, and the ability to prioritize the most marginalized groups, as we equip them with various skills and resources and facilitate the space for them to set the agenda and design innovative women led solutions to environmental challenges. I believe that on this journey to ensure women’s livelihoods and environmental justice, we work, sing, dance and fight together and never alone.