The 2012 theme for the Commission on the Status of Women is rural women and yet one of the most absent voices this year has been the rural women themselves. Civil society has made evident efforts to ensure that we heard from rural women from all regions across the globe, , particularly given challenges in resourcing a trip to NY and obtaining visas. The greatest disappointment has undoubtedly been from the UN.
ActionAid supported Rwandan farmer, Jeanne Umubyeyi, to deliver an oral statement which was initially accepted and should have been delivered on Monday. As we waited in the foyer of the UN building, Jeanne shared with me her disbelief: “My family could not believe it. Me, speaking in NY at the UN Headquarters”. We were devastated and frustrated when we told that there were only slots for 12 speakers representing networks and caucuses and that Jeanne and 17 other women had been taken off the list.
Many women cannot make it to the UN to attend CSW. The desire for speakers to represent multiple organisations from multiple regions is understandable. But here I was, sitting with a Rwandan farmer, in the UN building who was denied the opportunity to share her experience and those of her fellow women farmers, of trying to make a living in Rwanda.
If she had been given a chance to speak, Jeanne had planned to tell the UN delegates how she used a loan of one million Rwandan francs that she received in 2005 to buy 2 hectares of land and 4 cows and how after two years, she managed to cross breed and gain 6 more cows. Later selling the cows, Jeanne expanded her farming by purchasing a 4 hectare piece of land. Jeanne also would have used the opportunity to make women farmers visible to these policy makers and demanded recognition for women farmers paid and unpaid farm work.
If given the chance to speak, Jeanne could have demanded commitment from governments to guarantee women’s rights to access land, productive resources and basic services, on the basis of their human rights and not on the basis of a women’s affiliation to their male family members or gender stereotypes that dictate that women must produce food and feed their families.
She could have also demanded gender appropriate farming inputs and access to financial services so that other women could purchase land as she did several years ago. And she could have demanded training for women on how to navigate the market to receive the best return for their goods.
But Jeanne was denied this chance. A UN meeting focused on rural women. 193 UN member states. One 10-day meeting. 12 rural women given 3 minutes each to make their intervention.