This week the focus of my blog is going to be completely different…I do hope you’ll allow me this indulgence. I am currently in New York City as a staff member of a group of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) members who have come to attend the Commission on the Status of Women meetings.
I came as an attendee last year, my blog on that experience is here, and in December they asked me to come back as an adviser.
Long story short, the United Nations spends two weeks each year focused on the status of women around the globe and each year has a priority theme. This year’s theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”
Today was something called the Non-governmental organization (NGO) consultation day where we get the schedule of events for the week and get to hear a lot (A LOT) of people talk at us.
One of my favorite speakers from today was Leymah Gbowee, the current Nobel Peace Prize laureate who works in Liberia as a peace and woman’s rights activist. While most panelists and speakers today talked about policy at the international level, what the policy is designed to do and how it will help rural women, Leymah came in and almost literally said: “Do you even like corn?”
Her whole point was that in order to help rural women eradicate poverty you have to listen and be receptive to their needs. I may think that corn is the greatest vegetable God ever created but if you don’t eat it or it won’t grow in your region what does it matter what I think? If I then give you a bunch of corn kernels they’ll all go to waste. It’s not about policy, it’s about paying attention to what rural women say they want and need.
We can sit and talk but until we recognize that that some of the resources we need are already in the [rural] communities, [those resources] won’t be forthcoming.
Another point she made was that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we want to create change.
Instead of empowerment, why not enhance the skills rural women already have?
If the women already have a process in place for food security or community building, why not provide them the tools to do it more efficiently instead of teaching them a brand new process?
One of the most frustrating things to me is when we talk and talk and nothing actually gets accomplished at these meetings. We continue to make new policy and pat ourselves on the backs for creating “change,” but we never actually implement those policies to see if they actually work or not. Leymah had a totally different take on that idea.
To create peace, we must invest in rural women. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, take off our high heels and get back into the fields.
The challenge for me is to take these ideas back to the spaces and communities I work with locally. How can the programs I am involved with at home be strengthened by paying better attention to the folks that they are actually designed to serve?