|Grassroots Speakout on UN Women|
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization's goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
On Wednesday, March 2, 2011, as part of the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York, grassroots women leaders from around the world came together at an event entitled "Grassroots Speakout on UN Women" to share their recommendations and input for the new United Nations entity—UN Women. Organized by the Huairou Commission, this event gave women the unique opportunity to contribute to the new UN agency by voicing their opinions to Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet.
Ms. Bachelet began with a brief statement, asserting that her main purpose at the session was to listen to what others had to say. One of her concerns over the years, she said, had been that grassroots women would not be reached—while they have many needs, their voices are often not heard. To this end, one of the main objectives of UN Women is to empower women, which is the only means to obtain equal rights. Women must be empowered not only politically, but economically as well, for only through economic empowerment can women attain autonomy, and only through autonomy can women attain security. She concluded by stating that while women are strong, they are often invisible in many communities—the goal is to make them visible.
Women representing vast networks of self-help groups and cooperatives from rural and urban areas took turns contributing their ideas and experiences from their own countries, including Nicaragua, the Philippines, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Nigeria, India, Kenya, Brazil, Morocco and Cameroon. Importantly, several women focused on environmental issues such as climate change, small scale agriculture and food security. In their recommendations to Ms. Bachelet, many women expressed the view that UN Women should support women at the local level and called for the creation of a program to support community initiatives led by women. In addition, several women recommended that UN Women take a more political role; for example, Relinda Sosa, President of the National Federation of Organized Women for Livelihoods and Integral Development (Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Organizadas por la Vida y el Desarollo Integral - CONAMOVIDI) in Peru, proposed that UN Women advocate to national governments on behalf of women to obtain gender equality.
Ms. Bachelet responded to some of the recommendations, stressing that while UN Women will work to reach and support grassroots women, it is the responsibility of all in attendance to do their part—they must organize themselves and elect who will sit at the table when it is time for discussion and decision-making. They must also assist UN Women in reaching those in remote areas who do not have access to internet or in countries without UN offices. Finally, Ms. Bachelet asserted that everyone must work together to improve the lives of grassroots women.