By Elina Doszhanova, Kazakhstan, Social-EcoFund NGO, WEDO & WECF EWA delegation
The past ten days I spent in the New York City as an observer to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) were very intense in all aspects. My overall impression is — that life is so vibrant, and having opportunities to be engaged in this and so many other important processes; to meet so many bright leaders, feels very fulfilling.
CSW57 was a great opportunity for me to learn more about women’s issues, and I feel especially enriched by the company of my fellow women and people who share the one goal of making this world a better and a fairer place for women and girls. We came here – a small group of women from Kazakhstan, Colombia and Guatemala – to CSW57 to share our experiences with environmental degradation and unsustainable development, and tell our stories to those interested. We all have different stories, but listening to so many environmentalists and community leaders, most of whom are females, makes me realize that many of us share common concerns. Sometimes the themes of our presentations are so depressing and almost feel unbearable to deal with. But let’s hope that our efforts are not in vain.
In my observations, Kazakhstan and the whole Central Asian region was insufficiently represented at this year’s CSW by the officials from the government and non-governmental organizations. To have a strong representation during such processes as the CSW is critical if the Central Asian states want to have a stronger voice in the global gender negotiations on issues specific to the region. Although the Permanent mission of Kazakhstan hosted a reception for the NGO CSW, I have not met any other NGO representatives other than myself, and could not share experiences and connect with other representatives of NGOs from Kazakhstan and other neighboring states in Central Asia.
It was interesting to see so many representatives from Latin America – women with strong voices, including our fellow presenters – Norma Maldonado from Guatemala and Isis Alvarez from Colombia. I believe that Latin American states were well represented by women because of last year’s Rio+20 Conference held in Brazil. Our Social-Eco Fund’s founder and leader Kaisha Atakhanova also participated in Rio+20, and reported back widely to the constituents at the EcoForum NGO Meeting in Almaty last September.
The biggest challenge for wider participation of women and NGOs from Kazakhstan in the women’s rights movement has to do with the language issue – very few people working in NGOs speak English at a sufficient working level that would make it possible for them to understand the language and all the terms. In addition, there is some disconnection from the language of the official statements thoroughly elaborated by the government negotiators and the realities of life for women back home. It is hard to concentrate on the global processes and promote women’s rights when a woman somewhere in a rural area in Kazakhstan has to take care of the family and try to earn a living working in an NGO. Women are left dealing with all the consequences of those decisions made without consulting them or any participation on their side.
Also, the educational system inherited from the Soviet times is not directed at empowerment and participation of civil society in the official processes in the countries of Central Asia. The majority of Kazakh women are still very traditional and concentrate more on the household; family issues, raising children, and making a living – especially in the rural areas of the country, where life is much different from a lifestyle in big cities like Almaty, Astana or Atyrau. Of course, the city life has its own challenges and usually leaves no time for educated women to participate in global negotiations processes like the CSW.
Moreover, not many people instantly understand how gender issues are related to environmental issues, so there is still much work to be done to raise awareness among the target women groups. And finally, even if a woman has all the prerequisites for becoming an observer to high-level processes such as the CSW57, she still has to figure out how her experiences at home can be directly fed into the stream of voices from women throughout the world, and sometimes it can be quite overwhelming.
Women I’ve met in New York this time who were participating in the CSW as observers, represent so many diverse issues of women around the world, that it appears hard to coordinate joint global actions to promote women’s rights and environmental justice issues. Therefore, there is some lack of solidarity on issues that are important among women representing so many countries. In addition to observing the CSW, women come to do networking, learn more from others, get involved in advocacy, build their organizational capacities in the topic, and of course, find allies to form networks and have better coordination on the issues tackled in the future.
On the personal side, I also take such opportunities as the CSW to meet new people and connect with women who are leaders. I believe it’s the friendship and personal interest in the life of another that makes any further actions a success. And since I am still learning, I especially appreciated talking to Norma Maldonado from Guatemala.
Norma has done so much and educated so many women back home, but she is humble about her achievements and does not want to be treated like an expert. It was striking for me to see that despite having all these other options in life – with her background and education and, not less important, a US passport, which many dream about having – Norma instead chose to stay in Guatemala and promote justice for women and their communities. Additionally, the fact that she adopted and brought up four children cannot leave one without admiration of her life.
When we were sitting at an unofficial meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals with Norma, at one point she noticed some thorns in the soles of her shoes. She said they were from her work in the countryside, where she is promoting green building construction techniques. Norma shared with me her wisdom and her stories, which I believe make me better understand what is really important.
Despite the fact that there was little time to have more thoughtful analysis of the events in the CSW, I believe that our team has achieved its goal of bringing different voices of women to the table and discuss our further action on addressing violence against women, especially structural violence, and unsustainable development. There is much hope on my side that the newly formed Women’s Coalition for Post-2015 together with the Women’s Major Group for Rio+20 will promote a wider participation of women from our regions without overlapping and competition, and that they will be based on the principles of equal representation, solidarity and effective coordination of action to empower women and girls throughout the world.