CSW 2010: Indigenous and Inspirational Women

By YWCA Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Indigenous women from around the world are ensuring their voices and unique experiences are also being heard at CSW. On Wednesday the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum convened a panel “Indigenous women working for change and moving ahead since 1995”.

Speakers included Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru), Victoria Haraseb (Namibia), Govind Kekar (India) and Megan Davis (Australia). One of the key themes that arose was the lack of access to education. Tarcilia from Peru called for the allocation of aid to strengthen the traditional knowledge of indigenous women – affirming local knowledge and supporting women to be in a position to transmit that knowledge to another generation.

The forum noted that while Indigenous activists defend traditional culture based on human rights, we also need to continue to review traditions – as there are traditions that require transformation to respect women’s rights (such as female genital mutilation)

Megan, a Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman from South East Queensland, spoke of the recently announced Australian National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. This congress has a mandated requirement of 50% representation from women. Megan noted that while this was a significant win, it does not mean the job is done. We cannot let men think there is equality now, as there are still underlying and hidden issues that will impact on women’s participation in the Congress. Megan is the Australian candidate for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum concluded with a challenge for us all to examine ways we can ensure positive policies from one government to the next, as indigenous women often find hard fought for wins overturned following elections. And this linked back to the opening discussion about education, as Tracila reflected an education is needed to be able to participate in the political processes.

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How Far Have We Come? CSW Assesses Progress Since Beijing

By YWCA of Canberra , Australia Executive Director Rebecca Vassarotti

Throughout day three of CSW there has been a number of opportunities for women to reflect on the status of women since the adoption of the Beijing Platform.

The day commenced with an official commemoratiion of International Women’s Day, and was opened with an address from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His address was open, positive and very affirming of the importance of this issue.

The session then moved into an interactive panel: “Beijing at 15: The Unfinished Agenda”.  The Moderator Maria Hinojosa, a Senior correspondent PBS/ Anchor “Latina USA”, National Public Radio led panellists including UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General, Fourth World Conference on Women, Patricia Licuanan, Chair of Asia Pacific NGO Forum/Former Chair of CSW, Tarcila Rivera Zea, Enlace Intercontinental de Mujeres Indígenas, and Amy, representative of “Because I am a Girl” Initiative, Plan

The session provided the opportunities for the panel members to assess what has been achieved since the Beijing Conference, share experiences and good practices, and discuss priority actions to deal with persistent obstacles and new challenges. A real highlight of the session was the participation of Amy, a 17 year old woman with links to YWCA, spoke with wisdom and eloquence and was able to identify the issues, put forward the challenges and at the end of the session articulated the personal action she was going to take after the session ended.

The overwhelming assessment of this panel was ‘two steps forward, one step back’.  There was a reflection of the positive stories, and a recognition of the work still to come.

During the lunch break for official delegates, an interactive panel was held entitled Beijing +15, the representation of women: a 15 year retrospect and hopes for the future.

The moderator for this session was Aparna Mehrotra, Focal Point for Women UN.  Panelists included Heisoo Shin, former member, CEDAW, Bani Dugal, Principal Representative to the UN (Bahai International Community), Emma Sabin, Vice President, Partnerships, Catalyst [Bios are available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/events/Bios_3-March_speakers.pdf].

Some of the most interesting points made include:

  • The development of quite sophisticated understandings of women in the workplace.  For example, Delloites is moving from looking at the career ladder to the career lattice (work pattern reflects life experience).  These practices are resulting in better efficiency and work satisfaction for employees
  • In studies being conducted, it is found that independent of culture leadership attributes valued in business are traditional assigned as male attributes
  • At UN, the increase of women at middle levels of staff at the UN  (prodominately those held by people aged 30-45 stagnated, and is not growing to reach 50%. This has led the UN Focal Point for Women to realise we need to be targeting every level (need to increase flexibility)
  • Most effective way to increase representation is to introduce temporary special measures (quota levels etc). Rwanda is the world’s best practice – was achieved through law
  • Identified the importance of measuring – this means that you can be accountable
  • It was recognised that women need to ‘let go of the baggage’.  Women should embrace affirmative action as advancement is not occurring without it
  • Really need to look at flexibility within the workplace.  Hard to move managers from a correlation between efficiency and control as it is not the case

There were lots of interesting reflections, and things to think about as we move forward through the next phase of the Beijing Platform.

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Visit the YWCA of Canberra website: http://www.ywca-canberra.org.au/