Leah Chipepa reports from UNCSW - Day 4 & 5

Leah is an Zambian MU member and part of our 2018 delegation to UNCSW. Leah has extensive experience working as a women’s rights advocate and campaigner in Africa and internationally. Here she reports on her final couple of days at UNCSW

I was greeted on one of my final mornings here with a poster that read: "visas denied to women". This message was echoed throughout most sessions of the last couple of days. A lot of women living in rural areas were denied visas to come to CSW and I for one, cannot fathom why this is so. UN Women, organizers of the meeting issue invitation letters meant to facilitate women to obtain visas to attend CSW. The understanding is that many women will be granted visas to take part in discussions and decisions affecting their lives. But alas this proved not to be the case, even though US Embassies gladly collected money for visas which is non-refundable when the visa is not granted. This did not sit well women’s rights defenders who will be taking up the issue with relevant authorities through UN Women. 

From the different sessions I attended, the role of traditional leaders in tackling the societal norms that affect women and girls’ economic empowerment, came out very strongly. This shows the need to address issues within the cultural context in which they happen as opposed to imposing solutions on the affected from the outside. Women and girls living in rural areas are governed under local authority leaders whose involvement is crucial in addressing challenges and finding solutions to ameliorate them. 

Global platforms such as the CSW can run the risk of creating the impression that women and girls living in rural areas are a homogenous group and that solutions therefore seem to be a one size fits all. Country contexts differ, I see the CSW platform as a place to share good practices, what works and doesn’t and more importantly a global platform to commitment to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and empowerment. Governments are also expected to come up with post-CSW plans to ensure their commitments translate to action at the national and community levels. Civil society organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and faith-based organizations including the Mothers’ Union to develop concrete plans to put words into action because implementation is the biggest challenge that stakeholders face. 

Feedback to communities back home is part of implementing commitments made. Information must be shared because as the saying goes, information is power. Often when we attend forums such as this one, information is never shared, yet we come to CSW saying we represent the voice of those who are not able to be in the space – visas denied! It is only when we share that those who come the next time can build on where we have left off.

An important development for the day, was the beginning of negotiations on Agreed Conclusions. I was in the meeting of the African Women NGO Forum who had concerns with the negotiations. Some African countries were U turning on agreed language on Sexual, Reproductive, Health and Rights; ok, to give women access and control of land but not ownership; to remove diversities from the document; and objections raised on pregnant girls going back to school after giving birth.

I think the day gives a lot of food for thought going forward. What we need is three things; implementation; implementation and implementation!