ARROW is engaging with the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW62) taking place at the UN headquarters in New York City. Our team will be bringing you thoughts on the deliberations from different perspectives in order to share with you all what we are learning at this venue.
The word rural carries with it many connotations – however the definition of what constitutes the ‘rural’ differs from country to country for administrative and statistical reasons (in some cases defined by anything non-urban, in others as population numbers, and in the third as the lack of existence of municipal governments).
The rural is diverse and covers varied topographies – these include rich, fertile agricultural lands, forests, lakes, coastal areas, mountainous areas. Rural areas are as affected by different macro trends, climate change (and ensuing floods and droughts), conflict (as seen in Mindanao and Aceh), migration to urban areas and overseas.
All of these areas may not be uniformly poor or backward as commonly assumed, and offer complexities that often elude policymakers and programme implementers who are trained and operate from urban mindsets. All that is rural is clumped as one paradigm and this erases the diverse and complex issues, peoples, and ways of life in rural areas.
The approach to people living in rural areas (in particular women and girls), is often from the perspective of they know less, and we know more; and that what they know is somehow less valuable than what we know. That somehow the rural is the backward, the under-developed which must be brought forward. These are approaches that fundamentally undermine strategies developed for women and girls living in rural areas.
Women and girls living in rural areas are diverse, and though all datasets on all issues be it education, health, economics show that women and girls living in rural areas to be lagging, we need to interrogate and ask – did we go to rural areas with a one size fits all approach? Are these gaps existing because our policies and programmes were not nuanced to cater for the diversity of the populations living in rural areas, facing varied yet complex challenges? Did we ask women and girls living in rural areas what improvements they wanted to see? What does ‘power’ look like to them? What forms of ‘power’ do they already possess and what forms of ‘power’ would they need to possess to be ‘empowered’? What does ‘equality’ mean to them? How do they define being equal and having equal relationships?
The first mindset change that needs to occur is not perhaps with women and girls living in rural areas but in ourselves. We need to change the lens with which we view women and girls living in rural areas. That they are possessors of valuable knowledge – both formal and indigenuous and they have wisdom; that they possess power – personal, social and political; that they possess wealth – not necessarily only material and financial but natural, spiritual, social wealth as well. Through this reflexive relationship, we can not only empower women and girls living in rural areas, but they also will empower and enlarge our own understanding of the world.
Unfortunately, both at national levels and global inter-governmental levels – rural women will not be consulted in meaningful ways which shape this reflexive relationship. The 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) saw a number of rural women and girls being denied entry visas into the United States in order to have their voices heard and their experiences captured in the deliberations.