50 years ago the United Method Women (UMW) built a 12 story building right in front of the United Nations headquarters in order to work closely with the UN to support the newly formed (at that time) Declaration of Human Rights. Called the Church Center for the United Nations, this was the place, right in the middle of downtown Manhattan, where I met two rural women – ARI graduates Judith Daka from Zambia (2001) and Naw Lee Myar from Myanmar (1998 graduate, 2008 training assistant, 2009 staff). The three of us joined six other women (the Philippines (2), Sierra Leone, Brazil, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Kosovo) as delegates invited by the UMW to take part in the United Nations 56th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56). This year’s theme was the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.
In addition to taking part in the assembly in the UN Building, the UMW organized a number of parallel sessions at the Church Center which the 9 of us attended together with UMW staff. For some of these sessions we were invited as speakers and panelists sharing about our own activities. The rest of the time we were able to join the numerous other events taking place. We were also given the opportunity to observe the formal CSW 56 Session in the UN Building, but quite frankly it was not interesting at all. We could only watch the discourse of “official” delegates from the balcony. I felt the real life of the assembly was at the “informal” workshops, panels, and discussions at the Church Center organized by various different women’s organizations. They were full of people and full of energy and I was overwhelmed by the seriousness, passion, and positive attitudes in the network of these women. The themes they dealt with were wide ranging, including human rights, peace, poverty reduction, food security, environmental conservation, mother and child health, vocational training, microcredit, advocacy, and many more. They often presented specific case studies which helped me to really understand the incredible challenges of women around the world.
“I reconfirmed that the direction that ARI promotes
for the betterment of rural life is in deep demand in many rural areas in the world. ”
As I attended session after session there were two major points I began to realize. One was that almost none of the discussions included a viewpoint of agriculture as they searched for answers to the problems of rural women. ARI prioritizes food security in rural families as a solution to poverty and promotes integrated farming for self-sufficiency. In order put these into practice we believe that small scale organic farming is both economically and environmentally effective because farmers do not need to depend on expensive and environmentally damaging chemicals and fertilizers. Rather, they try to maximize the use of local resources. Women’s roles in such agricultural activities is very big, not only in terms of labor, but also their wisdom in caring for the land, preserving food, and distributing food. However, these points were also not stressed. I found out how still now poverty reduction efforts in the agriculture sector mostly consist of the provision of farm inputs such as chemicals and fertilizers. The “development” workers do not reflect on the fact that this fosters an attitude of dependency among farmers and does not give people the tools to solve problems by themselves.
Both Judith and Myar of ARI presented good examples of how, after ARI training, they changed their perspectives; how they discovered a new potential in their communities in the form of unused, cheap, or even free local resources. By making use of these resources “development” does not need to depend on outside help. “What is the key to success?” I asked Judith. “Doing it by yourself,” was her simple reply. By practicing these principals they were able to cut costs and increase income, which contributed to local development. Many attendants vigorously nodded their heads in affirmation to the words of Judith and Myar. I reconfirmed that the direction that ARI promotes for the betterment of rural life is in deep demand in many rural areas in the world. Furthermore I realized that people do not have the perspective that the food they eat daily affects the condition of rural people worldwide. I felt it was risky that the professionals – those who deal with rural women’s issues – do not have that understanding. I believe ARI needs to foster more discussion and awareness on these issues.