Zimbabwe young woman activist hails CSW, calls for govt-civil society cooperation

Harare, March 26, 2012: Government and civil society in Zimbabwe need to work together to provide a diverse and true reflection of the status of women in Zimbabwe, according to a young  women’s rights activist who just returned from the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting in New York City.

Grace Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building.

Grace Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building.

“We had the privilege of attending the South African government-hosted session and witnessing our own session.  We realized that there was not much coordination between government and civil society, which is a learning point in that, if we do collaborate, it helps us grow and develop and put up a united front — something that will be more diverse than the government speaking on behalf of the women in Zimbabwe,” said Grace Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building.

Chirenje was speaking at a roundtable meeting with journalists soon after her return from New York where she attended and participated in the UN CSW meeting February 27 to March 9, 2012.  The U.S. Embassy supported her visit.

Chirenje says the trip provided her an opportunity to meet other women’s rights groups and to explore networking opportunities, as well as to enhance program development.

The Commission on the Status of Women is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women.  Every year, government representatives gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

“I like that so many voices were there to articulate women’s needs and issues, and we were able to interact with these women from all over the world.  I met a lot of women that we are actually working with right now and some new groups, including a women’s group from Rwanda who are excited about developing and putting up shelters for women who have been affected by violence. They want to replicate this model in Zimbabwe and other countries,” said Chirenje, who is also an executive member of the Zimbabwe United States Alumni Association (ZUSAA).

Chirenje said in addition to attending Zimbabwe’s presentation at the CSW, she also attended the African Caucus, in which speakers admitted that young woman were underrepresented at the forum.  “Young women’s voices are lacking. The African Caucus wants to put in a quota system where at least 30 percent of participants in the African Caucus at CSW are young women. Young women are a force to reckon with and they need a lot of mentorship and learning,” said Chirenje.

Chirenje identified the many problems facing African women and said these were also peculiar to Zimbabwe.  These, she said, included lack of access to capital in terms of economic empowerment, the limited number of safe spaces for women to participate, and patriarchal societies that failed to accommodate women in decision making.

“Governments have pledged to empower women through international legal instruments which they have signed and not ratified,” said Chirenje. “In instances where governments are committing, there is no political will to help women on the ground and this is worsened by the lack of interaction between women and policy makers.”

She bemoaned what she felt as an attempt to sensationalize the debate on women’s rights issues by governments: “As we were reporting back on the role of governments, most governments are not happy with issues of human rights because they felt this is an attempt at regime change. And when we looked at issues of sexual and reproductive health rights, these were reduced to sexual orientation, which is sad because there is more to these issues than that,” said Chirenje. – ZimPAS © 2012