Keynote by NGO/CSW Chair Soon Young Yoon: “Rural Women—on the front lines of change” presented at Umuada Igbo Nigeria Launch Event

“Rural Women—on the front lines of change”

By

Soon-Young Yoon

Chair, NGO/CSW/NY

Keynote address

Presented at the “Umuada Igbo Nigeria”

 Launch of the Nigerian National Committee for UN Women

New York, NY August 18 2011

 

 

In the late 1970s, the Yatenga plateau in Burkina Faso was afflicted with drought. When the torrential rains did come, the water quickly disappeared underground,. The Mossi people longed for their ancestral times when rich trade kingdoms flourished and proud warriors were celebrated. But with prolonged agricultural crises, many Mossi youth had left the villages. The elders despaired.

 

In response, UNICEF sent me to verify an extraordinary report that women had saved this region from the effects of climate change by building the “women’s dams”.  I asked the Unicef representative in Ouagadougu to stay behind, give me a driver and a jeep and leave me in the villages alone. Mind you, this was before the super highway that connects that remote area to the city was built.  What I learned was well worth the ride on a bumpy dirt road for 6 hours.

 

When I arrived, groups of women sang and danced me into the villages. From them, I learned that a nongovernmental association known as the Naam groups had been formed. Rather than introduce a western-style cooperative, community organizers used a traditional organization used for planting and harvesting and made it into a development organization on a larger scale.

 

The Naam groups held meetings where everyone was supposed to join in the effort to save their communities. The topic repeated at meeting after meeting was the downward spiral of economic development. As one woman told me, “The men were just complaining. They said there is nothing to eat. They talked about the dying cattle, deforestation and how the young men were leaving. But no one had solutions.” After many discussions, some women became exasperated because there was so little progress.

 

As the story goes, one woman, Minata from Somiaga, rose from her seat in the midst of the passionate speeches. She said in a calm voice, “What you say is fine, but it is useless to talk about livestock and food when there is no water. The first problem is that we have no water. We, women, are going to find out how to get it.” And she sat down. Everyone looked at each other. There was a long silence. They were amazed at how simple the solution really was.

 

Minata’s legend began from that time. She helped to organize the Naam women’s groups, and they took the lead in solving the water problem. The women said that they would build dams made of mud and rocks to catch rainwater—a design that they used for small gardens.  But they wanted to upscale the size so the dams could hold large quantities of water. Then, they would plant trees around it, feed the cattle and dig gardens. This would mean days of carrying earth in baskets on their heads and moving  heavy boulders. When the men hesitated to cooperate, the women threatened to leave their homes and return to their parents’ villages—that turned the tide around. Hearing about this initiative, the government hired engineers to strengthen the dam walls. Unicef provided trucks to move the rocks. Eventually the entire plateau area was covered with the “women’s dams”. Minata told me that when their dams were finished, villagers celebrated with a very big feast.

 

In my travels to villages in every region of the world, I met more women like Minata—rural women who respect cultural traditions, build on them, and –despite the poverty of their material condition –give hope to their communities for a better life.  In Botswana I spoke with grandmothers who rescued HIV/AIDs orphans. Women with leprosy were helping to overcome stigma in India, and victims of conflict in Cambodia helped to build peace. I sensed that these women were waiting for the international community to help them.  Sometimes the UN was ready and able—but sometimes it was not. Thus, I learned from these women the meaning and human costs of a long wait.

 

What you are doing today—in this grand celebration of the founding of Nigera’s national UN Women committee and conference on grassroots women—is testimony to a renewed faith in the UN’s ability to help women.  At this event are representatives from the powerhouses that together can move mountains—feminists who work at the UN, as government officials and for foundations. Men have come forward for gender equality. For that, I congratulate their mothers as this is a very good sign that someone raised them right.  Together we lift rural women like Minata high and let them know that they are not forgotten.

 

Next February, the Commission on the Status of Women meeting will do the same as it addresses the priority theme of “Rural women”. I recommend the UN Women Concept note that is available online at the CSW website. Let me share some interesting figures with you:

-In the less developed countries, more than half of the populations live in rural areas.  Women make up a substantial proportion of the unpaid as well as paid agricultural workforce.

-FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on farms by 20 to 30 percent, reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.

-However, it is estimated that rural women own less than two per cent of the land in the developing world.

 

What should we expect from the CSW meeting in 2012? I believe that the outcome document of the CSW is useless unless there is a great deal of debate, learning, and mobilizing around it.  How many of you attended last year’s CSW? Wouldn’t you agree with me that it is an exciting, amazing educational experience?

 

Every spring, the CSW becomes an annual “Olympics” of the international women’s movement.  Ministries of gender equality and women’s affairs carry on a cross-cultural political pow wow. The NGO parallel events provide a space where every man and woman, girl and boy has a right to participate in a UN process. This is where the international women’s movement can breathe, renew its energies, and grow.

 

My organization, the NGO/CSW/NY, has a proud history of bringing the world’s girls and women of all ages together. Since the second UN world women’s conference in Copenhagen, it has joined with other women’s committees – in Geneva and Vienna—and under the umbrella of the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO)– to organize the NGOs Forums around the UN World Conferences on Women. Today, the NGO/CSW/NY members make up an army of volunteers that convenes one of the most precious political spaces for women at the UN. The committee facilitates NGO interaction with the UN around other meetings of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, the Annual Ministerial Review, General Assembly, as well as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

 

Recently, we have thought about how to strengthen the CSW. Here is what I believe could make that happen. First, the CSW has the capacity to be the source of innovation for the entire UN. But in order for that to happen, we must make that search for new ideas a goal of our meeting. At the NGO/CSW/NY, I created a department of Innovation and New ideas and I invite you to send us your ideas.

 

Second, we need to strengthen the CSW from the bottom up. The regional UN commissions and NGO activities around them need stronger voices at the UN. To achieve this, our NGO committee has encouraged the establishment of 4 more regional NGO/CSW committees in Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Asia and Pacific and Arab regions. I hope that the Nigerian UN Women will support a regional African NGO/CSW committee.

 

Finally, I believe that we need to invest more in new information technologies, in electronic media management and improve our skills in uses of social media. Some organizations should be dedicated to building bridges with traditional media so that diverse groups such as older women, women with disabilities, girls, indigenous women and rural women are not left out.  And let us never forget the most powerful communication media of all—the words of a trusted friend.

 

I feel that I am among friends today. I hope your conference is blessed with rich ideas and a renewed sense of cultural purpose. I am quite determined to learn how to wrap myself in Nigerian headdress today. My Korean ancestors would laugh to see it, but I would certainly wear it proudly in remembrance of you.

 

 

 

“Rural Women—on the front lines of change”

By

Soon-Young Yoon

Chair, NGO/CSW/NY

Keynote address

Presented at the “Umuada Igbo Nigeria”

 Launch of the Nigerian National Committee for UN Women

New York, NY August 18 2011

 

 

In the late 1970s, the Yatenga plateau in Burkina Faso was afflicted with drought. When the torrential rains did come, the water quickly disappeared underground,. The Mossi people longed for their ancestral times when rich trade kingdoms flourished and proud warriors were celebrated. But with prolonged agricultural crises, many Mossi youth had left the villages. The elders despaired.

 

In response, UNICEF sent me to verify an extraordinary report that women had saved this region from the effects of climate change by building the “women’s dams”.  I asked the Unicef representative in Ouagadougu to stay behind, give me a driver and a jeep and leave me in the villages alone. Mind you, this was before the super highway that connects that remote area to the city was built.  What I learned was well worth the ride on a bumpy dirt road for 6 hours.

 

When I arrived, groups of women sang and danced me into the villages. From them, I learned that a nongovernmental association known as the Naam groups had been formed. Rather than introduce a western-style cooperative, community organizers used a traditional organization used for planting and harvesting and made it into a development organization on a larger scale.

 

The Naam groups held meetings where everyone was supposed to join in the effort to save their communities. The topic repeated at meeting after meeting was the downward spiral of economic development. As one woman told me, “The men were just complaining. They said there is nothing to eat. They talked about the dying cattle, deforestation and how the young men were leaving. But no one had solutions.” After many discussions, some women became exasperated because there was so little progress.

 

As the story goes, one woman, Minata from Somiaga, rose from her seat in the midst of the passionate speeches. She said in a calm voice, “What you say is fine, but it is useless to talk about livestock and food when there is no water. The first problem is that we have no water. We, women, are going to find out how to get it.” And she sat down. Everyone looked at each other. There was a long silence. They were amazed at how simple the solution really was.

 

Minata’s legend began from that time. She helped to organize the Naam women’s groups, and they took the lead in solving the water problem. The women said that they would build dams made of mud and rocks to catch rainwater—a design that they used for small gardens.  But they wanted to upscale the size so the dams could hold large quantities of water. Then, they would plant trees around it, feed the cattle and dig gardens. This would mean days of carrying earth in baskets on their heads and moving  heavy boulders. When the men hesitated to cooperate, the women threatened to leave their homes and return to their parents’ villages—that turned the tide around. Hearing about this initiative, the government hired engineers to strengthen the dam walls. Unicef provided trucks to move the rocks. Eventually the entire plateau area was covered with the “women’s dams”. Minata told me that when their dams were finished, villagers celebrated with a very big feast.

 

In my travels to villages in every region of the world, I met more women like Minata—rural women who respect cultural traditions, build on them, and –despite the poverty of their material condition –give hope to their communities for a better life.  In Botswana I spoke with grandmothers who rescued HIV/AIDs orphans. Women with leprosy were helping to overcome stigma in India, and victims of conflict in Cambodia helped to build peace. I sensed that these women were waiting for the international community to help them.  Sometimes the UN was ready and able—but sometimes it was not. Thus, I learned from these women the meaning and human costs of a long wait.

 

What you are doing today—in this grand celebration of the founding of Nigera’s national UN Women committee and conference on grassroots women—is testimony to a renewed faith in the UN’s ability to help women.  At this event are representatives from the powerhouses that together can move mountains—feminists who work at the UN, as government officials and for foundations. Men have come forward for gender equality. For that, I congratulate their mothers as this is a very good sign that someone raised them right.  Together we lift rural women like Minata high and let them know that they are not forgotten.

 

Next February, the Commission on the Status of Women meeting will do the same as it addresses the priority theme of “Rural women”. I recommend the UN Women Concept note that is available online at the CSW website. Let me share some interesting figures with you:

-In the less developed countries, more than half of the populations live in rural areas.  Women make up a substantial proportion of the unpaid as well as paid agricultural workforce.

-FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on farms by 20 to 30 percent, reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.

-However, it is estimated that rural women own less than two per cent of the land in the developing world.

 

What should we expect from the CSW meeting in 2012? I believe that the outcome document of the CSW is useless unless there is a great deal of debate, learning, and mobilizing around it.  How many of you attended last year’s CSW? Wouldn’t you agree with me that it is an exciting, amazing educational experience?

 

Every spring, the CSW becomes an annual “Olympics” of the international women’s movement.  Ministries of gender equality and women’s affairs carry on a cross-cultural political pow wow. The NGO parallel events provide a space where every man and woman, girl and boy has a right to participate in a UN process. This is where the international women’s movement can breathe, renew its energies, and grow.

 

My organization, the NGO/CSW/NY, has a proud history of bringing the world’s girls and women of all ages together. Since the second UN world women’s conference in Copenhagen, it has joined with other women’s committees – in Geneva and Vienna—and under the umbrella of the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO)– to organize the NGOs Forums around the UN World Conferences on Women. Today, the NGO/CSW/NY members make up an army of volunteers that convenes one of the most precious political spaces for women at the UN. The committee facilitates NGO interaction with the UN around other meetings of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, the Annual Ministerial Review, General Assembly, as well as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

 

Recently, we have thought about how to strengthen the CSW. Here is what I believe could make that happen. First, the CSW has the capacity to be the source of innovation for the entire UN. But in order for that to happen, we must make that search for new ideas a goal of our meeting. At the NGO/CSW/NY, I created a department of Innovation and New ideas and I invite you to send us your ideas.

 

Second, we need to strengthen the CSW from the bottom up. The regional UN commissions and NGO activities around them need stronger voices at the UN. To achieve this, our NGO committee has encouraged the establishment of 4 more regional NGO/CSW committees in Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Asia and Pacific and Arab regions. I hope that the Nigerian UN Women will support a regional African NGO/CSW committee.

 

Finally, I believe that we need to invest more in new information technologies, in electronic media management and improve our skills in uses of social media. Some organizations should be dedicated to building bridges with traditional media so that diverse groups such as older women, women with disabilities, girls, indigenous women and rural women are not left out.  And let us never forget the most powerful communication media of all—the words of a trusted friend.

 

I feel that I am among friends today. I hope your conference is blessed with rich ideas and a renewed sense of cultural purpose. I am quite determined to learn how to wrap myself in Nigerian headdress today. My Korean ancestors would laugh to see it, but I would certainly wear it proudly in remembrance of you.

 

 

 

 

“Rural Women—on the front lines of change”

By

Soon-Young Yoon

Chair, NGO/CSW/NY

Keynote address

Presented at the “Umuada Igbo Nigeria”

 Launch of the Nigerian National Committee for UN Women

New York, NY August 18 2011

 

 

In the late 1970s, the Yatenga plateau in Burkina Faso was afflicted with drought. When the torrential rains did come, the water quickly disappeared underground,. The Mossi people longed for their ancestral times when rich trade kingdoms flourished and proud warriors were celebrated. But with prolonged agricultural crises, many Mossi youth had left the villages. The elders despaired.

 

In response, UNICEF sent me to verify an extraordinary report that women had saved this region from the effects of climate change by building the “women’s dams”.  I asked the Unicef representative in Ouagadougu to stay behind, give me a driver and a jeep and leave me in the villages alone. Mind you, this was before the super highway that connects that remote area to the city was built.  What I learned was well worth the ride on a bumpy dirt road for 6 hours.

 

When I arrived, groups of women sang and danced me into the villages. From them, I learned that a nongovernmental association known as the Naam groups had been formed. Rather than introduce a western-style cooperative, community organizers used a traditional organization used for planting and harvesting and made it into a development organization on a larger scale.

 

The Naam groups held meetings where everyone was supposed to join in the effort to save their communities. The topic repeated at meeting after meeting was the downward spiral of economic development. As one woman told me, “The men were just complaining. They said there is nothing to eat. They talked about the dying cattle, deforestation and how the young men were leaving. But no one had solutions.” After many discussions, some women became exasperated because there was so little progress.

 

As the story goes, one woman, Minata from Somiaga, rose from her seat in the midst of the passionate speeches. She said in a calm voice, “What you say is fine, but it is useless to talk about livestock and food when there is no water. The first problem is that we have no water. We, women, are going to find out how to get it.” And she sat down. Everyone looked at each other. There was a long silence. They were amazed at how simple the solution really was.

 

Minata’s legend began from that time. She helped to organize the Naam women’s groups, and they took the lead in solving the water problem. The women said that they would build dams made of mud and rocks to catch rainwater—a design that they used for small gardens.  But they wanted to upscale the size so the dams could hold large quantities of water. Then, they would plant trees around it, feed the cattle and dig gardens. This would mean days of carrying earth in baskets on their heads and moving  heavy boulders. When the men hesitated to cooperate, the women threatened to leave their homes and return to their parents’ villages—that turned the tide around. Hearing about this initiative, the government hired engineers to strengthen the dam walls. Unicef provided trucks to move the rocks. Eventually the entire plateau area was covered with the “women’s dams”. Minata told me that when their dams were finished, villagers celebrated with a very big feast.

 

In my travels to villages in every region of the world, I met more women like Minata—rural women who respect cultural traditions, build on them, and –despite the poverty of their material condition –give hope to their communities for a better life.  In Botswana I spoke with grandmothers who rescued HIV/AIDs orphans. Women with leprosy were helping to overcome stigma in India, and victims of conflict in Cambodia helped to build peace. I sensed that these women were waiting for the international community to help them.  Sometimes the UN was ready and able—but sometimes it was not. Thus, I learned from these women the meaning and human costs of a long wait.

 

What you are doing today—in this grand celebration of the founding of Nigera’s national UN Women committee and conference on grassroots women—is testimony to a renewed faith in the UN’s ability to help women.  At this event are representatives from the powerhouses that together can move mountains—feminists who work at the UN, as government officials and for foundations. Men have come forward for gender equality. For that, I congratulate their mothers as this is a very good sign that someone raised them right.  Together we lift rural women like Minata high and let them know that they are not forgotten.

 

Next February, the Commission on the Status of Women meeting will do the same as it addresses the priority theme of “Rural women”. I recommend the UN Women Concept note that is available online at the CSW website. Let me share some interesting figures with you:

-In the less developed countries, more than half of the populations live in rural areas.  Women make up a substantial proportion of the unpaid as well as paid agricultural workforce.

-FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on farms by 20 to 30 percent, reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.

-However, it is estimated that rural women own less than two per cent of the land in the developing world.

 

What should we expect from the CSW meeting in 2012? I believe that the outcome document of the CSW is useless unless there is a great deal of debate, learning, and mobilizing around it.  How many of you attended last year’s CSW? Wouldn’t you agree with me that it is an exciting, amazing educational experience?

 

Every spring, the CSW becomes an annual “Olympics” of the international women’s movement.  Ministries of gender equality and women’s affairs carry on a cross-cultural political pow wow. The NGO parallel events provide a space where every man and woman, girl and boy has a right to participate in a UN process. This is where the international women’s movement can breathe, renew its energies, and grow.

 

My organization, the NGO/CSW/NY, has a proud history of bringing the world’s girls and women of all ages together. Since the second UN world women’s conference in Copenhagen, it has joined with other women’s committees – in Geneva and Vienna—and under the umbrella of the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO)– to organize the NGOs Forums around the UN World Conferences on Women. Today, the NGO/CSW/NY members make up an army of volunteers that convenes one of the most precious political spaces for women at the UN. The committee facilitates NGO interaction with the UN around other meetings of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, the Annual Ministerial Review, General Assembly, as well as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

 

Recently, we have thought about how to strengthen the CSW. Here is what I believe could make that happen. First, the CSW has the capacity to be the source of innovation for the entire UN. But in order for that to happen, we must make that search for new ideas a goal of our meeting. At the NGO/CSW/NY, I created a department of Innovation and New ideas and I invite you to send us your ideas.

 

Second, we need to strengthen the CSW from the bottom up. The regional UN commissions and NGO activities around them need stronger voices at the UN. To achieve this, our NGO committee has encouraged the establishment of 4 more regional NGO/CSW committees in Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Asia and Pacific and Arab regions. I hope that the Nigerian UN Women will support a regional African NGO/CSW committee.

 

Finally, I believe that we need to invest more in new information technologies, in electronic media management and improve our skills in uses of social media. Some organizations should be dedicated to building bridges with traditional media so that diverse groups such as older women, women with disabilities, girls, indigenous women and rural women are not left out.  And let us never forget the most powerful communication media of all—the words of a trusted friend.

 

I feel that I am among friends today. I hope your conference is blessed with rich ideas and a renewed sense of cultural purpose. I am quite determined to learn how to wrap myself in Nigerian headdress today. My Korean ancestors would laugh to see it, but I would certainly wear it proudly in remembrance of you.

 

For the PDF Version of this speech click here