By Lindiwe Makhunga, South Africa

February 22, 2011

Coming off the plane at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on Monday morning, I felt a sense that all of the world’s African women had descended on New York City. In the impossibly long airport queue that greeted my first UN meeting, I saw brightly coloured head scarves and kente clothed women having their passports stamped, and knew that these women were here for the same reason that I was, for the 55th Session of the UN Commission for the Status of Women.  They were here in order to get the demands of women from the Continent met. There was a palpable sense of purpose as the African Women’s Caucus convened for the first time on the first day of the Commission for the Status of Women. The Caucus was hosted by Nigeria House, just a few steps from the United Nations building.

Attending the first session of the African’s Women Caucus was an indescribable experience for me for so many reasons. As a pan-Africanist who strongly believes that Africa can only succeed if it operates as a collective, the diversity of the women in the room was incredible, from different regions in Africa and the Diaspora, from different backgrounds and languages, we as the African Women’s Caucus were all pursuing one objective in our different capacities and advocacy. Being a young gender activist, sitting in a room with so many formidable activists from the continent such as Mama Koite Doumbia, was a privilege  and came with the realisation that in Africa, women are able to be empowered within their own societies and find the spaces, within the confines of restrictive patriarchal and traditional structures, to be autonomous. It also brought the situation back at home into stark focus. The rift between civil society and governments was palpable by the visible absence of government officials engaging with civil society. This relationship needs to be nurtured if any real and substantive change is going to occur for African women.

During the Caucus, a small committee was set up to analyse the Draft Agreed Conclusions (available on http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/55sess.htm) against the written statement from African women, and make recommendations to the next Caucus session on February 24th on what pertinent issues had been overlooked by the Commission. One immediately evident oversight was the issue of violence against women and girls. This was not mentioned in the Draft Agreed Conclusions, even though research has shown repeatedly how violence is related to girls low retention rates in schools and serves as a barrier to them realizing their right to education and decent work.

The launch of UN Women will take place here in New York on February 24th.   Throughout the CSW there is a unique opportunity for countries from the global South to present their inputs on what the strategic priorities for the new UN apparatus on women’s empowerment should be at national level.

African Women at the first session of the Caucus, New York, February 22nd, 2011.

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