- This was your first time at CSW. What were your first impressions?
There were so many people attending! Mostly women, from all countries and of all ages. It was clear from the outset that CSW was going to be an important learning opportunity, in terms of both the international agendas being pushed as well as the regional and national agendas discussed during the course of the event.
- Tell us a little about the events you attended. What focus areas appeared to be key this year? How did they come across through this year’s focus on social protection?
I attended events looking at social protection from different angles. The UNICEF/DFID/GAGE event focused on the design and delivery of gender- and adolescent-responsive social protection programs and schemes, while the UNDP event looked at the role of laws and social norms in achieving the gender-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was clear that all actors need to pool their efforts to achieve a more gender-equitable world. UNICEF’s Executive Director cited Rwanda’s large-scale Vision Umurenge programme by way of highlighting that even with strong political will and gender-sensitive programming, much still needs to be done to make social protection inclusive of women and adolescents.
As a panelist at a side event organised by Plan International UK, I presented findings from my latest research into the experiences of adolescent Congolese refugees in Rwanda, where violence in schools is widespread and there are high rates of adolescent pregnancies in refugee camps (often a result of rape). Strict gender norms and stigma mean that young mothers often leave school to look after children or find paid work. The discussions showed me that people want good-quality evidence – generated using sound and replicable methods, in different contexts, that allow triangulation of findings.
At the event, two very different longitudinal studies presented findings: the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) mixed-methods programme, following 18,000 adolescent girls and boys over nine years, in six countries; and Real Choices, Real Lives by Plan International UK, with a smaller cohort of 142 girls, in nine countries, using qualitative evidence.
- What learning did you take away that you think is particularly relevant in the Rwandan context?
I learned to value what Rwanda has already achieved. Many colleagues attending CSW came from countries where women’s representation in decision-making bodies is still challenged by traditional norms or regulatory frameworks, and where the legal frameworks do not fully support gender equality or prevent violence against women and girls. Some delegates came from countries that used to have a progressive approach but where legislation and/or leadership changes have undone much of what they achieved. This eye-opening realisation means I will not take our achievements for granted in my future work with policy makers and programme implementers.
I really enjoyed learning about the different approaches being taken by Member States. Take Tunisia’s approach, around shifting social norms – Tunisia, an Islamic state, has found progressive ways of interpreting the Qur’an, which plays a role in establishing some negative gender norms, because changing only legislation and policies was not working. This approach – of considering the cultural as well as the regulatory framework – was inspirational for the Rwandan context. In Rwanda, despite strong political will and progressive institutional, legal and policy frameworks for gender equality, people’s mindsets are slowing enforcement and implementation of laws and policies. We need to find ways to engage with tradition to help shift some of the most persistent harmful gender norms.
- Any final takeaways from CSW63?
The launch of the Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) for the African Union 2018–2027 is worth following up on – especially its six pillars: economic empowerment and sustainable development, social justice, women’s rights, leadership and governance, peace and security, and media, communication and sports. I am keen to see what this looks like in the Rwandan context, and how I can use it to find avenues for lobbying and advocating for the adoption of the GAGE findings that are in line with the GEWE strategy.