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By Special TFW Correspondent, Mazuba Haanyama
The 57th session of the CSW has come to an end. On the 15th of March, the UN member states signed the Agreed Conclusions. This is the document, many have been waiting for and have invested much time and energy lobbying and advocating for. Still, despite the many challenges encountered by growing fundamentalist motions at the CSW, the Agreed Conclusions are complete and ready to use and distribute.
Much of the language relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls took a bashing in the last week of negotiations, with most references to sexual orientation and gender identity stricken from the document; protection of sex workers from violence was particularly diminished; and issues of reproductive rights were fiercely opposed. I am still trying to figure out what this process means and what it continues to tell us about how women are viewed and treated around the world.
Renewed solidarity by form of joint statements, late night networking and project innovations have stemmed from this two-week process, amongst other non-directly related CSW work. Intriguingly, activities that were non-CSW related may have yielded the greatest impact by way of movement building and strengthened connections. Abortion and SOGI continue to be major issues of contention. Specifically, issues directly related to a woman’s ability to choose what she does with her body and her identity. I am particularly interested in how these opinions are reflected in our communities, amongst our friends and families. What do these contentions convey to us about our contexts and the environments in which we organize? Sadly, too often our States hold macro narratives of realities experienced amongst so many of our fellow brothers and sisters. Organizing on micro levels demand that we move beyond this.
Though some gains were made in language protecting the rights of women human rights defenders, this is still not enough. In a world where we recognize that all oppression is connected (Staceyann Chin reminds us of this repeatedly throughout her speech), what does it mean when we pick and choose our gains while ignoring the impact that they have on each other? Intersectionality as an analytical term has been watered down to a point that ceases to reflect our lived realities. Processes that refuse to deeply engage in the ways our oppressions are connected may not serve us in the struggle for dignity and survival.
Yet the question persists in my mind, was this space effective and what might we do differently in engaging this convening? Questions remain about whether we should even engage it. In honor of what it may be, I will continue to reflect on these questions. There is also a larger looming question about what the CSW within the UN system means and consequently what the UN system actually means to our lives as women living in this ‘global south’, which I will not address here but understand cannot ignored.
Perhaps one area of improvement may be how we organize leading up to the CSW. By ‘we’ I speak specifically to the African-based activists involved in the CSW. How do we strategize in our regional blocs to venture into the CSW more aligned, informed and prepared? Perhaps there’s space to strategize collectively in addition to the ways we are already working together. Perhaps our effectiveness may be greater felt if we speak a more unified language, understanding the very real and overt challenges of organizing on soil that is not our own.
Depending on our various theories of change, how do we work together to achieve gains we can translate into our own contexts?
To be sure, our tools should match our strategies and if they do not perhaps we have to re-align. Understanding better how power works in our lives at various levels and what we do to challenge these powers is fundamental. Also, our time is precious and as such we have to be strategic about how we use it. It is our resource, our time, our minds, our bodies — these are very precious gifts we breathe and we have to be mindful of where we allow them to tread.
The CSW was a learning experience for me – one, which hopefully better prepares me to serve, honor and nurture the communities I belong to.
Mazuba Haanyama is a young writer, thinker and activist. She hails from Southern Africa, more specifically Zambia. She grew up in various countries around the world. Her childhood travels have significantly shaped her social and political views. Mazuba is passionate about the continent, young people and writing & performance. These passions shape much of her life’s trajectory. Mazuba holds a Masters Degree in Gender Studies from the African Gender Institute, UCT. Mazuba manages a poetry performance group, called Rite 2 Speak. She also co-founded a multi-media production company called Black Salt Productions. She currently lives in leafy Johannesburg and works at OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa).