Less violation, more innovation

“Women are never raped, they are part of the rape”: citing this common saying in Pakistan, Ms. Azra Sayeed of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) revealed the flagrant and collective violation of women’s rights in her home country. This, indeed, sharpened emotions and brought to a turning point the debate held on the third day of CFS44 on women’s roles and rights in situations of food crises, famines and conflicts.

Organized by the CFS Civil Society Mechanism (CSM), this panel sought ways to attenuate the struggles of women in the midst of crises. It wanted to emphasize how the international community in general and the Committee on world Food Security (CFS) in particular can better respond to such emergencies. The moderator, Ms. Fernanda Tansini, explained that this panel was composed entirely of women for two reasons: as a response to men’s usual practice of not involving women in their panels, and because “Who better than women can talk about women’s problems?”

Although this logic was not shared by some members of the audience who would have liked to have heard more about how men can help strengthen women’s rights, the panel had the merit of opening the Pandora’s box of the “patriarchal” and “paternalistic” oppressions. Despite the abundant laws and agreements in favour of women, many are seldom respected, allowing for suffering of women worldwide. In a context where farming communities need to adapt to major challenges and contribute to achieving Zero Hunger, a question struck me during this side event: Can women’s innovation be promoted also in areas where women’s rights are violated?

Like many other initiatives concerned with the wellbeing of rural communities, the Prolinnova network has worked for years in several countries in Africa and Asia to reduce poverty and improve the wellbeing of small-scale farm families through promoting local innovation. Innovation by women – particularly for food and nutrition security – is being recognized and forming the basis for women-led participatory research and development in collaboration with other actors such as scientists and extension workers.

In Burkina Faso, women’s groups have mixed millet, soybean and cow milk to make a flour to combat malnourishment. Other women’s groups mix cereals, legumes and other local ingredients to create new types of highly nutritious meals. These new recipes have benefited hundreds of formerly malnourished children. Many other women’s innovations related to vegetable seeds and organic farming inputs (such as biofertilizers) have been identified that improve the conditions of families not only in Burkina Faso but also in Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Senegal. Thus, women can contribute to global food security, if they have access to resources, peace and respect of human rights.

But is there not also local innovation by women in areas impacted by war and other crises to continue to nourish their families? The weight of this responsibility falls even more heavily on women in such highly challenging settings, and they are not just sitting back and waiting for emergency aid.

The challenges that women face are indeed immense, as became vivid when Mrs. Azra Sayeed depicted the different forms of oppression suffered by women in her home country:

“In my country, women are condemned to smile. Even in the most difficult conditions, we must smile. When we are oppressed, we must smile. When we are raped, we must smile. When our small portions of land are expropriated and our property burnt, we must smile. When we are angry, we must smile. All this because there is no way to complain”.

“In my country, if you have problems and you go to the police, it is the police who will rape you. In my country, rape has been totally made commonplace and even a concept has developed that women are never raped, they are part of the rape”.

The violation of women’s rights that she describes contrasts strongly with the environment of individual and collective innovation that I know from women in West and Central Africa. Yet, even under such dire conditions as described in Pakistan, women do not give up. They continue to show great ingenuity and innovation in finding ways for their families to survive.

In order to build a world with less violation of women’s rights and more innovation by women, the CFS Civil Society Mechanism urges women to never despair. Mrs. Hilal Elver, United Nations’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, called for respecting human – including women’s – rights under both peaceful or conflictual conditions. She demands that civil society organizations be better protected and supported in their work for the wellbeing of the voiceless. She stressed that achieving women’s rights is a long-term struggle. Women need to fight every day, without waiting for those who cause their misfortune to defend and promote their rights.

Mrs. Azra Sayeed urged women to continue fighting regardless of the number of women raped and killed, regardless of the number of their children killed, despite the expropriation they are subjected to. For this Pakistani activist, if there is a word to banish from women’s language, it is “pessimism. She called for “more, more and more fight of women in our countries”.

Mrs. Mariam Al Jaajaa, Executive Director of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN), called for collective action that: (1) stops using unitary household models but rather promotes disaggregation of data to highlight women’s situation; (2) adapts responses to women’s real needs; (3) unionizes all individual efforts to empower women; (4) demands implementation of United Nations conventions and agreements on human and women’s rights; and (5) does not separate women’s issues in conflict settings, as women care not only for themselves but for the whole family, community and society. She invited women and women’s right organizations to raise awareness of women heroines who have resisted or fought successfully in different contexts, so that these serve as models and encourage other women to continue the struggle.

For me, one message of this panel is that protecting women includes creating better conditions for innovation for resilience to climate change and for achieving global food and nutrition security. It is also very important to acknowledge the courage and determination of women who are victims of violence but continue to contribute for the betterment of society. With a heavy heart, they do not resign, but they still try to manage more efficiently the fewer resources to which they have access, to provide happiness to their children, their husbands and all their communities. This is another form of resilience that hopefully paves the way for the development of more innovations where violence and violation are taking place.

This blogpost covers the CFS44 side event “- Women’s Roles And Rights In Situations Of Food Crises, Famines And Conflict

Blogpost by (Georges Djohy), #CFS44 Social Reporter – (gdjohy@gmail.com)

Photo credits: IFAD

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

17/10/2017 0:00

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