The event was organized by the CFS Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) and was opened by Fernanda Tansini – alternate permanent representative of Brazil to FAO, WFP and IFAD – who introduced the topic of women’s struggle particularly in situations of crises.
The first panelist was Mariam Al Jaajaa (Arab Network for Food Sovereignty in Jordan and Lebanon – CSM) who started by highlighting the fact that women in protracted crises are more vulnerable than men, due to several factors such as malnutrition, pregnancy and prioritization of the family instead of themselves. Moreover, during conflicts, human rights violation is a serious issue and women have a huge disadvantage in that. Nonetheless, women play a very important role in these situations, since they usually become the heads of the households and they also are the main workforce. As a matter of fact, in Yemen 75% of women work in the agricultural field and in Palestine one third of the food production is provided by women. The obstacle for women is that they are not able to access inputs nor information and in many cases their work is not even acknowledged.
Azra Sayeed (International Women’s Alliance, Pakistan – CSM) stressed that stories across the globe are similar, especially when it comes to women’s violation of human rights. The main form of oppression in Asia, and especially in South-East Asia, is feudalism, which has remained the same across many centuries, together with patriarchy and capitalism. Indeed, feudalism has escalated in recent time through land-grabbing: most women do not have the possibility to move to other regions, so they have to work on their own lands, and if their lands are taken away, women cannot keep livestock nor livelihood. Thus, land-grabbing does not allow women to manage resources nor their families. The challenge that they have to face is to give women the possibility to develop strategies and to self-organize.
Finally, Hilal Elver (UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food) pointed out that the problem lies not only in tackling situations of emergency or conflict. Indeed, the issue is much deeper and there are many root causes that need to be handled, among which there is the concept of intersectionality: due to their position of inequality, women are more subject to multiple discrimination. How can root causes be handled? There are a series of legal principles that can be used, such as international Human Rights Principles and International Humanitarian Law Principles. It is generally believed that human rights should be left out in cases of conflicts, but in reality, their practice can never be stopped. As a matter of fact, human rights’ fulfilment is even more serious in these particular situations, because it gives states complete responsibility to protect the most vulnerable ones. If, instead, these principles cannot be protected in places where women – and people in general – have no voice, then there is little space left for improvement. What is more, civil societies should be protected and financially empowered by States because they are the main representatives of the voiceless.
In conclusion, which strategies should be adopted to overcome this oppressive situation and provide women with dignity and fulfilment of human rights? First of all, we should adapt the responses to the needs of the communities, by abandoning unitary strategic models and giving women the possibility to unionize and speak for themselves. Moreover, UN Conventions and agreements related to women’s empowerment should be implemented. The most difficult question to answer regards whom women should ask for protection if states are the ones making violence against them in the first place. Laws are there, both internationally and locally, but the real problem lies in implementation.