'Our partnership with UNDEF enables us to empower and accelerate women's leadership': UNDEF brings together activists during UN Commission on Status of Women

An UNDEF-hosted side event during the March 2019 session of the UN Commission on Status of Women showcased UNDEF projects on the theme of Empowerment, Engagement and Leadership Through Civil Society.UNDEF Executive Head Annika Savill,remarks here, was joined by Ambassador K. Nagaraj Naidu, Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN; Courtney Nemroff, Acting U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs to the UN; and Dr. Wairimu Njoya, UNDEF Advisory Board member and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Williams College.

A panel discussion featured UNDEF project implementers Ghida Anani of the Abaad Resource Centre for Gender Equality in Lebanon, who spoke about strengthening fair legislation for women affected by sexual violence and exploitation; Alejandro Bonil of Corporación Opción Legal in Colombia, who described efforts to empower women survivors of armed conflict; Hala Al-Karib of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, who explained the work to engage marginalized women in elections in Sudan; and Rehmah Kasule of the Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency, who addressed her mission in Uganda to strengthen young women’s civic participation and leadership.

The project implementers also explained how UNDEF’s support specifically strengthened their mission and work overall.

In Lebanon, ”UNDEF was one of the very few organization that believed and accepted to invest in an advocacy legal reform campaign to abolish one of the most shameful legislations against women and girls, which was the ‘marry-your-rapist’ law,” said Ghida Anani. “This kind of support, which contributed to the success of this campaign, paved the way for Lebanon to start the journey of reforming all sexual violence related legislations! The appreciation from UNDEF was tremendously encouraging and motivating, allowing us to continue our journey and daily fight. The real sense of partnership with UNDEF reinforces our sense of responsibility to grow even more and continue to tackle such challenging issues in Lebanon and the MENA region.”

In Colombia, UNDEF support had enabled “empowering women survivors of the armed conflict” and “continuous growth and strengthening, very much needed in the new post conflict Colombian humanitarian environment”. Read Alejandro Bonil’s full remarks here.

In Sudan, UNDEF’s support had helped empower women human rights defenders with both visibility and understanding of protection against risk. “In the Horn of Africa, where I am working, women human rights defenders are mostly invisible, they struggle with lack of recognition,” Ms. Al-Karib stressed. “They struggle with lack of protection mechanisms available for their work and the violations committed against them. They have limited knowledge of to connect to avenues of support and solidarity.” Read Hala AlKarib’s Naidu’s full remarks here.

In Uganda, “our partnership with UNDEF enabled us to empower and accelerate young women’s leadership by engaging them to actively take charge of their lives and lead change in their communities,“ Ms. Kasule said. We multiplied faces and amplified voices of young women in civic, electoral and democratic processes in Uganda. Strengthening young women’s leadership and civic participation project in Uganda directly worked with 1,500 young university women and mentored 50 women members of Parliament.” Read Rehmah Kasule’s full remarks here.

Ambassador Naidu stressed that India had “closely followed the work of UNDEF in supporting projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promoting human rights and encouraging participation of all groups in democratic processes.” He highlighted how “UNDEF has funded an awardwinning rural weekly newspaper published in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in local languages and run by a collective of 40 rural women journalists. The newspaper is a shining example that a functioning democracy is dependent on access to information for all people.” Read Ambassador Naidu’s full remarks here.

Representative Nemroff of the United States emphasized: “As we all know, a vibrant civil society is a key element in democracies that thrive. For this reason, UNDEF is of immeasurable importance. Recognizing this, the United States is proud to be UNDEF’s top donor, having contributed three million dollars in 2018 and over $66 million since its founding.” Read Representative Nemroff’s full remarks here.

Dr. Njoya underlined the “continuing importance of multi-level and multisector approaches to women’s empowerment. This is the approach that UNDEF grantees have consistently taken.“ She added that “the struggle to have their voices heard at home, to defend their market spaces from encroachment by others in contested urban spaces, and to shape how things are done in their own neighborhoods gives women a launching pad from which to engage more actively in formal electoral processes and political deliberation. This is a principle that is consistently imbued in UNDEF’s work for women’s empowerment.” Read Dr. Njoya’s full remarks here.