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Mothers, Men, and Land Rights: My Three Takeaways from CSW68

Written by
Jenny Gutzman
Published on
May 7, 2024 at 2:20:29 PM PDT May 7, 2024 at 2:20:29 PM PDTth, May 7, 2024 at 2:20:29 PM PDT

Jenny (second from the left) enjoyed getting to know some of the amazing mothers and changemakers in partner communities in Bangladesh this year.

The 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) served as a powerful reminder of the vibrant community tirelessly dedicated to advancing gender equality and alleviating poverty around the world. 

The conference, attended by over 10,000 individuals, highlighted a variety of perspectives from humanitarians, development practitioners, advocates, and volunteers. Amidst the rich diversity of voices, one statement stuck with me throughout the week, “Progress is not linear; we must work hard to address root causes.” 

It was such a privilege to learn from so many who are doing just that—addressing the root causes of inequality. There is too much to synthesize from the dozens of sessions I attended, but I’m walking away with three big takeaways.

Takeaway 1: Making space for mothers’ perspectives

On the first day of the conference, I attended a session on “Harnessing Social Protection” and sat behind a mother and her new baby. He slept soundly the majority of the session, just letting out a small squeak halfway through. The speaker, the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, paused with excitement at the guest and acknowledged the profound beauty of motherhood. 

She also noted her surprise that this was one of the first times at the annual conference that she had ever seen a baby attend. The room broke into applause for this mother—it was a beautiful moment. 

The 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) is the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

While the session discussed the best way to advocate for and bring attention to women’s unpaid care work, for me, this interaction underscored a crucial question: While we often struggle to allow mothers time and space outside of traditional paid work, how do we also ensure that their perspectives are embraced and included in all the spaces they choose to inhabit?

And do we as feminists allow room for the diverse wants and needs of mothers?

It's not merely about granting mothers physical presence in spaces, but continuing to value their perspectives and contributions in each context. As I navigate my own journey into motherhood, expecting my first child in June, I’m carrying this small interaction with me.

Takeaway 2: Inclusion of men and boys

It is clear that one of the ways we create this space for mothers, women, and girls in general is by involving men and boys in the conversation and the work. 

Throughout the week, speakers highlighted a concerning regression in social norms regarding gender equality. They emphasized that men and boys ultimately lose out in a society lacking gender equality. This, along with the impact social norms and unpaid care work have on women—hindering their ability to step into roles of power—necessitate a call to redefine gender roles and demonstrate feminism's benefits. 

As one speaker aptly put it, "Feminism is about living together in a different way," emphasizing the hope that our current societal models can shift in a positive direction for all. 

Takeaway 3: Land rights for women

Discussions on women's land rights were common at the conference, underscoring the importance of equitable access and control over land in achieving gender equality. 

Currently, “at the global level, women account for only 35 per cent of landowners.” 

The metaphorical call from one speaker to "bring the ceiling down to the floor" emphasized the need to dismantle barriers (laws, social norms, etc.) that prevent women from owning land. Speakers reiterated that land rights are not only integral to gender equality but also serve as a prerequisite for addressing issues such as gender-based violence, climate resilience, and economic justice.

“Evidence shows that women’s land rights reduce domestic violence”, grant women greater ability to exit violent relationships, and that “agricultural production and food security increase when women are granted tenure security.”

While the discourse often centres around "access to resources," true empowerment necessitates women's ability to make decisions about the land they occupy. 

This shift from mere access to active control is essential in ensuring their autonomy and agency in shaping not only their lives, but also their communities. During the week of CSW68, the government of Canada and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific released a report titled, Financial Resilience, Inclusion, and Entrepreneurship (cited in the footnotes), that highlights the challenges and benefits in this area well.

What next?

These conversation topics are not new. Many at the conference expressed a collective hope that there will not be a need for such a commission in the future—we must not just talk, but act. 

Visiting the UN headquarters in New York City and dialoguing with so many thoughtful women and men was a definite highlight.

I am thankful to work for Food for the Hungry, and be a part of the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation network, that I believe are enacting the change we hope to see. I left the conference with real hope that we will continue to make concrete progress toward gender equality.

You can help support women and their communities as they work together to create an environment where everyone is valued and given equal opportunity.

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