Friday, 15 April 2011

The Women Reaching Women (WRW) closing conference

At the closing conference of Women Reaching Women this week, participants learned how communities both in the UK and internationally can be and, indeed, are, engaged with the issues of gender equality, climate change and development; especially in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, and Stephen O'Brian MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, were two of the speakers, and Mr O’Brien reaffirmed the government's promises that Millennium Development Goal number five focusing on maternal health will continue to be addressed and hopefully achieved. WI representatives who led the project within their federations spoke very movingly of how being part of Women Reaching Women has impacted so positively on their own lives. It has been a unique partnership between the NFWI, Oxfam and The Everyone Foundation. The latter, led by Richard and Dawn, gently drew on human emotion and empathy to help raise awareness of the plight of our sisters across the planet, while Oxfam GB provided the facts upon which members worked. This three year project has widened the WI's work on international issues, which, until now, focused almost solely on an affiliation with the Associated Countrywomen of the World. WI members have collected coins for friendship for over 70 years, which help small-scale projects in the developing world such as providing a well for a village, educational material, milking cows for women and funds to set up a pickling factory. The evidence of the changed climate was explained by two very articulate ladies, Constance Okollet from Uganda and Ursual Rakova from Papua New Guinea, who are living through the repercussions of such change, when they spoke at a gathering on Wednesday evening organised by Climater Wise Women Hearing how flood and drought had decimated Constance's village, caused death and disruption from which some never will recover is truly heartbreaking, and Ursual's story of how the Carteret Islands are very quickly being washed away by the sea is fearful. These stories reminded me of Martina, the Ugandan lady who featured in the Oxfam film which accompanies the Women Reaching Women project; take a look at the video on the Oxfam site - "Sisters Across the Planet". I spoke at this event on the steps that the WI has been taking, and continues to take, to change lifestyles in order to mitigate the effects CO2 emissions have on countries that do not have electricity and where citizens live off the land and from the sea. The WI was concerned about the pollution of the seas way back in 1927; climate change was not a phrase uttered at that time - but what foresight our members had. However, every small action to reduce emissions, using less energy and water is not to be dismissed. It behoves us to reflect on how our actions affect others - thousands of miles away and unknown to us - but we are all intrinsically connected and we must always strive to promote the issue of climate change which is surely an issue of human rights.