ACWW World President’s Newsletter March 2020

Dear friends,

I am pleased to be writing to you at this time when so many are facing worry, fear, and even panic around what feels like a situation totally out of our control. However, we must remember that remaining calm and focused on sensible precautions will help protect us all. ACWW first passed a resolution on immunisation programmes in 1980, and called for vaccination against potentially eradicable diseases as recently as 2016. Global investment in vaccine programmes would go a long way to eradicating the impact of novel viral infections. Our commitment to the World Health Organization must go beyond the verbal, and we must do our best to keep our communities strong and safe by following WHO advice on hand sanitation and social distancing as the best form of defence against Covid-19 (Coronavirus). We must also ensure those most vulnerable in our communities are cared for, and avoid hoarding or panic-buying provisions that cause undue strain on food and distribution chains. Remember that 80% of the world’s food is produced by rural communities, and we must do our best to remain centred and calm in this trying time. These communities require sensible health provision all year round, and for all conditions, not just a virus outbreak benefiting from press coverage.

Sadly, with international concern regarding the spread of Covid-19, the UN Secretary General held a meeting with all UN Ambassadors at which they decided to cancel the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting. I had intended to be representing ACWW at this meeting, joined by several Board and Committee members who had paid to attend at their own expense. It is very disappointing that this important event has been cancelled, and around 8,000 women globally have had to adjust their plans. As you might have seen, our UN Committee Chairman Marie Kenny and I were able to transfer our flights to London and we spent a very productive week with our Central Office staff producing a series of advocacy resources to ensure that the voices of rural women do not go unheard at this challenging time.  These have been and will continue to be posted on our Facebook page, and our website. Please do take a look!

At the Triennial World Conference in Melbourne last year there was a lot of interest expressed in our UN work, but particularly a desire to understand how individuals and member societies could directly participate in our advocacy work. Last month we sent a letter to all member societies asking for their support for a letter to UN negotiators working on the Political Declaration for the Commission on the Status of Women. This pointed out that women’s rights are human rights, and cannot be removed from important legal treaties. This letter was signed by 185 organisations in 35 countries, representing more than 11.95 million women. It was the strongest response from ACWW’s network of members and supporters in many years, if not ever, and I was delighted to see so many unite behind our message. The letter was read during negotiations at the UN, and the UK negotiator was able to use this to leverage our point and ensure as strong a Declaration as possible was agreed.

For those of you who have ordered copies of the Rural Women in Action Pack, you will be pleased to know that the first orders have already been posted from Central Office. As you will read below, there will now be a delay in further dispatching packs. They look fantastic, and will be such a brilliant resource for members to raise awareness of ACWW’s work, learn, share knowledge, and make personal commitments to sustainability. You are also able to download the items from the Member Resources page of our website. Please don’t forget to let us know how you use them!

Upon my return to South Africa from London, I have had to enter 14 days of Self-Isolation. My husband and I drove straight from the airport to our farm out of the city, and are safe and as comfortable as possible. Sadly, because of new government advice in the UK, ACWW’s Central Office will be closed from this afternoon. Our staff are doing their best to establish what work they can do from home (whilst ensuring we continue to protect the personal data of our members and comply with the law!), and we hope to have provisions in place in the next few days to make this more effective. Please bear with us, everyone is doing their best in this difficult time.

When considering your meetings, gatherings, and events such as Women Walk the World, please be aware of official advice relevant to your location and nation. Please rely on this official advice, rather than some of the nonsense being spread on social media.

I send you all my very best wishes, and my hopes for your safety, comfort, and good health. You are always welcome to contact me and Central Office (all email addresses will be checked regularly, even if there is a little delay in responses).

ACWW World President