Lessons from Beijing shaped my lifeBy Peace Kyamureku
Peace Kyamureku attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing as Deputy Secretary-General of the National Association of Women Organizations in Uganda. She had quit her job and took a steep salary cut to start working for the Association where she spent 17 years after the Conference championing women’s rights. Today she is a volunteer Technical Advisor through VSO International, an organization that places volunteers where they are needed. Her current placement is with at UN Women Tanzania supporting the work to advance gender equality and the women’s movement.
The Beijing Conference was a point of no return. It made me look at the world through different lenses. Beijing made me start looking for information about women’s issues and want to learn more, especially from the women that are not as privileged as I am. I realized that I am privileged because I have received an education, but many women in the world don’t get this opportunity.
You couldn’t travel to the Beijing Conference and then come back the way you were. In those days people would say ‘oh you are the Beijing people’ – it was something to be proud of and people realized that there was a new way of thinking and looking at things that women who went to Beijing brought back.
Beijing became a point of no return because it opened up space in Uganda where women realized that for each critical area of concern there was something they could do. After the Beijing Conference, so many organizations were formed in Uganda but the challenge was that after a while these organizations did not have enough resources to continue with the work. I continued working with the National Association of Women’s Organizations in Uganda for 17 years. Each year, we would focus on at least three issues from the Beijing Platform for Action to make a difference for the women of Uganda.
Even putting up our banners in the meeting rooms [of the various meetings we attended] was an achievement because it showed that we were visible to the whole world.I remember during the Beijing Conference people would write messages to publicize their events on the pavement. One of the things that I saw written on the pavement as I walked around one day during the Conference was on how to strengthen umbrella organizations. Since I was working with an umbrella organization, I decided to attend that meeting. It was organized by Zambian Non-governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC). As a result of attending that meeting, the National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda and NGOCC formed a partnership that continues even today. For example there is an ongoing youth exchange programme that benefits both countries. This is all because of the Beijing Conference in 1995 – we couldn’t have met anywhere else.
The knowledge that I continued to build on during and after the Conference, especially learning that we are working on the same issues across East Africa particularly on governance, gave me the confidence to be able to come to Tanzania as a volunteer, with UN Women to learn about and share experiences with Tanzanian women.
Up until now I feel that whatever I am doing, the lessons that I am practicing came from the Beijing process. We need to work together and we need to build the capacity of other women so that they get information and skills to enable them participate in the activities of the women’s movement in whatever country they live in. We need to make sure women come out from their cocoons, from their homes and come out into communities to change them.
Twenty years on, my hope is that we will reach more people to make sure that those who were not in Beijing at the Conference are involved. When we talk about gender equality, we need to have the boys and men on board. We need to change the world by working together to make sure that no one is left behind, to make sure no one’s rights are trampled upon, to make sure that when we bring up our children both boys and girls to get equal opportunities and that these opportunities are not lost on the way as they grow up.