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Falk Students, Faculty Advocate for Women’s Right to Adequate Nutrition at UN Meetings
Students in the Falk College’s new graduate course, FST 700, “Gender, Food and Rights,” attended the United Nations’ annual Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) meetings during spring break. Led by food studies Professor Anne Bellows, three students—Melanie Shaffer-Cutillo, Karen Cordano and Stacia Martelli—canvassed official meetings on issues related to women’s human right to adequate food and nutrition as official delegates of the non-governmental organization, Food First Information Action Network (FIAN) International.
Bellows is an editorial board member and contributor to the FIAN worldwide publication, “The Right to Food and Nutrition Watch.”
The Gender, Food and Rights course advances inquiry introduced in another Falk food studies course, FST 403/603, “Right to Food and Nutrition,” and foregrounds a focus on the relationship between the human right to adequate food and nutrition and women’s rights. The class operates from an investigation into the question: when so many call for the inclusion of women into food and nutrition programs and policy making, why do women and girls continue to experience hunger and malnutrition at greater rates than men across diverse demographic groups experiencing right-to-food violations?
The CSW meetings introduced students to often unexpected facets of international policy work. At one event organized by the Rutgers University Women’s Global Leadership Center, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and social movement representatives of the Post 2015 Women’s Coalition met to discuss strategies to advocate for women’s human rights.
“The needs of individual attendees that we read about in theoretical form in class were presented as visceral demands, even of life and death. The ability to be heard and have a position acknowledged, incorporated and to convince others to make it a priority is often as much a product of an attendee’s personality as it is the quality of an argument they convey,” says SU student Karen Cordano.
Melanie Shaffer-Cutillo, a Falk College graduate student in the Child and Family Health in the Global Community and Child and Family Studies programs, attended a number of the UN CSW panels on women’s rights to access and control over local development and resources in policy and programming.
One meeting, “Advancing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Sources,” was held within the United Nations by UN Women and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It included participants from such organizations as ActionAID and Landesa. The meeting’s intent was to celebrate the release of a UN Women’s publication by the same name; however, the subsequent Q&A session revealed tension from representatives of women’s organizations from several nations, including Somalia and Brazil, claiming their interventions into related international policy development were ignored.
In contrast, a separate meeting organized by the Rural Women’s Caucus and the Rural Development Leadership Network offered a cross-table discussion with vigorous and productive exchange of diverse ideas and networking among rural women’s organizations, including those from the United States, India and Mexico. Discussion topics included mobilizing women in local communities, women’s exclusion from agricultural policy making and obtaining greater access and voice for the organization within the political system of UN Women.
Attending the UN CSW events provided insights into the complexities of developing, challenging and implementing public policy both across political scales from the local and national, to the regional and international, and across thematic policy silos, such as women’s rights and the right to adequate food and nutrition. Participation was compelling, inspiring and frustrating. “This experience will remain with us on personal and professional levels,” says Shaffer-Cutillo.