By Tina Dolgopol
The setting is exquisite. Banderas Bay, Puerta Vallarta provides the perfect backdrop for a first meeting. Looking at the faces around me, everyone is enchanted with the beauty of the sloping hills gently curving downward to the coastline. The conversations focus on people’s backgrounds and the perspectives they bring to the gender justice dialogue. What becomes immediately obvious is the commitment to women’s empowerment and the desire to learn from each other’s experiences. Many of those present have spent a considerable amount of time in conflict zones and have a profound understanding of the effects of war on women and their communities. Although those present at the dialogue stay positive and focused on the future there is no doubting that they are aware of the challenges ahead.
All of us are saddened by the fact that the eruption of the volcano in Iceland means that most of our colleagues from Africa and Europe will not be able to join us. For the past three days the staff of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and the Noble Women’s Initiative have considered every alternative but finally have had to accept that it will be impossible for these women to depart in time to share their experiences with us.
Although this is an informal gathering the conversations quickly become serious. The need to impress on governments the importance of promoting women’s rights is at the centre of many of the exchanges. There is a feeling that too many governments continue to give lip service to women’s rights but are not willing to undertake the far reaching reforms necessary to achieve true equality. Some of those from the US express their dismay about the manner in which the debate about health care became so polarized that it was almost impossible to have a ‘civil’ dialogue concerning the issue. For those working on the ground in conflict zones a major concern is the means of creating an economically sustainable future for women subjected to sexual violence.
The sun sets, we head off for dinner and everyone hopes that the diverse perspectives we bring to the array of issues will help us to find some innovative approaches to the problems we face.