CSW 2015 celebrated Beijing+20 with record large participation but limited space for CSOs


by Janice G Foerde, chairwoman, KULU-Women and Development (KULU)

Many nice words about global progress on gender equality and women’s/girls’ rights as well as UN member states’ national results were heard at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women’s on implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BD and BPFA) from 9-20 March 2015. At the same time all agreed that there still was a long road to travel to achieve genuine gender equality and women’s/girls’ rights, as described in the BD and BPFA adopted at the UN Fourth and last World Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995.

20 years after the Beijing Conference, the CSW Session focused on a review of progress made in the implementation of the BD and BPFA, including the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly in 2000. It also focused on current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and addressed opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda.

A record number of delegates, around 7000 officials and civil society representatives, participated in the session. Denmark participated with largest delegation ever of 33 persons that included the Danish Minister of Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social Affairs as head of delegation, 5 parliamentarians and their committee secretary, 14 CSO representatives, and the Danish UN Mission team in NY. The session offered a rich program of official meetings and side-events and a large number of meetings and activities arranged by CSOs outside the UN-building.

Critical CSOs: Civil society voices curtailed, Contentious issues, CSO concerns

In spite of the large civil society participation, CSOs were frustrated over the difficult and limited access to this year’s process. KULU agrees – in spite of the very good access as member of the Danish delegation – that the opportunities for advocacy and lobby together with Southern partners and networks were limited. One explanation was that the session followed a different form because it was a “review year”. Therefore the “political declaration” was already agreed upon before the session started and was adopted on the first day. This resulted in a sharp critique from CSOs -which was shared by KULU- who concluded that the declaration was not ambitious enough. A real problem was the progressive like-minded countries’ fear that the political declaration would be pushed backwards in a anniversary year.

Women’s organizations and networks criticized that the Political Declaration lacked serious, forward-looking commitments. See the statement coordinated by the European Women’s Lobby, which KULU and WIDE+ also signed on to. There were concerns that the declaration could lead to a watering down of the BPFA on 3 areas: the language and references to international human rights conventions; violence against women and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights. However in the adopted declaration references to violence against women are weak and a guarantee for and promotion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights is lacking in the document. Still, the Danish and EU negotiators thought that this was the best document that could be attained in the present political context. This might be true, but the weakness and holes must be pointed out, improved and filled out at the earliest possible moment.

The other main document of the session, the “Future organization and methods of work of the CSW”, was close to adoption, except for some contentious issues. This document is very important because it revises and sets the guidelines for the future work of the CSW, which includes as a new item work on the post-2015 sustainable development goals which are expected to be adopted at the UN General Assembly in September. .

As CSO advisor on the Danish delegation KULU could follow the final negotiations on this document. The final issues of contention were women’s and girls’ human rights, civil society participation in the CSW’s work, and its evaluation. The opposition to these issues were the usual suspects, the Holy See and conservative and fundamentalist governments. However, the expression of this opposition was very different this year with for example the Holy See/Vatican holding a low profile and letting other delegations take the lead in the negotiations. Also China took a reserved role, only joining in when feeling their restrictive positions were being threatened. So it turned out to be a long and drawn out negotiation, but through the vagaries of negotiations, the final adopted end result turned out to be a version close to the original document. An amusing element was that the version adopted did not include the participation of “observer states” in the Commission’s work, which would mean that the Holy See would be given the same conditions for participation as CSOs. Something the Holy See representative didn’t catch until after the document was adopted. This will most likely be changed in connections with the draft resolution’s final adoption in June.

The draft resolution on the Future organization and methods of work of the Commission on the Status of Women of 20 March 2015 will be submitted to ECOSOC for action in June.

Cooperation with partners and networks

Several representatives from KULU’s partner MUSONET-Mali participated as presenters in side-events. Both MUSONET president Mama Koite Doumbia and vice-president Bintou Samake, together with several from FEMNET (regional HQ in Nairobi) and FEMNET-Senegal participated. That gave KULU the opportunity to meet on advocacy issues and other cooperation in between the fast pace of the CSW- and Danish delegation program. MUSONET-Mali participated in several events with experiences on their ‘Men to Men’-program, which was an important contribution to one of the CSW main themes, the integration of men and boys in the work for women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality. KULU facilitated WIDE+ cooperation at the CSW and participated in the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition and the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development working groups, as well as Feminist Task Force meetings. Participation in the CSW 2015 was once again exciting and worthwhile – although it was a very different session with its share of frustrations. Several of KULU’s member organizations participated in the delegation and as CSO-representatives.

Issues to monitor closely

The initiation of the Sessions new Working Methods document must be followed closely to ensure good civil society input, as well as support for the civil society’s role in CSW’s work. The great Danish interest in participating in the CSW delegation and work was a new good experience, and there are intentions to quickly follow up on this expressed interest in working towards CSW 2016.

KULU was represented in the Danish delegation by Janice G Foerde, KULU chairwoman, as CSO advisor. Also another KULU member Martha Salazar, currently living in Argentina, was able to participate in delegation meetings. It was good to be able to divide tasks between us, while Martha was in NYC.

Read more about UN’s CSW Session, March 2015:

Priority theme 2015: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

Official sources:

*Political declaration on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women

* Future organization and methods of work of the Commission on the Status of Women On 20 March 2015, the Commission adopted the draft resolution which will be submitted to ECOSOC for action in June.

* Statement by Denmark at the Commission on the Status of Women – CSW 59th session, by Manu Sareen, Minister for Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social Affairs, 9 March.2015.

NGO sources:

* CSO statement 3 Marchmarts 2015: Statement On The Political Declaration On The Occasion Of The 20th Anniversary Of The Fourth World Conference On Women

*CSO statement on the political declaration and working methods, signed by KULU: CSW59 Political Declaration: Women’s organisations in Europe and North America call on UN member states to Commit, Accelerate and Invest in women’s and girls’ human rights. Statement regarding CSW political declaration and methods of work,

* AWID analysis: CSW59 – Beijing Betrayed, by Nareen Shameem