Janice G Foerde
The milestone sixtieth session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) took place from 14-24 March 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York City. It was the largest CSW ever. Over 120 government ministers and deputy or vice ministers, 1,825 senior officials and parliamentarians participated together with about 4,100 civil society representatives from more than 540 organizations, which is the highest number CSOs ever for one of the CSW’s regular annual meetings. The CSW gave voice to a range of issues crucial to women and girls of all backgrounds and sectors through 197 meetings and side events in UN buildings and some 450 offsite meetings as well as numerous other activities.
The priority theme, ‘Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”, was particularly well-timed to focus on the recently adopted “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and the 17 global goals for sustainable development, adopted by UN General Assembly September 2015.
Under the slogan “Planet 50-50 by 2030 – Step it Up for Gender Equality“, UN Women’s goal was to set high standards for guiding the implementation of the 2030 agenda towards achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls for the full realization of their human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout their lifecycle and in all their diversity. A strong commitment from Member states was vital in order to realize these goals.
UN Women and many governments were satisfied with the adopted outcome document, Agreed Conclusions , which urge a comprehensive approach to implementing all 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) through integration of gender perspectives across all 17 goals and across all government policies and programmes.
Eliminating all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) against women, girls and youth, women’s leadership and participation in decision-making in all areas of sustainable development; and the control over women’s, girls’ bodies, i.e. sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) were major discussion themes and were approached in a technical manner. The conclusions urge Governments to strengthen these areas of concern by strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks, by adopting and reviewing implementation of laws that criminalize violence against women and girls, and by promoting and protecting the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights (SRHR). Please note that it is reproductive rights and not sexual rights that are to be protected. It lacks an acknowledgement that mindsets must also change to ensure needed transformations.
It was once again a battle between conservative and progressive UN member states and their views on women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment before the Agreed Conclusions could be adopted by consensus well past the official end time at 11.35 p.m. on the 24th of Mach. The hottest issues blocking the adoption were finally two paragraphs on ‘health’ and the ‘family’, which threatened to block an agreement.
The differences divided countries like African member states, Russia, the Holy See (which is an observor without a vote), India, China, and Pakistan on the one side, with countries such as Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay), European states, USA, and Canada on the other side. The Latin American countries supported by a number of others insisted that the ‘family’ should be plural as ‘families in all their varieties’, and if that was not possible, the paragraph on family should be deleted from the Conclusions, while the conservative states and the Holy See wanted a conservative paragraph on the family. Finally after many hours of negotiations behind closed doors, the agreement was reached to remove the word ‘sustainable’ from the family paragraph, which indicates a disconnection from the 17 sustainable development goals and the 2030 development agenda!
The resolution on ”Women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS” almost didn’t make it through tough negotiations but was finally adopted. In addition to this resolution, the CSW recommended three other draft resolutions to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on: CSW’s multi-year program of work; women and children hostages, including those imprisoned during armed conflicts; and Palestinian women.
No one got everything they wanted, and some were dissatisfied with the many issues that were deleted from the Conclusions. But the Agreed Conclusions were adopted by consensus which is good, in spite of a number of countries and the Holy See recording their reservations.
The battles over text are important because the final document is a tool that we as civil society women’s/girls’ rights advocates use as guidelines and a leverage in our daily work for women’s/girls’ rights, gender equality and empowerment to achieve a sustainable development and the accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action, which can impact the 2030-sustainable development agenda and goal process.
The question is whether the Agreed Conclusions are strong enough to Step It Up to get a planet 50/50 and the world we want and need by 2030?
One answer is that it is up to us as women’s/girls’ rights advocates to use the tool best we can in our daily work for women’s/girls’ rights, gender equality, and empowerment.