[Brussels, 2 April 2020] UN Secretary General António Guterres confirms his commitment to women and girls’ rights and equality between women and men.
The coronavirus – COVID-19 - had not yet swept across the world at the time when the EWL delegation, headed by Vice President Ana Sofia Fernandes with Mary Collins, EWL Senior Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Alexandra Silva from the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, EWL national coordination, and Hafi Karsdóttir, from EWL member Soroptimist Europe, met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on 11 March at the UN headquarters in New York. However, due to the restrictions imposed on the 64th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), many EWL members had to cancel their participation.
UN Secretary-General assured of his commitment to women’s and girls’ rights and equality between women and men, particularly at this time marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The EWL presented a copy of its report “25 years of the Beijing Platform Declaration and Platform for Action (1995-2020 - The Time to Deliver is Now!”.
The EWL is delighted to have had the opportunity to discuss with UN Secretary-General on its concerns regarding the shrinking space of women’s civil society organisations. This is also mirrored in the backsliding of the UN agreed language particularly with regards to CEDAW, for example, the absence of reference to women and girls in the proposed themes of the Action Coalitions in the context of ‘Generation Equality’. The EWL insisted on the need to include women’s organisations as leaders of the Action Coalitions and to provide resources to them. The EWL proposed to take leadership of the Coalitions regarding gender-based violence and economic justice and rights. Emphasising the need to refer to agreed CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action language, in particular with regards to the sexual exploitation of women and girls and the prominence of the concept of ‘sex workers’, the Secretary-General reassured of his full commitment to women and girls’ rights and equality between women and men.
The delegation also discussed the newly adopted five-year EU Gender Equality Strategy (Strategy) and called on the UN Secretary-General to exercise his influence with those countries that have yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Welcoming the overall Strategy, which takes into account,many of the EWL’s recommendations, the EWL will continue to monitor the implementation of the Strategy and will be particularly mindful of its impact on women and girls.
The Spotlight Initiative was also discussed, the joint EU/UN initiative established in 2019 aims to eliminate violence against women and girls by 2030. Ana Sofia Fernandes represents the EWL in the EU/UN Civil Society Global Reference Group. She informed the Secretary-General that the terms of reference and the plan of activities are currently being finalised. She raised the concern of the use of the term ‘sex worker’ and stressed that survivors of sexual exploitation must be given a central role in this initiative. She was very pleased to inform the Secretary-General of the EWL’s active engagement in the Spotlight #WithHer digital engagement campaign targeted to European audiences, which launched on 5 March in Brussels with EWL amplifying the voice of a young survivor of sexual exploitation, drawing attention to the deep individual and societal harm of the system of prostitution.
This provides an excellent opportunity to ensure that CEDAW is widely implemented as the foundation of Generation Equality, to ensure the continuum and effective implementation of women and girls’ human rights transcending generations, regions, and countries.