EWL News

CSW61: EWL acts, shakes, gathers, mobilises and questions

[Brussels, 16 May 2017] Once again this year, the EWL was very active during the annual meeting of the UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW61). This UN body, established in 1946, gathers all member states in New York in March, to discuss the state of play of women’s human rights and agree on a set of commitments to reach greater gender equality. While the UN member states are supposed to negotiate CSW conclusions on the basis of their commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action, the women’s movement has seen over the last years a series of issues being attacked by different countries through the strategic use of language: refusal to talk about “women’s human rights”, “women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights”, “families”, the contribution of women’s NGOs, etc.). In a global context of backlash, the annual CSW meeting remains a very strategic and political moment for the women’s movement to make its voice heard at international level, create accountability through new national policy statements, and partner with progressive countries to push for a new vision and good practices.

In 2017, the EWL played a role at different levels, to support its vision of a Europe free from gender inequality and violations of women’s human rights.

The EWL and CSW61 theme of economic empowerment

This year’s theme was “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”; the emerging theme was “The empowerment of indigenous women”.
In October 2016, the EWL co-signed a written statement to CSW61, on the human rights of women domestic workers, highlighting the lack of protection and support that these women face as domestic work is being globalised and not recognised as a proper work area. The EWL is happy to see that several of its proposals of amendments to the conclusions, including on domestic work, were adopted by the UN member states.

During the 2 weeks of negotiations in New York, the Swedish Women’s Lobby got the opportunity to deliver an oral statement to the UN member states. Entitled “Women’s economic liberation and the economic man” and supported by the EWL, the statement calls for a new paradigm: from empowerment to liberation, from the economic man to fairness, equality and love.

As economic empowerment cannot be reached if women and girls face male violence, the European Commission organised a side-event on the Istanbul Convention, where EWL Board member Ana Sofia Fernandes presented EWL vision for a Europe free from all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). VAWG is both a visible and invisible obstacle to women’s and girls’ liberation, and must be tackled seriously at European level, through the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and concrete legally-binding measures to ensure justice and freedom for all women and girls.

While the UN discussion mainly addressed economic empowerment in relation to the world of work, the EWL decided to bring the perspectives of young women so that the root causes of gender inequality can be identified and tackled. EWL parallel event “#HerFuture: Challenges & Opportunities for Girls’ and Young Women’s Economic Empowerment” brought together young women members of NAWO Young Women Caucus (UK), Unizon (Sweden), the European YWCA (through a representative of Armenia), WAGGGS (through a representative of New Zealand), Embrace Dignity (South Africa), and a young survivor of online grooming (UK), who shared their analysis, their experience, their vision and their hope. Stereotypes, sexism, rape culture, sexual violence, men’s entitlement to women’s body, racism and discrimination, economic disempowerment, lack of education and health… are part of a global patriarchal system which maintains women and girls in inequality. This is why the EWL believes that all women’s human rights are interrelated, and that men’s privileges must be addressed, not only at work, but also in our culture and values.

youth group

Economic empowerment of women goes hand in hand with a strong feminist movement. The EWL took part to the UN Women’s Side Event “Supporting Feminist Movement Building for Planet 50-50 by 2030”. At this event organised in the Coopers Union, New York, leaders and activists from civil society, global institutions, and local and national governments came together to reflect on the challenges faced by women’s rights activists in politically challenged country contexts. EWL Secretary General Joanna Maycock contributed to discussions on emerging opportunities for strengthening movement building to ensure the achievement of gender equality and the women’s rights agenda.

Joanna Maycock was also invited to join the Civil Society Advisory Panel to UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngucka. As one of the 12 people invited on this advisory group, she provided strategic advice to the UN Women Executive Director particularly on how UN Women can better support the strengthening of the women’s movement globally. She was able to draw on guidance and advice of EWL Members present at CSW in shaping her contributions.

Important political steps at CSW61 for the abolition of the system of prostitution

The EWL succeeded in organising an official event in the UN premises, sponsored by Belgium and Iceland, and with the support of Ireland. Entitled “The Nordic model on prostitution: a key step to ensure girls and young women economic empowerment”, the event saw the gender equality Ministers of Belgium and Iceland express their support to the Nordic Model and call for more countries to adopt it. Alisha Watts, a young survivor of online grooming, provided a very moving testimony of the reality of the rape culture in the UK. NGOs from Ireland, Belgium and Lebanon, shared their vision and frontline work to support women trapped in the systems of prostitution and sex trafficking. “Because I’m a feminist, I’m abolitionist", said Viviane Teitelbaum, former EWL President.

panel EWL BE event

Many other events addressed directly or indirectly the abolition of prostitution as an impactful model to end trafficking and disrupt the benefits made by the sex industry; change mentalities, especially men’s entitlement to women’s body; and contribute to a society free from male violence and based on respect and equality. We have counted 2 official side events (beside EWL’s event, CAP International organised a side event with Sweden and France), 11 NGO events addressing directly prostitution, and at least 7 parallel events where the Nordic Model was discussed as a solution and a vision for the Agenda2030.

The momentum for a strong call for the Nordic Model at international level was reached when the Swedish Minister for gender Equality, Asa Regner, spoke during the meeting of the UN Security Council, on 15 March. As the meeting was dedicated to the issue of trafficking in human beings, she said: “Prostitution can never be regarded as a job; prostitution is always exploitation. Sweden urges more countries to consider legislation that targets the person who buys sex and offers support to the person being exploited – thereby shifting the criminal focus and guilt from the person being exploited, to the exploiter. Knowledge about one’s own rights, including about sexual and reproductive health and rights, is crucial.”

EWL membership super active at CSW61

Several EWL members were also active during CSW, taking part to their national delegation or to the EU NGO briefings and meeting with MEPs. The EWL co-facilitated one meeting of the NGO caucus for Europe and North America, where representatives discussed the attacks on women’s human rights the role of UN Women (and what we expect from the UN agency), the more strategic approaches that NGOs can have around CSW. We also took time to have a very useful EWL meeting at the EU delegation, to share news, activities and strategic thinking.

Moreover, EWL members organised side events on various issues, therefore demonstrating the strength of the feminist thinking and the diversity of actions at national and regional level. You can find the list here.


Agreed CSW Conclusions are satisfactory, but far from revolutionary

After two weeks of physical negotiations, coordinated by Egypt, the UN member states adopted the final CSW61 conclusions. While the Conclusions don’t comprise any explicit backlash on women’s rights, the context for their adoption was tense, with a lack of willingness from a series of member states to move forward. The EU issued a statement at the end of CSW61, expressing their concerns about the international dynamics on women’s human rights and the language used in the Conclusions: “We are disappointed that after the long days and nights spent in these negotiations, we have arrived at an outcome that to a large degree is an interpretation rather than a reflection of a negotiated outcome”.

The content of the Conclusions reiterates the commitments made in 1995 and in the following years. The main aspects of women’s rights are included. Recognizing that women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, the Commission established a blueprint for governments to reduce and redistribute this work through public services, labour and social protections, and affordable child and other care services. The Commission also urged governments to measure the value of unpaid care and domestic work through time use surveys, which will help measure progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The agreed Conclusions recognize that sexual and reproductive health and rights is essential for women’s economic rights, independence and empowerment and a major component of women’s realities. The UN Commission also urges governments to end violence and harassment against women in the world of work, with a specific focus on strengthening and enforcing laws and policies and developing measures to promote the re-entry of victims and survivors of violence into the labour market, which will provide the basis for an ILO future convention. We also note references to a life-cycle approach, life-long-learning, social protection and paid leave, tax justice, STEM and ICT, occupational segregation and gender budgeting. The Conclusions, however, fail to address the macroeconomic framework which impacts on women’s access to exert power over economic structures to formulate financial, monetary, commercial, trade and other economic policies, as well as shaping tax systems and rules governing pay. All these issues remain pressing and decisive factors to women’s empowerment in a changing world of work. While the Conclusions are not as backtracking as initially feared, they do nonetheless contain the backlash rather than challenge it for change.

The tension amongst member states at CSW shows how central to change and power women’s rights are. Addressing women’s inequalities and human rights leads to questioning the economic, cultural, social and political systems we live in. It leads to inquiring how holds power, and what values underpin the current economic and social model. The interest for the human rights of all women and girls leads to criticising the neoliberal model, based on competition and growth, on the primacy of the market over the individual, and on the exploitation of the most vulnerable ones; and the conservative model based on damaging stereotypical and hierarchical roles for women and men, leading to discrimination, violence and impunity.

The EWL believes that more can be done around CSW: holding member states accountable, holding UN Women accountable, bringing CSW Conclusions at national and local level, revitalising the democratic processes around CSW, building capacity of organisations and movements at all levels to understand the role of the UN processes and instruments, building alliances with other continents, repoliticising our participation to CSW and our messages, etc. The UN community has just designated Saudi Arabia to be a member of CSW, raising concerns from all the women’s movement worldwide; the UN is trying to explain the situation in a briefing here. In this context, it is time to reinvent our advocacy work at international level.

Complementary readings:

Amy Lieberman, Devex, “Top takeaways from the UN’s largest women’s rights gathering” - highlights the lack of access for women’s NGOs to the UN premises, the commitments made by the UN Secretary General (on sexual exploitation for example), the lack of budget for UN Women and the invitation by the US of very conservative groups.

Madeleine Rees, WILPF, “Women’s Meaningful Participation: The Missing Ingredient at CSW61” - “The UN is ours, it just has lost its way and we need to get it back”

Women’s Rights Caucus Statement on the Conclusion of CSW61 - “Women’s rights activists continue to express their vexation that governments are unwilling to fundamentally change the global economic, financial and trade structures that exacerbate inequalities within and between countries or to address the harmful impacts of globalization that result in the exploitation of women workers”

EuroNGOs “CSW Recap: Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” - “During the second week of CSW we experienced unprecedented attacks from UN Security. NGOs could not stay at the UN after 6 pm and the negotiations had been moved to another conference hall on a floor where people with NGO passes cannot enter. This was a direct move to cut off women’s rights advocates from influencing the delegations and having a presence.”

Liz Ford, the Guardian, “Nations pledge to cut women’s unpaid work and close the gender pay gap” - “Some African states had expressed the view that women’s unpaid work was “cultural” and enjoyable, and argued that it was not the responsibility of the state to reduce it.”

UN Women Press Release: UN Commission on the Status of Women provides roadmap to women’s full and equal participation in the economy

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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