[Brussels, 31 May 2019] The annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in New York from 11-22 March 2019. This year’s priority theme social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructures resulted in a 23-page, 51-paragraph outcome document, which was negotiated well into the early hours of the last day. Contentious issues around family, diversity, national sovereignty were challenged but failed to impact on the outcome of the agreement. Social protection, as a stand-alone issue has not been the subject of the CSW previously, therefore reaching consensus on this particular issue also proved challenging at times.
The CSW is the largest annual multilateral meeting on women’s rights, bringing together world leaders, ministerial delegations and this year over 9,000 women’s non-governmental organisations, all generating a hive of activity.
In a global context of backlash, the annual CSW meeting remains an important strategic and political moment for the women’s movement to make its voice heard at international level, create accountability, and partner with progressive countries to push for a new vision and good practices. What was striking this year was the number of young women, many of whom were born after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action and/or too young to remember. The absence of a global forum since 1995 was felt and this gap needs to be filled to ensure that Beijing remains the progressive human rights framework for different generations of women worldwide. Together with the CEDAW Convention (1979) and the SDGs (2015), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) remains a solid pillar for the universal advancement of the rights of all women and girls.
The EWL has been engaging in the CSW for many years and consensus among members reaffirm that the CSW is a strategic place to be. It ensures that the international community stays committed to the Beijing Platform for Action. It enables women’s organisations and the feminist movement to be the watchdog of agreed language, to prevent attacks from different stakeholders and countries: on sexual rights, on families on LGBT rights, on prostitution (and not “sex work”), on the universality of women’s human rights, on the role of NGOs. We are also key to ensure that our governments’ commitments - and the EU - at international level are consistent with their national (internal) policies. In this context, the Agreed Conclusions must be brought home and governments made accountable for the implementation.
Worrying Trends and shifting language
We are increasingly witnessing worrying trends at the CSW that mirror a backlash on women’s rights in the broader world. The US challenged so-called ‘gender jargon’ and stated to be “committed to protecting the precious gift of life, including the protection of baby girls who would have been aborted, merely because they are female.” Anti-rights groups descended on the second week, and held side events with the Holy See around similar themes on ‘gender ideology’.
Reports of bullying the facilitator of the CSW Agreed Outcomes were also deeply worrying and calls for condemnation by all. The UN must remain the bastion of human rights and progressive policies. The role of watchdog and one of diligence is crucial more so than ever. More information can be found in the article of PassBlue, providing independent coverage of the UN:
The US Goes ‘Bonkers’ at the UN Women’s Conference.
EWL at the CSW
The EWL delegation, composed of the President, two vice-presidents and Mary Collins from the Secretariat, undertook a series of events and meetings during the first week of the CSW.
Prior to attending, the EWL prepared a briefing document for members, which includes the EWL Statement and information on the side events, and facilitated exchange of information amongst them. Thanks to the EU Mission in New York, a meeting room was allocated for meetings with members. A meeting took place with the EWL’s new member from Iceland, The Icelandic Women’s Rights Association (IWRA) - Kvenréttindafélag Ísland. The EWL also met with a delegation from Romania, Spain and Norway to discuss violence against women and strategies to support the Romanian Presidency for the EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention. A presentation and discussion on the EWL recent publication: The time is now for a feminist Europe - the state of women’s rights in Central Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic States, was also held. EWL 50/50 campaign and Manifesto were also presented.
Other activities during the week included:
- Slovenian government side-event on Building safe and empowering digital spaces for women and girls, Vice-President, Ana Sofia Fernandes, was a speaker and presented the EWL #HerNetHerRights . A lot of interest was generated especially on the cyber violence training, which led to further presentations throughout the week, notably at a business event (WeEmpower –Win Win Forum) and an interview with the Portuguese television.
- High level Ministerial Interactive Dialogue, President Gwendoline Lefebvre, addressed the Ministerial Dialogue, with a three-minute presentation of EWL’s priorities on Building alliances for social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
- Romanian Presidency-EWL side event on Gender Budgeting, chaired by Vice-President Laura Albu, speakers included the Secretary of State, National Agency for Equal Opportunities, Romania, Vice-Minister for Women and Equality, Austria, Director, Gender Equality Unit, Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, EIGE, ENoMW, EWL former President, Viviane Teitlebaum and EWL members from Sweden, Portugal.
- Meeting of the Executive with Ana Maria Menendez, Senior Policy Advisor to the UN Secretary General. The main issues discussed related to Beijing +25 in the context of growing populism and the risk of backlash, and EWL’s concerns regarding the use of the term ‘sex work’ in the context of the CEDAW recommendation on trafficking in the context of migration and the forthcoming ILO Convention on harassment at work. On the latter issue, it appears that the ILO is not required to follow UN agreed language and, although linked to the UN, it has a ‘special’ status. We will investigate this further.
- European-North America Caucus, Mary Collins was elected to the core group which includes:
- Europe: Zarin Hainsworth, Ulla Madsen, Mary Collins
- North America: Patricia (Trich) Masniuk (Canada), Daniela Chivu (Canada), Nina Smart (USA), Luci Chickowero (USA).