A report from the UN Commision on the Status of Women

By Becky Mingard

After two weeks of heated discussion in the UN Headquarters in New York, the UN Commission on the Status of Women has wrapped up its annual meeting. The Commission gathers over 4300 representatives from 170 member states and 600 civil society organizations, such as charities and campaigners, in order to create objectives, develop norms and examine progress made towards gender equality. It’s a highly important but not widely known forum which allows dialogue between countries and their respective NGOs, as well as inter-cultural comparison and the sharing of successful ideas.

This year’s focus has been on developing the needs of women and girls living in rural areas, who are particularly at risk due to the high levels of poverty often found rurally. The policies under consideration ranged from equal access to land, natural resources and poverty to the expansion of healthcare services and education to those in rural areas. Additionally, each year the development of a previous theme is considered which, this year, was women’s access to and involvement in the media, originally discussed in the 47th session of the Commission. The resolutions of these discussions form the Agreed Conclusions, a blueprint for policy making across the globe.  

Although the Commission’s Annual Meeting is an influential one, the Commission has no formal power to enact policy change, which means legal change is largely reliant on individual nations upholding the resolutions of the meeting. However, progress in implementing these goals on a national level is reviewed after three years, which gives a chance for the Commission to publicly expose those nations who fail to adhere to the global goals. Additionally, the results of the Commission are used by other UN bodies and committees, who take these resolutions as a guide to develop gender equality in their own policies, programmes and conferences.

Despite a largely successful conference, resulting in a resolved Agreed Conclusions document, this year’s CSW has been criticised, internally and externally, for increased participation by several extremist, anti-human rights groups. One example is Citizen Go, an organisation who are openly against marriage equality and prior to the conference, successfully petitioned for the removal of abortion from the topics discussed. The US, in particular, has come under criticism for supporting such groups.  This year, two anti-human rights groups – The Heritage Foundation and the Centre for Family and Human Rights – were given invitations by the US which allowed them access to meetings usually private to NGOs. Such organisations threaten to promote discrimination in a space that was originally intended to represent intersectional and diverse opinions, but with continued support from the US, it remains to be seen if their presence will persist.

The Commission on the Status of Women represents significant international efforts to promote gender equality, but it must be seen in the context of a greater movement. Ultimately, no single conference can solve gender disparities. Although CSW has great influence in establishing global norms and encouraging collaboration, gender equality is achieved not in a forum, but in the everyday interactions we all take part in: in the workplace, the home, the streets, the schools and in our parliaments.  Rachel Jacobson, of the International Women’s Health Coalition, summarises: ‘the Commission is merely one piece, although an important piece, of a much bigger global movement for women’s human rights.’

Photograph: John Gillespie via Flickr

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