The fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 58) took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from March 10 to March 21 2014. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attended the session.
This year’s Priority theme was the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls and the Review theme was the access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.
The Millennium Development Goals
The Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) are eight international developmentgoals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. All 189 United Nations member states at the time (there are 193 currently) and at least 23 international organizations committed to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the goals follow:
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- To achieve universal primary education
- To promote gender equality and empowering women
- To reduce child mortality rates
- To improve maternal health
- To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- To ensure environmental sustainability
- To develop a global partnership for development
Each goal has specific targets and dates for achieving those targets.
As of 2013 progress towards the goals was uneven. Some countries achieved many goals, while others were not on track to realize any. A UN conference in September 2010 reviewed progress and concluded with the adoption of a global plan to achieve the eight goals by their target date. New commitments targeted women’s and children’s health and new initiatives in the worldwide battle against poverty, hunger and disease.
The purpose of CSW 58 was to identify the barriers to implementation of these goals in terms of women and girls and develop strategies to overcome them.
Panels and Presentations from the Commission on the Status of Women and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Opening morning took place with an address from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon regarding the Millennium Development Goals and current progress.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, spoke about the current progress of the Millennium Development Goals and then opened up the floor for delegates to give their statements in a high-level roundtable session to exchange experiences, lessons learned and best practices on the priority theme.
Accelerating Progress on the MDGs for Women and Girls: High level statement from Heads of UN Agencies
Several heads of major UN agencies delivered statements on Tuesday, March 11 regarding measures they are taking to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals. UN Women, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) all reported on their specific areas and actions in several member states, with a particular focus on Africa.
UNESCO making a statement on the MDGs
NGO panel presentations
A group of NGOs gave a presentation on engaging law enforcement to handle domestic violence. Here is part of the speech delivered by a DV prosecutor based in Texas.
World Bank breakfast: At a special reception hosted by the World Bank Group, the subject of women working in unpaid care positions was thoroughly discussed by several representatives, including Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender and Development. The group produced a printed report on global research of this topic. Below is a video of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights speaking about unpaid care work and lack of attention to it as a human right and a photo of Jeni Klugman.
Engaging men and boys to achieve the MDGs (Brazil, Switzerland, MenEngage): We heard briefings from several representatives from Brazil, Switzerland, South Africa and Nicaragua discussing their goals of breaking social stigma and societal traditions that discourage men from being part of their families. They work with young boys into their adulthood to ensure an understanding of the concept of gender equality.
North Caucasus panel
A panel of representatives from the North Caucasus region of Russia discussed the prevalence of domestic violence and bride kidnappings in the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. It was reported that groups of NGOs working with Chechen women leveraged the CEDAW ordinance to put pressure on Chechen officials to curb the practice, citing that the it is illegal in the Russian Federation, in addition to being considered a sin in Islamic law. Recently, a fine of one million rubles was introduced as punishment for anyone kidnapping a woman as a bride in Chechnya. These anti-kidnapping laws were first introduced in 2010. The video below by one panelist accurately describes the situation of Chechen women:
Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN): Winning Strategies on the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW and the Millennium development Goals for Gender Equality
Our WIN panel consisted of our global partner delegates brought from Afghanistan, Uganda and San Francisco. We heard from Raihana Polpalzai, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Kabul University and the Honorable Annette Mukabera, former MP, Republic of Uganda. Here are a few video excerpts:
Annette Mukabera and statistics on Ugandan women
Raihana Polpalzai on Afghan women
US Women Connect: Technology and Women’s Advancement
Longtime Women’s Intercultural Network national level partner, US Women Connect presented a panel on the role of technology in advancing women and girls. We heard from Mary Ann Ellison (WIN Board Member) of Flowering Hope, Michelle Ozumba of Women’s Funding Network and I read for Elahe Amani of University of California Fullerton. Here are videos of our presentations:
Mary Ann Ellison, Executive Director, Flowering Hope
Michelle Ozumba, Executive Director, Women’s Funding Network
Jessica Buchleitner, WIN Board Member, reading for Elahe Amani
Our important panels regarding CEDAW
CEDAW is perhaps the single most important subject addressed every year at the United Nations CSW meeting.
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women’s rights and women’s issues worldwide. Developed by the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Convention addresses the advancement of women, describes the meaning of equality and sets forth guidelines on how to achieve it.
The Convention focuses on three key areas:
- civil rights and the legal status of women
- reproductive rights
- cultural factors influencing gender relations
It is not only an international bill of rights for women but also an agenda of action. Countries (UN member states) that ratify CEDAW agree to take concrete steps to improve the status of women and end discrimination and violence against women. As evidence of these ongoing efforts, every four years each nation must submit a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Composed of 23 experts nominated and elected by the ratifying nations, the Committee’s members are regarded as individuals of high moral standing and knowledge in the field of women’s rights. CEDAW annually reviews these reports and recommends areas requiring further action and ways to further eliminate discrimination against women. It is an important international measure of accountability.
For example, the Convention requires ratifying nations to modify social and cultural patterns to eliminate gender prejudices and bias; revise textbooks, school programs and teaching methods to remove gender stereotypes within the educational system; and address modes of behavior and thought which define the public realm as a man’s world and the home as a woman’s, thereby affirming that both genders have equal responsibilities in family life and equal rights regarding education and employment.
Interestingly enough, the United States is the only industrialized nation that refuses to ratify CEDAW. Of the 193 U.N. member nations, 187 countries have ratified it. The United States is among the countries that have not — along with the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Palau, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
In 2002, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, it was never sent to the full Senate for advice and consent to ratification. The Senate has never ratified CEDAW, and without ratification, the U.S. is not bound by its provisions.
At this year’s CSW, we started the Cities for CEDAW campaign and kicked it off with two presentations in partnership with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.
Here are videos of Marilyn Fowler of Women’s Intercultural Network (our NGO) speaking about CEDAW and WIN’s initiatives to mobilize women at the state, national and global level to push for it.
Cities for CEDAW, Marilyn Fowler, Part 1
Cities for CEDAW, Marilyn Fowler, Part 2
The UN and Social Media
The UN has upped the ante in terms of social media presence. This year, we were given access to more meetings that traditionally were closed. In each meeting we were encouraged to take photos, videos and to tweet. It appears that the UN is making more effort to share the content of the meetings on the internet. I have not observed this extent of social media participation in previous years. To view a complete social media overview of CSW58, see the UN Women Storify page.
One reason for an increased participation is the use of gadgets that are more prevalently on the market then they were in previous years. When I attended the conference in 2012, I saw far less participants using tablets to take photos or tweet. This appears to be a rising standard.
Recent actions of member states to increase progress of the Millennium Development Goals
The following are recent actions of member states towards furthering the progress of the MDGs.
– Bangladesh has implemented policies for the eradication of poverty among women by strengthening social services. Programmes and policies such as the allowance to widows and destitute women and a maternity allowance have been reported to have helped provide food security to a large number of poor women.
– In 2009, Guyana launched a single parent training programme which provides training to single parents to enable them to undertake paid employment.
– Sierra Leone abolished primary education school fees for all children as of 2007.
– Burkina Faso has implemented the BRIGHT programme that provides daily meals for all children and take-home rations for girls, to reduce the time they spend on household chores and increase time for them to allocate their studies.
– Nepal has adopted several gender equality and social inclusion measures, such as ensuring that at least one woman serves on school management committees.
– Egypt endorsed the “Healthy Mother, Healthy Child” initiative to reduce the risks of maternal and neonatal mortality through increased access to maternal and reproductive health services, reduced fertility rates, the utilization of antenatal care and skilled attendance at delivery, as maternal health has a direct impact on neonatal and child morbidity and mortality.
– Guinea Bissau and Kenya have enacted new laws to prevent female genital mutilation while national policies, frameworks, and laws in support of reproductive health and rights have been developed in Armenia and Cambodia, with the support of UNFPA.
– Paraguay has implemented a national plan for the control and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
– Nepal has introduced school and community-led total sanitation programs across the country in order to establish child-friendly, gender sensitive and disability- friendly water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.
Agreed Conclusions of UNCSW58
Agreed Conclusions are now available and can be accessed here.
My Personal Reflections
Honestly, there were tears in my eyes leaving the UN this year.
The collective soul of the conference was utterly powerful. To be part of a group of people from all corners of the world who live and breathe the desire to change corrupt systems, end suffocating traditions against women and stir dialogue concerning issues others normally turn a blind eye to is a transcending, powerful experience.
As I watched the UN disappear from the back window of the airport taxi, the words of the song of the Statue of Liberty echoed in my mind: “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Some of these women spent their life savings just to come to this conference and present important issues in their countries. Others brave death threats every day to do the work they do. For the past three years, groups of Iranian women were unable to attend because of the regime. Last year, Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman was unable to get out of Yemen to speak at consultation day. For some of these NGO groups, planning the travel and scraping together the funds takes years in the making. It is inspiring to witness the extent people will go to for the purpose of sharing important information and to exercise their voice.
I remembered a Chechen woman taking the microphone from her translator only to passionately explode in a verbal fervor about the condition of Chechen women, to show her 1 billion rising video and explain the practice of bride kidnapping.
I remembered the group of high school girls from Mexico who boldly approached Jayne Anyango and I to introduce themselves and chat with us about their desire to end the violence and murders in Ciudad Juárez.
Then there was the Russian guard manning the front gate who remembered me from prior years and the Ugandan guard in the main building who I joked with in the morning. There were also the African women in their bright patterned dresses and the diplomats with frowning brows in their black suits. My favorite lunch spot is the Moroccan street vendor who sells kebab sandwiches outside the UN Church Center building. When he saw me approaching him on the first day, he called out to me excitedly.
Every part of the experience is transcending; a patchwork of new and familiar faces. Some frowning, some smiling, others crying.
I know the UN is not perfect, as many of its notable missions have failed in the past. There are slews of criticism about its operating procedures, officials and budget. I am aware of these arguments and judgments and do not see the UN with rose-colored glasses.
Yet, to observe the collective hope for peace in all those who journeyed to New York for CSW 58 is to witness a phenomenon of unyielding faith.
The tired, the poor, the hungry and the believers will all return again next year, in huddled masses, to reconvene towards building a world free of violence. A world where women do, indeed, breathe free…
And here we go…moving forward….
Read our official statement for Women’s Intercultural Network that Lenka Belkova and I authored.