The following debrief was prepared by Jessica Buchleitner, Secretary, Board of Directors:
The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attended the session.
The main focus of the session was on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission undertook a review of progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 20 years after its adoption at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The review (Beijing+20) also included the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, the first five-year assessment conducted after the adoption of the Platform for Action, which highlighted further actions and initiatives. The session also addressed opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda. See the Women’s Intercultural Network Beijing Plus 20 page with reports and responses to the CSW 59 outcome documents (links included). You can also see a complete history of NGO involvement with UN conferences on women from 1975- present here.
During the opening ceremony in General Assembly, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark remarked of the need for civil society to be more included in the activity of the Commission on the Status of Women. It has been observed over the last four years the growing number of NGOs attending the annual Commission meeting. This year was no exception as it boasted an attendance of around 9,000 NGO delegates, the most in history of the Commission session.
This debrief is divided into four parts that will include the Commission reports from the major regions concerning the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), the NGO and civil society progress, Women’s Intercultural Network’s NGO panels and my takeaways from the conference. To read Women’s Intercultural Nertwork’s official NGO statement (prepared by Lenka Belkova and Jessica Buchleitner) click here.
I. Reports from major regions and member states on the progress related to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) 20 year review
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) session on Beijing Plus 20
– No country has achieved gender equality to date.
– Progress has been far to slow towards implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action marked by aggression and regression within member states.
– On a positive note, many discrimination laws have been passed in member states that forward the rights of women and girls.
– Since 1990, maternal mortality rates worldwide have decreased by 45 percent.
– Since the 4th world conference in women in Beijing in 1995, a doubling of representation in national parliaments from 11 percent in 1995 to 22 percent today ensues. This is a marked increase in women taking party in the political process.
– A marked increase worldwide of women participating in the labor force since 1995 has also been revealed.
Regional Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) by major UN regions
The Commission on the Status of Women conducted a regional review of BPFA progress on March 11 in the Trusteeship Council chamber with the 5 regional heads. Here is a summary of key points taken from each region:
1. Executive Secretary of ESCWA (Arab states region) reported:
– Much progress has been made to implement Beijing Plus 20 in the middle eastern nations, though it is difficult to attain an accurate picture of all the Arab states due to the ongoing conflict in the region.
– Gaza is in conflict and continued occupation of Palestine and this has made implementation of BPFA difficult in the region.
– Arab states have since adopted most major UN women’s treaties and 20 of the 22 countries have ratified CEDAW.
– The new Tunisian constitution is unique and new national laws were made in terms of fair wages.
– Since 1995, 87 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school.
– Since 1995, the arab nations have observed a 1/3 decrease in infant mortality rates.
2. Executive Secretary of UNESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) reported:
– 70 percent of women and girls in this region face violence because of a male partner.
– This region has the second lowest proportion of female parliamentary members.
– Human trafficking remains at an all-time high in several of the members states of this region and is a growing problem in others.
3. Executive Secretary for ECE (European Union) reported:
– Hosted regional review conference in November that revealed strong progress of the BPFA in European Union states.
– Through all EU states, legislation to forward the rights of women and girls has been improved throughout.
– Violence against women is criminalized in all states, with legal penalties.
– Education of women and girls is pervasive and boasts a high rate of equality.
– A further drop in maternal mortality rates was observed.
– A rise in eating disorders has been reported, especially among young women.
– Half of women in the EU states still experience sexual harassment and sexual violence before the age of 15.
– An increase of young women’s’ and women’s e4mployement continues.
– 25 percent of the parliament members are women yet most news stories focus on women.
– There is a large gap in financial pensions for women, especially aging women.
– The EU states would like more data studies to be conducted per the BPFA.
4. Executive Secretary of ECA (Economic Commission of Africa) reported:
– It was reported that Africa region has made significant progress in regard to the BPFA, contrary to popular belief.
– Enrollment of girls in primary school has achieved targets in the entire continent, but falls short in terms of secondary school.
– Africa had a low base in all indices and from that marking point most countries have done well by way of improvement, but still have a long way to go.
– There are currently 3 heads of states in the member states that are women and a number of new female ministers for foreign affairs.
– Africa is the best region in terms of performance in the entire world at the UN.
– There are concerns about the ongoing economic opportunities being made available to women and a strong transformative process.
– African Union proclaimed this will be the year to address outstanding BPFA issues.
– The African nations boast a 92 percent rate of compliance with BPFA.
5. Executive Secretary of ECLAC (Latin America) reported:
– There is a diverse situation for women in the Latin American nations currently of progress and violence.
– Rates of poverty for women have increased steadily since 1995, particularly in Colombia and Brazil.
– Much of the feminization of poverty is attributed to unpaid care work, a subject of the World Bank Economic Development task force.
– Governments are pushing for more reform to allow women more economic autonomy.
Recommendations by all major regional executives to drive further implementation of the BPFA:
– In the ESCWAR and ESCAP regions, women face drastic inability to give citizenship to their children.
– 30 percent of the ESCAR states are in a situation of armed conflict, where Security Council Resolution 1325 needs to be enacted.
– In ECE, all governments must continue to implement strategies to prosecute perpetrators of VAW.
– In ECE, pay equity action is in continued need and governments should create transparency tools. For example, in France, there are sanctions against companies who do not give equal pay.
– Gender sensitive budgeting is recommended in all regions.
– Governments must focus on changing the amount of unpaid care work that women are subjected to in the ECLAC region.
– ECA has a three pronged strategy for implementation of BPFA that involves the private sector, women’s rights and the social sector.
– All areas agree that more data on the progress of women is needed to pinpoint better reforms.
II. NGO progress with Beijing Platform for Action
The variety of NGO sessions we attended yielded information on several fronts, namely the subject of masculinity, land rights, labor force participation, violence and armed conflict and the subject of unpaid care work, a theme that has echoed into this year’s CSW 59 and widely discussed at CSW 58 last year. Several panel discussion stuck out to me, namely one about UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the situation of women in Ukraine where we heard from the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Several NGOs were conducting studies on masculinity and its perception in culture and contribution to violence against women. There has been significant progress in dispelling cultural myths surrounding what defines a “man”, by teaching men to respect women.
Perhaps one of the most influential panels of all was one that featured Zakia Hakki- the first female Iraqi Kurd judge who is also a key player in drafting the new constitution for Iran. She clicked through an extensive PowerPoint presentation of the effects of ISIS on the Middle East and the destruction it wields. Through a tearful speech she showed a photo of 10 children locked in a metal cage about to be burned alive and exclaimed that the Kurds and Iraqis just wanted their land back. You can view her presentation here (Zakia_presentation), but be forewarned that the images are very graphic.
Here are some photos from a few of the panels:
III. Women’s Intercultural Network NGO panels on Beijing plus 20 and Cities for CEDAW.
This was a big year for Women’s Intercultural Network at the UN. WIN is a Peer Leader for the civil society NGO leg of the Cities for CEDAW campaign. Our goal is to get US mayors in cities of all sizes and cultures to agree publicly that they will support a CEDAW ordnance in their city government. We hosted two panels, the first Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN) panel convened an interactive and solutions oriented forum with shared innovative strategies for implementing the Beijing Platform for action in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. A stellar group of panelists spoke that included Siobhan Nieland and Marie Murphy with those on the flyer below discussed how we can capitalize, organize and politicize our critical concens for gender equality for all women and girls. Joining WiN at the forum were women from NGO, governmental and the private sector.
The second panel was co-hosted with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women where we featured Reverend Mary Sue Barnett from Louisville, Beth Denghan from North Carolina and Yolanda Mendoza from Salt Lake City – three women who are pushing the CEDAW ordnance in their municipalities. Mary Sue Barnett was able to get the mayor of Louisville to sign CEDAW into action! I also presented the civil society portion of the campaign, emphasizing the importance of government (San Francisco Department on the Status of Women) and civil society to work together. Since the panels we have had an enormous of interest in the campaign and thousands of sign ups. It was very successful. For more information about starting a campaign in your city please contact: email@example.com and visit the weblog for more information on how to get involved.
Reception at the Roosevelt House
WIN also co-hosted a reception at the Roosevelt House in honor of the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug with her daughter Liz. A group of noted feminists and diplomats attended and gave testimonials about Bella and cheered at a film of Bella’s life. It was an honor to welcome diplomats,women in media and academia along with noted NGO women leaders to the event in honor of a woman who gave so much to the world. Liz Abzug currently heads the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute that works with young women and girls by inspiring, mentoring and training them to become leaders in creating positive social and economic change. To see all the photos from the event click here.
IV. Our takeaways
Several of our delegates have provided summaries of their experiences at CSW 59 that will be posted soon here below.
Jessica Buchleitner, Secretary, Board of Directors
My personal takeaways this year are of course the big, glowing accomplishment of the fact that I had 50 Women, Book One with me in tow and was able to present it on Women News Network’s panel and the Cities for CEDAW panel with Women’s Intercultural Network, where I am a director on the Board of Directors. Not only did the copies I brought sell out, but they book also received extensive praise and interest for its inclusiveness of all the major world regions. After the glorious mix of the WTF roller coaster ride it was publishing the first book in the series, the UN was practically a paid vacation as getting to present it there in front of heads of states and seasoned diplomats was rather fabulous. I also feel it is giving many of the causes these women represent the much needed attention. I attended the conference alongside contributors Nwe Oo, Jane Anyango and Book Two contributor Siobhan Neilland. It was an honor to share the stage with them.
Below are some photos of its debut!