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The United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) first met in 1947, soon after the founding of the UN. Those first decades focused on formulating international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women’s right issues, including contributing to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each year the CSW takes place under a theme. The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58), held in March in New York focused on Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for Women and Girls.
Women’s rights and other civil society organizations were largely absent from the process in developing the Millennium Declaration and goals almost 15 years ago. While MDG3 specifically relates to gender equality and women’s empowerment, many States from the Global South and civil society were not able to participate in or influence the priorities of the MDGs. Despite having reduction of poverty as its core principle, the MDGs did not reflect the principle that human rights are indivisible, integral and interrelated; and a model of market-led economic growth has effectively undermined attempts to develop and use alternative development models that are more sustainable for people and the planet. The MDGs failed to address structural causes of poverty, and did not recognize the consequences and impact of the current global system, macroeconomic policies and financial architecture, that have hindered achievement of the goals.
The CSW58 was hence an opportunity to learn from these limitations, with important consequences for the forthcoming international development agenda that will come into force when the MDGs expire in 2015.
Critical juncture for women’s rights
At this year’s CSW, women’s rights advocates and organizations appealed to UN Member States to take serious consideration of the lessons learned as the deadline for the MDGs fast approaches and the new development agenda is negotiated. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) was present at the CSW58, and spoke to gender, sexuality and human rights activist, Cynthia Rothschild about the significance of the moment:
“These CSW negotiations are particularly important because they will be one of the only gender specific tools used in the ongoing development negotiations around post 2015, which means that the language that governments agree to in the AC’s will be used in the official post 2015 development processes that will culminate in General Assembly discussions happening partly this and next year. The next governmentally agreed paradigm will come out of that process.”
Women’s rights advocates, organizations and movements formed coalitions at CSW58 to influence the range of processes that affect the post-2015 Development agenda, using it as a platform to push for a progressive new development agenda that is grounded in human rights, with women at the centre. At such a critical juncture, women’s rights advocates and organizations at the CSW58, however, spent much of their energy holding the line on already agreed rights. While there have been great advances in women’s human rights over the past two decades, the context in which the CSW58 took place is one of rising backlash and increasing regressive forces that use religion, culture and tradition to violate rights with impunity.
So what were the outcomes for women at CSW58?
AWID’s initial reactions to the zero draft of the Agreed Conclusions (ACs) outlined five areas that needed to be addressed for a bold, just and transformational development agenda post-2015. Our latest analysis shows that while there was some progress at CSW58, there is still a long way to go in most areas. This year, opposition to women’s rights from some governments was strong, and all rights related language was debated. For young women engaging with these processes, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) were at the forefront of their concerns. Conservative actors use the CSW to attempt to roll back already agreed upon rights and consistently oppose any language that would advance SRHR for young women in all their diversities. The compilation of blogs produced through AWID’s Young Feminist Wire on the CSW58 show that young feminists are working hard to get their message out to governments that they know best what they want and need.
The ACs importantly recognize that “almost 15 years after the MDGs were launched, no country has achieved equality for women and girls, and significant levels of inequality between women and men persist,” also highlighting that several critical issues were not adequately included in the MDGs, including violence against women and girls; child, early and forced marriage; women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; among others.
However, the ACs did not make the important link between economics and development, nor underscore the need for a development paradigm shift, nor the need for regulation and to hold those responsible accountable. CSW58 also unfortunately failed to recognize the indivisibility of human rights, including failure to recognize the landmark Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) of the World Conference on Human Rights that took place in Vienna 20 years ago. On the positive side, the Commission recognized the need to address “the multiple and intersecting factors contributing to the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and girls over their lifecycle, including women’s equal access to full and productive employment and decent work, women’s full participation and integration in the formal economy, equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, and equal sharing of unpaid work“. (For more key outcomes, refer to AWID’s analysis)
Financing for women’s human rights (WHRs), gender equality and women’s empowerment was absent from the MDGs, so during CSW negotiations, AWID and other activists of the Women’s Rights Caucus insisted on the inclusion of financing and resourcing as a specific area of concern. While as AWID we are pleased with the direct reference to gender-responsive budgeting and gender audits, and a section on maximizing investments in gender equality and the empowerment of women, this is not enough. AWID will continue to lobby for this priority to ensure that States comply with current commitments and make financing for women’s human rights central in further post-2015 processes.
Overall, women’s rights activists welcome the explicit reference to the need to learn lessons from the MDGs in shaping the post-2015 development, calling on States to “tackle critical remaining challenges through a transformative and comprehensive approach and calls for gender equality, the empowerment of women and human rights of women and girls to be reflected as a stand-alone goal and to be integrated through targets and indicators into all goals of any new development framework."
What should a post-2015 development agenda look like?
AWID envisages a post 2015 development agenda that is grounded in human rights, gender and economic justice and clearly aligned with all established human rights agreements. One of the achievements of CSW57 was the inclusion of specific language on protecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs)who advance the implementation of the global development agenda by defending the rights of Mother Earth, fighting against violence and militarism and promoting and protecting the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls. The new development agenda needs to create an enabling environment for WHRDsto carry out their work in accordance with international human rights standards. It is also essential to address conflict, militarization, and the rise in fundamentalisms and its links to violence against women.
The new development agenda also needs to eradicate poverty from the roots and transform the current unsustainable economic model and global governance structure. Inequalities of wealth, power and resources are on the rise, according to Oxfam’s report ‘The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all’. Economic models and indicators should reflect the value of people and the planet, and challenge existing neo-classical, patriarchal, unsustainable extractivist models of development.
A gendered and intersectional analysis should be systematically incorporated into all aspects of the development agenda, recognizing the role of women as key leaders and active agents in social and economic transformation, and not merely as beneficiaries. The new framework should be informed by the many grassroots innovations around the world, led by women, indigenous and young people, and based on the values of human rights, environmental sustainability, solidarity and collective wellbeing.
Beyond CSW58, women’s rights advocates will continue working for this bold, just and transformational development agenda post-2015in upcoming negotiation spaces, including the Open Working Group (OWG) negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) 20 years after Cairo and other processesthatlink directly to negotiations on the new development framework.
Research assistance by Susan Tolmay and Alejandra Scampini