As the Commission on the Status of Women prepares to open in New York, Jessica Craig looks at the upcoming event, the Commission’s history and its historical successes as a forum for advocacy for gender equality.
Between 11th and 22nd March, representatives of the United Nations member states, UN entities and non-governmental organisations will gather at the UN Headquarters in New York City for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 63.
The CSW is the primary intergovernmental body for the promotion of women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality. Through annual assessment of the status of women across the world, the CSW considers how the existing codification of women’s legal rights is being enforced and what barriers remain for women. The annual conference also provides an opportunity for the UN, with input from civil society organisations, to formulate priorities to further the promotion of gender equality internationally.
The priority theme for this year is ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’. A secondary review theme, relating to the conclusions of the 60th session on the theme of ‘Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development’, will also be discussed at this year’s event to address progress on this issue so far.
Delegates arrive and register on the first day of CSW62, 12th March 2018. Source:Ryan Brown/UN Women, via Flicr.
The main outcome from each year’s meetings are the agreed conclusions relative to the priority theme. They involve recommendations to governments, civil society organisations and other stakeholders about how to implement solutions on the priority theme at local, regional, national and international level. Negotiations on the agreed conclusions begin before the Commission is held in March and a ‘zero draft’ of this year’s priorities is available to read now. The draft agreed conclusions are distributed to all stakeholders to review ahead of the session so that Member States (informed by the work of NGOs and other stakeholders) can make their own contributions to a collaborative outcome.
The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946 as a sub-commission to the Commission on Human Rights, but many advocates believed that the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment should be made a priority, and the CSW was subsequently established as a fully-fledged commission on 21st June 1946. The first meeting of the Commission was held in February 1947 at Lake Success, New York and all 15 representatives at the Commission’s first meeting were women.
The Commission has been a key actor within the UN in the promotion of frameworks to prevent discrimination against women. Among the Commission’s successes are its role in the drafting of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1967) and the later Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979).
To celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1972, the Commission recommended that 1975 be made an International Women’s Year. The year 1975 saw the First World Conference on Women held in Mexico City and kicked off the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. The first World Conference on Women was followed by additional World Conferences in: Copenhagen (1980); Nairobi (1985); and Beijing (1995), which produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the time 'the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights'.
The 2018 meeting of the Commission, its sixty-second session, focussed on achieving gender equality and empowerment for rural women and girls. The agreed conclusions for this session included: strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks; pursuing economic and social policies to empower all rural women and girls; and strengthening the collective voice, leadership and decision-making capacity of rural women and girls.
Last year’s Commission focussed on the status of rural women and girls. Source: Ryan Brown/UN Women, via Flickr.
The Commission on the Status of Women is important as it is the chief policy-making body for women’s rights and gender equality within the UN system and provides a platform for review of the successes and limitations of efforts to promote gender justice. Additionally, the CSW is not just about states: it allows advocates to take local and regional issues to an international platform and helps to strengthen the international feminist network by providing space for activists to build networks.
However, the space for civil society participation may now be shrinking. Around 3900 civil society representatives attended the CSW61, however this number was down from previous years as a result of the US visa ban. There is limited space within the actual negotiations of CSW for civil society participation, though non-state actors can influence the outcomes of the conference through advocacy and participation in side events.
Some states, such as Australia, include civil society representatives in their official delegation to ensure that their valuable insights are utilised, which demonstrates the critical role that civil society actors play in the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality.