CSW 58 Agreed Conclusions: A mitigated success

Abigail Hunt | Apr 30, 2014

As many of you will know, Womankind and our partners were recently at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. There, we launched a campaign asking for women’s rights to be a central element of the universal framework which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

So was CSW a complete success? Almost, but not quite.

Womankind is delighted that our joint call for a standalone goal on women’s rights and gender equality in the Post-2015 framework made it into this year’s Agreed Conclusions. Our appeal for gender equality and women’s rights to be mainstreamed through the new development framework was also listened to, with explicit reference made to the integration of gender into the other new goals.

In addition, there are references throughout the text to gender equality, women’s empowerment and the human rights of women and girls. We were pleased to see that all three vital elements of the ‘golden triangle’ finally made it into the Conclusions, despite opposition on the inclusion of women’s rights language from certain states.

We also welcome the Commission’s recognition of some of the major gaps in the MDGs. Concern was expressed that violence against women and girls and women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels were not adequately addressed in the MDGs, and called for measures to rectify these omissions.

Crucially, the Commission also recognised that progress of the MDGs has been hindered by persistent ‘historical and structural unequal power relations between men and women’, as well as ‘discriminatory laws, policies, social norms, attitudes, harmful customary and contemporary practices and gender stereotypes’. This is important as no effort to ensure the fulfilment of women’s human rights, whether in the MDGs or in the future framework, will be effective in the long-term unless these underlying causes of gender inequality are tackled.

More specifically, governments were urged to take action to eliminate violence against women and girls and address its underlying causes. To achieve this, Womankind believes that a target in the Post-2015 agenda focusing on the elimination of violence against women and girls through effective prevention measures and a change in social norms is vital. Although this was not specifically mentioned in the CSW Conclusions, we will continue working to ensure that it is included in the final framework.

Another partial success occurred in relation to another of Womankind’s priority areas – women’s participation and leadership. We believe that the Post-2015 framework should ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in decision-making at all levels. Our call was largely heeded, with a paragraph in the Agreed Conclusions asking governments to take measures to guarantee women’s participation – including using temporary special measures, such as gender quotas or affirmative action. The need to set concrete goals, targets and benchmarks  to encourage and measure progress in this area was also recognised.

However, unlike violence against women and girls, the structural conditions which hinder women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership were not comprehensively recognised. This is concerning as leaving the negative attitudes and discrimination faced by women leaders  untouched will limit the long-term effectiveness of efforts to promote women’s participation and influence decision-making.

In addition, no concrete steps were suggested in the text of the Conclusions around how the accountability of governance systems can be strengthened, despite this being identified as an overall area requiring action.

The Committee acknowledged the vital role of women’s rights and feminist organisations in pushing forward the gender equality agenda, making particular reference to those supporting women’s participation in peacebuilding. We were delighted that the Commission listened to Womankind’s call, urging governments to increase resources and financial support to organisations working to advance and promote women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality in the Conclusions.

The final verdict? Overall, we are satisfied with this year’s outcome at CSW. Whilst no major advances were made on previous years, there was no major rollback of previous commitments either. Perhaps most significantly, an important milestone was reached this year: a clear call for a standalone goal on women’s rights and gender equality by the Commission. This is an important step in the Post-2015 negotiations as a strong and unified call for the goal had not previously been made by governments.

However, there is still a long way to go until the final Post-2015 framework is agreed. Therefore, Womankind is continuing to work with partners to ensure the gender goal is not traded away in future intergovernmental negotiations. We will also work together to ensure clear and transformative targets and indicators which reflect the priorities of women across the world are agreed.

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