CSW 59 Political Declaration: A step backwards

Abigail Hunt | Mar 27, 2015

Amelia Hopkins and Abigail Hunt report on the lacklustre Political Declaration adopted this week at CSW 59…

It is now 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA). As Womankind outlines in our new report, At the crossroads: Women's rights after 2015, the adoption of the BPfA was as a crucial turning point in the recognition of women’s rights and the need for a transformative, concerted action by multiple actors to ensure they become a reality. With commitments under 12 critical areas of concern, the BPfA has served as a blueprint for action on advancing women’s rights and empowerment across the world ever since.

This week a global review of progress made to date against the BPfA is drawing to a close at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 59), which will serve to highlight successes to date and the many challenges to implementation which remain. CSW started on Monday with the adoption of a Political Declaration by UN Member States – which has been cause for disappointment for many women’s rights organisations, including Womankind.

Beijing +20: What progress has been achieved?

Over the last 20 years some tangible gains on women’s rights and gender equality have been seen. Women’s rights organisations have been at the centre of this progress – in every country their campaigning for gender justice, raising awareness of women’s rights, supporting women to organise for collective action, and ensuring governments act on their commitments has been crucial for change.

Nonetheless, overall progress against the BPfA has been slow. Violations of women’s and girls’ rights remain prevalent, with structural inequality limiting women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in decision-making. Pervasive patriarchy continues to reinforce the discriminatory attitudes and negative social norms which maintain women’s inequality, and many discriminatory laws are still in force. For example, 35% of women experience either intimate partner or non-partner violence, only 22 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide are women despite an indicator on women’s representation in legislatures, and a recent review showed that less than four per cent of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10 per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

CSW 59 Political Declaration – a step backwards?

The twenty-year BPfA review culminating in CSW 59 is a critical moment for national and global reflection, and for those working for women’s rights and gender equality to draw attention to the realities of women’s lives worldwide. New challenges have arisen, whilst old ones persist, and CSW 59 is an important opportunity for governments worldwide to take stock and renew their commitments for future action. Yet the Political Declaration adopted on Monday is an inadequate response to the findings of the global review.

Womankind agrees that at a time where a progressive global vision is required to address the huge gender equality gap worldwide, this Political Declaration represents a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments that fails to match the level of ambition in the BPfA – and threatens a major step backwards.

The Declaration emphasises the need to implement the BPfA, without proposing time-bound and measureable commitments, or mechanisms that hold state and non-state actors to account. It recognises that new challenges have emerged, without making any real commitments to address them. It also gives reaffirmations that a system to monitor progress is needed, without a framework allowing for proper assessment and evaluation.

With the Post-2015 framework negotiations soon to be finalised, many governments don’t want to commit now in these areas. Yet this Political Declaration was an opportunity to reinforce the more positive outcomes of last year’s CSW Agreed Conclusions to set the scene strongly for women’s rights ahead of the coming inter-governmental negotiations – and to ensure that women don’t lose out in the final framework. This is an opportunity well and truly missed.

Strong references to the crucial role of feminist and women’s rights organisations in achieving progress against the BPfA included in the draft document were negotiated away, and replaced with a weak welcoming of their contributions in this area. Perhaps more significantly, a vague pledge to support civil society engaged in the advancement and promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment fails to identify women’s rights organisations as key change agents, and lacks any commitment to ensuring they receive funding and other resources to continue their work.

Yet again, discussions between governments taking place around CSW this year focused on whether language on women’s rights should be included in the Political Declaration. In the end, the Declaration contains only brief calls for ‘the realisation of women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights’, with only two of the three elements of the ‘golden triangle’ of women’s rights – ‘gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’ – making it into the full text.

However, whilst the omission of clear language on women’s rights is cause for concern, the term ‘full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’ emerges throughout. As the goal of full enjoyment by women of their rights and fundamental freedoms is cross-cutting and emphasised throughout the BPfA, and it explicitly recognises that gender equality is a matter of human rights, the Declaration’s repeated call for full BPfA implementation can be seen overall as an endorsement of women’s rights by governments worldwide. If we want to find a small glimmer of hope, we can therefore say that the Political Declaration may not be nearly as strong as we’d have liked, but it could have been a lot worse without this endorsement.

The Declaration must, of course, draw on and reinforce the existing commitments – but it has successfully avoided making new ones that are vital to ensure women and girls across the globe enjoy their full rights. Moving forward into the Post-2015 intergovenmental negotiations, Womankind will continue to push for women to be central to the new global development framework.

Without concrete commitments to address gender inequality, the realisation of women’s rights will remain a dream. We have not worked over the last 20 years to be told to stand still.

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