Did CSW63 meet our feminist vision?

Dinah Musindarwezo, Director of Policy & Communications | Apr 03, 2019

Conference at UN CSW63
The United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is done and dusted for another year. As the largest global gathering on women’s rights, CSW is one of the most important forums for the promotion of women’s rights and as such, feminists across the world keep a close eye on the event’s outcomes. This year, significant progress has been made on international standards on women’s human rights to access public services, social protection and sustainable infrastructure, while worryingly, we witnessed increased presence and persistence from anti-rights groups. Read on for our highlights from CSW63 and what this means for women’s rights in the coming year.

Celebrating the successes of CSW63

Following intense negotiations by UN Member States and input from civil society organisations and women’s rights organisations through the Women’s Rights Caucus, the event concludes with an outcome document referred to as Agreed Conclusions. This lays out a set of agreements and actions to be taken mainly by governments to accelerate the gender equality and women’s rights agenda. Focused this year on public services, social protection and sustainable infrastructure, UN Member States committed to a number of crucial steps to ensuring that the global economy works for all and respects the rights of women and girls.

Progress towards a just, feminist economy

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Crucially, the Agreed Conclusions recognise that structural barriers including unequal power relations, unequal sharing of unpaid and domestic work, and unequal control and ownership of resources contribute to gender inequality and must be addressed. Across the world, women perform the majority (76%) of global unpaid care and domestic work and this has a profound impact on women’s ability to earn an income and realise the full spectrum of human rights. This recognition in the Agreed Conclusions is an encouraging first step but knowing that unpaid care work is estimated at 10$ trillion a year worldwide, states must do more to include this cost in national accounts and measurement of GDP. Accounting for unpaid work and making adequate investment in the care economy is the first step to recognising, redistributing, and reducing the time and drudgery involved in unpaid care work and domestic work.

Similarly, Member States acknowledged that progress made to address these barriers could be undermined by budget cuts and austerity measures. Austerity measures are often imposed as conditions for public borrowing and repayment. Yet, as research by the Gender and Development Network shows, public debt and its servicing undermine the ability of governments to meet their commitments on gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights. The costs of servicing this debt are disproportionately borne by women, while the funds borrowed are rarely spent in ways that prioritise women’s rights. Womankind encourages governments to carry out gender-responsive budgeting  and gender impact assessments  in order to raise and use maximum available  resources wisely and prioritise social investment  including meeting women’s rights obligations over, for example, military budgets in order to minimise negative effects of austerity on women.

Tax is by far the most important revenue stream for countries in the Global South. Indeed, in Africa in 2012 tax revenue collected was 10 times the amount of overseas aid received. This is why we particularly welcome that the Agreed Conclusions calls on Member States and the International community to address Illicit Financial Flows as another barrier to adequate gender responsive public services, social protections and sustainable infrastructure that benefit all women and girls and groups often marginalised. The outcome document states that progressive tax systems and policies are necessary to finance gender-responsive public services, social protection and sustainable infrastructure. The issue was given much needed attention at the Global Alliance for Tax Justice’s event, co-sponsored by Womankind among many likeminded organisations, stressing that for a fair global economy, just distribution of resources is evidently needed.

Increasing women’s participation

Governments also recognised the important role that women’s rights organisations play, both in policy making and implementation. This is a particularly welcome acknowledgement given increased resistance from rising fundamentalisms and recent calls from the likes of the UN experts to leading women in the arts, activism, business, law and politics for governments to more to protect women human rights defenders.  

The final milestone especially worth highlighting is the increased recognition of different diversities of women and girls as those experiencing diverse discriminations have different needs and require specific policy and programmatic responses. Some of the most vulnerable and marginalised women and girls were mentioned including domestic workers, women and girls living with disabilities, women living in rural and remote areas, and indigenous women, to name a few. One such example of seeking greater inclusion of often overlooked women is the launch of the Gender Action for Peace and Security’s Beyond Consultation tool, which aims to promote more meaningful engagement of women in fragile and conflict-affected states.

Undeniable progress was made at this year’s CSW, but key areas needed to protect and advance women’s rights were overlooked, compromised or threatened.

Where CSW63 missed the mark

Refusing to recognise some women

Although we were delighted to see the increased inclusion of women experiencing diverse discriminations, there was a notable absence on the inclusion of one group, LGBTQI+ women. This was not by mistake but rather another sign of how the UN member states are polarised when it comes to the rights of LGBTQI+ women.

This is in complete contradiction of UN 2030 Agenda commitment to “not leave anyone behind” and the human rights principles that state “Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated”.  Womankind and other feminist organisations and activists continue to stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ people and push for their rights.

Not ambitious enough to meet the vision of a feminist economy 

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There is a growing trend of private financing public services through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which run on a profit motive and have failed to meet the needs of marginalised people because they cost more, deliver poor quality services in order to cut costs and have less accountability to the people they serve.

Member States failed to make any reference to any corporate accountability and the mechanisms that need to be put in place to ensure that actions of corporates uphold human rights. Feminists continue to call for a legally binding treaty that would hold transnational corporates and other businesses to respecting human rights but this recommendation did not make it into the Agreed Conclusions.

Looking to the year ahead

Next year will be an important year for women’s rights globally. Not only will we be celebrating 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, but France will be co-hosting a global forum on gender equality in 2020. It is a key moment for us all to reflect on what we have to celebrate and what remains to be done.

One of the main challenges that we are up against is the unconducive environment filled with political and religious anti-rights groups that are increasingly becoming more organised and bolder in backtracking the gains made in women and girls’ rights. This was very clear at this year’s CSW where we saw aggressive anti-gender equality messages all around the UN and more events than ever before organised by opposition groups.  The intensity of cyber bullying increased and included the abuse of facilitator Ambassodor Koki Muli Grigon from Kenya through her personal mobile and email.

This is a reminder for us feminists and progressive governments to resist these backlashes and work in solidarity like never before to keep our rights and progress them. The experience at CSW reminds us that the stakes are too high and too costly. We must strengthen our resilience to continue working harder towards a feminist future that we all need.

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