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Women's Human Rights And Gender Equality Prevailed

An overview of the 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women/Beijing +10. By Lydia Alpizar, AWID, March 2005

Friday March 11th concluded the 49th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, this year known as “Beijing + 10”. Ten resolutions on different issues and a political declaration reaffirmed government’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, agreed ten years ago, in the Fourth World Conference on Women.

The CSW session was an excellent reflection of the current geo-political context within the UN system, where the United States of America tried to forcefully impose its neo-conservative agenda on other countries, and to question and violate international consensus and human rights agreements.

Despite the US’s alliance with like-minded conservative right wing organisations (mostly from the US) and other actors such as the Vatican (commonly known in the UN as the Holy See) to block consensus on the full reaffirmation of the Beijing agreements, progressive women’s organisations and networks from all regions rose up to the challenge of holding the line and not allowing this CSW session to undermine what the women of the world had achieved throughout this last decade.

Participation at this CSW session included approximately eighty ministers, over 1800 government delegates from 165 member states of the United Nations, together with representatives from UN agencies, multilateral institutions and over 2,600 civil society organisations. NGOs participated both as observers and as part of government delegations.

This CSW session was somehow different to others, as an extended session with participation of most member states of the UN, and not only the members of the CSW (formed by 45 states). The first week of the CSW was mostly focused on high-level panels and the negotiation of the text of the Political Declaration. The Political Declaration was approved by consensus, without any reservations, at the end of the first week of the session. The declaration not only reaffirms the Beijing agreements, but also states that the full implementation of the Beijing documents is essential to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

Besides the Political Declaration, several countries presented draft texts for resolutions on a range of issues to be approved by the 45 members of the CSW.

It is important to highlight and acknowledge the hard work done by progressive feminist and women’s organisations and networks from all regions of the world in lobbying government delegations, preparing arguments, background information and language to support the process of negotiations and elaboration of the texts of the different resolutions. All this work was key to ensuring that most of the resolutions approved by the CSW advance women’s human rights and gender equality, or that at least they do not retract already established international agreements.

From the ten resolutions approved by the CSW this year, some underwent a complex negotiating process, while others were easily approved by the Commission. The US introduced two draft resolutions: one on the trafficking of women and girls and another on women’s economic advancement.

The draft text on trafficking presented by the US was problematic because it focused on criminalising prostitution and using trafficking as means to regulate labour migration and strengthen security and surveillance policies and cooperation among countries. The text explicitly ignored the root causes of trafficking and proposed the criminalisation of demand as one of the most important means of fighting trafficking (a strategy that has proven ineffective and has undermined the rights of sex workers). This position on trafficking is a common one used by the US in different arenas. At the CSW it was successfully challenged by an excellent team of progressive women’s organisations and experts on this issue, as well as by countries such as New Zealand and South Africa that have more progressive policies and responses to trafficking. The current text of the resolution is much better than the initial one. It has stronger and better human rights language (including references to the Palermo UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime), and incorporates the importance of addressing the root causes of this problem and protecting the rights of trafficked persons.

The draft resolution on women’s economic advancement also presented by the US government was again problematic and reductionist since it promoted neoliberal economic policies, particularly focused on entrepreneurship, as means to advance the economic status of women. Through the negotiations, strong lobbying and language proposal by progressive women organizations and unions, the text of the resolution changed significantly to incorporate, for example, useful language on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the role of the public sector and recognition of the negative impacts of globalisation. The approval of the resolution generated tension in the final plenary of the CSW, since the US wanted to withdraw its support to the text of the resolution, due to the amendments introduced particularly by Cuba and South Africa. At the end of the session, the resolution with all amendments proposed was approved by consensus.

One concrete resolution approved by the CSW addresses the possibility of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women. The government of Rwanda supported an initiative launched by Equality Now at the CSW and introduced the text of this resolution, calling for the CSW to consider the advisability of appointing such special rapporteur in 2006.

Different organisations and networks of indigenous women were very active and well-organised at this CSW. Through their effective lobbying they were able to get the government of Bolivia to present a draft resolution about indigenous women, which was joined by many other governments as sponsors of the resolution. The approved text reaffirms previous government agreements such as the Beijing Platform of Action and the Durban Plan of Action, as well as the recommendations of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and calls for ensuring the full and effective participation of indigenous women on relevant international processes.

During the CSW sessions, there were several caucuses organised. Besides some of the ones already mentioned (such as the indigenous women, economic empowerment and trafficking), there was a very active and visible Youth for Women’s Rights Caucus (formed by national, regional and international progressive youth organisations that worked hard to promote young women’s participation and present their proposals throughout the session), and a Diverse Sexualities Caucus that gave visibility to sexual rights (a much contested issue in that space) during the CSW. Special recognition should be given to the Latin American Caucus that organised an “intelligence area” that served as a key meeting point for progressive women’s groups during the CSW, where most important and strategic information and documents could be found and where intensive translation and outside of UN dissemination of information took place. Additionally, the morning caucus facilitated by the International Women’s Health Coalition amongst others served as a vital informatory and safe meeting space, enabling work on strategies to influence the negotiating processes that took place at the CSW.

The active participation of women and feminist organisations and networks in the negotiations and deliberations of the CSW was supported by dozens of side events inside and outside the UN that were organised by UN agencies, funders and women’s groups, on a wide range of topics. There was a Global Week of Action for Women’s Rights called “Beijing and Beyond”, that was initiated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), the Women’s Environment (WEDO) and Development Organization and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), that took place between March 1 – 8.

As usual, the space provided by the review of the Beijing Conference served as a venue for networking, discussion, and further debate on current issues and challenges facing women’s movements. It was also a space to celebrate and come together in this 30th anniversary of the First International Women’s Conference, held in Mexico City in 1975, and the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Conference.

The CSW parallel NGO events also included the feminist launching of the Global Call for Action Against Poverty. The event was organized by AWID in association with several other women’s organisations and development agencies. In 2005, women's groups throughout the world will join hands with hundreds of civil society groups whose aim is to mobilise citizens across the globe to demand much greater action by their governments on poverty. The Global Call to Action against Poverty is a worldwide alliance committed to pressuring world leaders to fulfill their promises including those outlined by the United Nations Millennium Declaration. Hundreds of civil society organisations from all over the world – including women’s groups, trade unions, faith groups and human rights organisations – are joining together to work toward shifts in national and international policies in order to end poverty and both achieve and exceed the Millennium Development Goals.

So, women … there is much to celebrate! The Beijing Commitments and Consensus are alive and kicking, and so is the energy and determination of progressive feminist and women’s movements to continue struggling to advance women’s human rights and gender equality at different levels. Hopefully, the energy and spirit present at the Beijing + 10 / CSW session these past weeks will carry on to other significant international and regional processes and venues, such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, as well as the UN Millennium Summit Review Process where key decisions are being and will be made for the lives of women and girls worldwide.

Resolutions Adopted:

  • Resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS: this resolution was presented by Mauritius, on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC).
  • Resolution on reducing demand for trafficking women and girls from all forms of exploitation: this resolution was presented by the US government.
  • Resolution on a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminated against women: this resolution was introduced by the governments of Rwanda and the Philippines.
  • Resolution on mainstreaming a gender perspective into national policies and programmes: presented by the Governments of Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.
  • Resolution on integrating a gender perspective in post-disaster relief efforts, particularly in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster: presented by the government of the Philippines.
  • Resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women: introduced by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77.
  • Resolution on strengthening of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW): introduced by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77.
  • Resolution on economic advancement for women: presented by the US.
  • Resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan: introduced by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77.
  • Resolution on indigenous women: presented by the Government of Bolivia.

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