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AWID first reactions to CSW58 draft agreed conclusions

The draft agreed conclusions, or ‘zero draft,’ produced by UN Women to open discussions ahead of the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which will be held in New York between 10 and 21 March 2014, was released on 4 February. AWID offers here initial reactions and analysis as negotiations begin.

These should be seen as complementary to our AWID statement to CSW58 submitted in October 2013. On the road to CSW58, we continue to work in collaboration with women’s rights, feminist groups and other human rights activists towards making this CSW a robust, ambitious, and democratic space to transform international development agendas for gender equality and women’s rights.

Moving in the right direction

Some positive elements of the zero draft include:

  • The draft rightly reaffirms the need to fully implement international commitments and obligations on women’s rights and gender equality, including the Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
  • We welcome the reaffirmation that gender equality, the empowerment of women, women’s full enjoyment of human rights and the eradication of poverty are essential to economic and social development.

The draft does well in:

  • Recognizing that the MDGs failed to include violence against women and girls, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s equal access to assets and productive resources, the gender wage gap, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s equal participation at all levels of decision-making;
  • Recognizing that progress on all the MDGs for women and girls has been held back due to the persistence of unequal power relations between women and men and discriminatory laws, social norms, practices and stereotypes;
  • Recognizing that women and girls have been adversely affected by the impacts of the world financial and economic crises, volatile food and energy prices, food insecurity and climate change;
  • Recognizing that insufficient priority and significant underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment continue to limit progress on the MDGs for women and girls. It stresses that the allocation of resources to achieve gender equality through domestic resource mobilization and official development assistance remains extremely inadequate.
  • We appreciate the Commission’s concerns about the lack of progress in the realization of the MDGs in relation to the most discriminated groups of women and girls.
  • We support the Commission’s call on States to realize women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of all human rights; strengthen the enabling environment for gender equality; maximize financial resources to achieve gender equality and women’s rights; strengthen the evidence-base for gender equality; ensure women’s participation at all levels; strengthen accountability; and lay the ground for prioritization of gender equality and women’s rights in the post-2015 development agenda, including through a stand-alone goal and integration through targets and indicators into all other goals.

The elements listed above are necessary but not sufficient for an effective new agenda for sustainable development, gender equality and fulfillment of human rights. We therefore urge the Commission to be more ambitious in addressing the failures of the last 14 years and push for a bold, just and transformational development agenda post-2015. The Commission should:

1. Recognize the structural root causes of gender inequality and impoverishment

The Commission must recognize the root structural causes that perpetuate inequalities, impoverishment and discrimination and address the need for a paradigm shift from the current neoliberal economic model that has had devastating impacts on people and the planet. To move forward, we must ensure a deep structural transformation that challenges the existing patriarchal, unsustainable and extractivist model of development and that values women’s unpaid care work that sustains the current model. We stress the need to recognize and build alternative visions of development that put people, particularly those most discriminated, and the planet’s well-being at the centre. This vision must take into account all the invisible and uncounted contributions of women. Moving towards a more just international system also requires an end to aid dependency and unfair trade protectionism, tax justice and debt cancellation.

2. Put human rights at the centre

All human rights are indivisible and inter-dependent. Equal attention and urgent consideration should be given to the implementation, promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all.

Further, key human rights principles of progressive realization, maximum available resources, non-retrogression, minimum essential levels/minimum core obligations, accountability and transparency, extraterritorial obligations, and non-discrimination and equality should inform the way in which states implement their human rights obligations and should be used as a foundation for any post-2015 agenda.

3. Address violence against women and its links to conflict, militarization, and the rise in fundamentalisms

The agreed conclusions must address violence against women and girls as intersectional with compounding discriminations based on class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, citizenship and migrant status, among others.

The Commission must recognize the inter-linkages between violence against women and contexts of conflict, militarization, insecurity and displacement, putting special attention to the alarming rates of sexual violence against women used as a weapon of war. The agreed conclusions must also clearly take a stand against the justification of oppression and violence against women and girls and other discriminated groups, in the name of religion, culture or tradition.

The Commission must pay attention to growing multiple economic, religious, ethnic, militarist and other forms of fundamentalisms, that compound inequality, entrench harmful practices against women and girls and roll back women’s development gains. Greater accountability of those who fund and promote such fundamentalisms is urgently needed.

4. Protect Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs)

We call on the Commission to recognize the critical role that WHRDs, their organizations and movements play in achieving and implementing the Millennium Development Goals. WHRDs are at particular risk of violence by state and non-state actors, and States must strengthen their efforts to end impunity, guarantee protection and ensure full participation of WHRDs in the design and implementation of the current and future development agenda. States must ensure protection for women human rights defenders and an enabling environment, consistent with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (A/RES/53/144) and the resolution on protecting Women Human Rights Defenders (A/C.3/68/L.64/Rev.1), including in relation to freedom of association, assembly and expression.

5. Ensure strong mechanisms for accountability, monitoring and evaluation

National monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess policies and programmes must expand on existing regional and global accountability mechanisms within the UN human rights system — like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Universal Periodic Review system. The CSW must ensure accountability of state and non-state actors, including the corporate sector, for the achievement of full gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ human rights and women’s empowerment and ensure that women have access to effective legal, psycho-social and economic remedies and redress, including compensation, for violations of their human rights.

We call on the Commission to improve indicators to monitor the MDGs and include qualitative and experiential evidence that captures the reality of women’s lives. A set of accessible reliable, integrated gender indicators, statistics and data disaggregated by gender, age, region and other factors is essential for transparent and democratic monitoring of implementation.

Regarding MDG implementation and level of achievement

Even as the Commission notes that significant gender gaps in employment and social protection remain in relation to MDG 1, it needs to further recognize that women do not have equal access to full employment and are disproportionately represented in the informal and unpaid economy. This factor increases their vulnerability in times of crisis to job loss, inadequate social protection, and precarious working conditions. States must promote at a minimum decent work for all that provides a living wage, equal pay for work of equal value. States must address the gendered division of labor, sexual harassment in the workplace and support the reconciliation of paid work with family/care responsibilities for both women and men. Domestic workers rights must be recognized (see ILO Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers, C189) as must informal and unpaid workers’ rights, including protection from violence and abuse, provision of adequate social protection, fair terms of employment, and safe and healthy working environments.

In regard to MDG 2 (achieve universal primary education) it is important to recognize that although enrolment rates have increased, educational conditions have not necessarily improved. Girls in schools often lack access to sanitation and water and are still subject to violence in schools. We call for a more comprehensive approach to MDG 2 that goes beyond quantity to address the social conditions and quality of education. In particular, the Commission must strongly condemn and address attacks and backlash by religious fundamentalists on girls’ right to education and access to knowledge and skills that are essential for the development and empowerment of all.

Further, fulfilling women’s and girls’ right to a quality education must include comprehensive sexuality education as part of all education systems for adolescents, young people and women in order to allow them to exercise their bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive health and rights. An evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education must be promoted both in and out of school and include issues of sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, human rights, non-discrimination, mutual respect and non-violence in relationships.

With regards to MDG 3 (promote gender equality and empower women), the Commission must recognize the low proportion of women at all levels of political and economic decision making, including national parliaments and other local governance structures that speaks to the persistent discrimination against women supported by entrenched gendered power relations, social norms and gender-based stereotypes.

Special efforts must be made to ensure meaningful and resourced participation of young women from diverse backgrounds, as well as youth-led and youth-focused organizations in the formulation, decision-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of international, regional, national and local development strategies and policies.

In regard to MDG 5 (Improve maternal health) the commission must recognize that progress has been especially slow, particularly in achieving the target on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and that significant gaps in public funding for health remain. AWID calls for attention to the rights of adolescent girls, and young women, particularly from discriminated groups, with an unmet need for contraception, including emergency contraception, safe and legal abortion services, and other sexual and reproductive health rights and services.

Regarding MDG 8 (a global partnership for development), States still have a long way to go to fulfill agreed upon financial targets and commitments and maximize the impact of existing financial resources. The Commission must also recognize that financial resources to advance women’s rights and gender equality are insufficient. The Commission should advance a comprehensive agenda for public resource mobilization including tax reform and the creation of new and innovative financial mechanisms, based on respect, solidarity, equity, inclusion, non subordination and justice for all such as regional or global financial transaction taxes in line with international human rights obligations. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are important and necessary to achieve sustainable positive change in the lives of women and girls, but attention must be paid to the increasing role and accountability of the corporate sector in development, which may have implications for the independence of multi-lateral institutions. There cannot be a reliance on new actors, be they corporate or other private actors, for funding women’s rights organizations as they are not directing resources to women’s organizations and lack the knowledge base to effectively impact gender equality. Women’s organizations themselves, states and other traditional funders of women’s rights can play an important role in supporting the learning curve of new actors in development. It is imperative to push for a strong multiple accountability mechanism that effectively regulates the actions of all development actors, including public-private partnerships.


The time is now for CSW 58 to move beyond an assessment of the MDGs to issue a loud call for a new model of international development and development cooperation that is premised on the universality of human rights, substantive equality, and a redistributive framework that reduces inequalities of wealth, power and resources. This would require institutions and processes that are democratic and accountable to all people. Gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment, are critical to future progress and should be reflected both in a stand-alone goal and integrated through targets and indicators into all other goals of any new development framework.

Contact person: Alejandra Scampini, Lead Advocacy Associate,