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CSW58: Young Feminists Speak Loudly and Clearly

FRIDAY FILE: The 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women ended last week Friday. For many women’s and human rights advocates, organisations and movements it was an important opportunity to encourage member States to really put women’s human rights and gender equality at the centre of development. In this week’s Friday File we hear from young feminists who share their expectations, knowledge and experiences of CSW58.

By Susan Tolmay[1]

This year’s Commission was important for a number of reasons, 1) the upcoming Open Working Group (OWG) negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 2) the upcoming International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) 20 years after Cairo and how these processes link directly to negotiations on the new development framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they come to an end in 2015.

For young women engaging with these processes, it is their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that they are most concerned about. And while you may think that in 2014 this would be a common objective, it is quite the opposite. Conservative actors use the CSW to attempt to roll back already agreed upon rights and consistently oppose any language that would advance SRHR for young women in all their diversities. The compilation of blogs produced through the Young Feminist Wire on the CSW58 show that young feminists are working hard to get their message out to governments that they know best what they want and need.

Ani Colekessian from the Youth Coalition unpacks some of the jargon of CSW in Demystifying the UN Acronyms: What CSW, MDG and SRHR have to do with young women? and does a good job making the important links between this year’s theme of CSW: “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls” – and how these link to both the Post 2015 Development Agenda Process and the important 20th anniversary review process of the ICPD PoA (referred to as ICPD+20).

In Will the new global development paradigm do anything to improve the lives of young women? Oriana López Uribe from Balance, the MARIA Fund and RESURJ very clearly articulates why governments need to link sustainable development and human rights. She says “Development must go hand-in-hand with respect for rights if it is to be truly sustainable. The biggest challenge is how to eradicate different forms of inequality, both between and within countries themselves, when the current economic paradigm continues to drive inequality.” López Uribe points out that “For all people, but especially young women, having information, comprehensive sexuality education and access to holistic, integrated health care services – especially sexual and reproductive services, including HIV prevention and detection – is crucial for our survival. It is also crucial for our quality of life, but our countries cannot even guarantee our survival.” And finally she expresses frustration at the lack of commitment from some governments, she cannot understand why the “conversation is not centered on rights, health, and education? Why doesn’t it focus on eliminating gender discrimination, which has been part of the international framework of human rights since CEDAW? Why aren’t we debating how to eliminate discrimination, stigma and social inequalities?”

Anna Nikoghosyan from ASTRA Youth speaks about the challenges that religious and neo-nationalist extremist groups in her region present to the realization of human rights of women and girls in her article Grassroots Women’s Voices at the Forefront: Insights from an Armenian young feminist at the CSW58. She underscores the importance of ensuring that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) agendas are included in the Post 2015 Development process. She speaks about the multiple challenges women face in realizing their human rights, and mentions some of the opposition to these rights. She calls upon governments “to ensure that SRHR and gender based violence prevention are positioned at the heart of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and post-2015 frameworks as a high priority and critical pillar”. Nikoghosyan talks about her hopes for deeper movement building where feminists and activists work together to pressure governments to do the right thing and to take the appropriate steps to eradicate all forms of gender based violence and domestic violence, criminalize sexual violence, and recognize the sexual and reproductive rights of people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. She sees CSW is as one of the opportunities for women and girls, advocates and women’s rights defenders voices to be heard.

In How SRHR led me to the Post-2015, Zoe Nussy from CHOICE reflects on her experience of getting into the SRHR. It is rooted in prejudicial opinions towards SRHR, based on religion and her need to rethink her bodily autonomy, sexuality and sexual experiences, and the opportunities she as a young woman has in the Netherlands. She speaks about the current moment - with the MDGs ending and the Post 2015 Development Agenda being negotiated - inspired by the young women from all over the world, who fight stereotypes and traditional structures, and have already started to build a world we want through building the confidence to drive and influence this agenda to meet the needs of all people.

Patrice M. Daniel from CatchaFyah provides important arguments for why comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and integrated reproductive health is so important for young women, and she debunks some of the myths put forward by opposition groups about why it should not be provided in Tell Them. They Deserve to Know. She says, “The denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights remains a barrier to gender equality, equity and justice. It is time for political decision-makers to not only speak, but implement. Their actions and inaction continue to cost young people, especially girls, their lives. Comprehensive sexuality education in schools is not the enemy. Ignorance is.”

And finally, in Like a Virgin: CSW for the Very First Time Clara Fok from Youth Coalition talks about her first experience at CSW. She speaks to the unity and vibrancy of the women’s and human rights movements and talks about her participation in this crucial space at an important moment for women’s human rights, she says, “…the women’s rights squad created a safe space for all feminist and women’s rights advocates to participate with all our hearts. I feel enabled and empowered to advocate for the SRHR of young women and adolescent girls, because I’ve been given opportunities to participate on equal grounds with others. Everyone has been inclusive and supportive, and no one has judged me based on my experience, or has given me ‘easier’ tasks to do because of my age (at least that’s what it seems like).”

Present in the UN halls or not, these young feminist activists are engaged with the many processes at hand and are watchful of what is at stake for their sexual and reproductive health and rights. They have the knowledge, personal experiences, political understanding and deep commitment that encourage us to march ahead and continue to pressure our governments to not roll back on the human rights of women and girls.

Find the latest Round Up on CSW58, with some preliminary assessment of the CSW58 Agreed Outcomes. In next week’s Friday File we will provide some analysis of the Agreed Outcomes and how they impact some of the upcoming process mentioned above – Cairo+20, OWGM10 and other post 2015 sustainable development processes.

[1] This Friday File draws from a compilation of blogs produced through the Young Feminist Wire on the CSW58