Due to uncertainties posed by the Corona Virus, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women was scaled back to one day from nearly two weeks, with all NGO-related events cancelled. It is unclear whether they will be rescheduled at a later date.
On Monday, the Commission essentially featured several high-level speakers, addresses by one civil society and one youth representative, the adoption of a Declaration, and comments by member states. Even though NGO representatives had little input into the abbreviated meeting, at least the Declaration provides member states with a framework for action related to issues affecting women and girls.
It would have been a splendid opportunity for a robust celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which focused upon women’s empowerment. Over 500 side events were planned March 9 to 20. Thousands of women were expected. Global voices would have been heard. But the world is in “uncharted territory,” as the World Health Organization has said about the Corona virus. And that, indeed, requires an abundance of caution. Understood.
VINCENTIAN FAMILY EFFORTS
Although CSW was cancelled, the Vincentian Family took part in several ways. Vincentian Family Ngo representatives to the United Nations collaborated on a written statement which focused upon women and homelessness. The Congregation of the Mission cosponsored an additional statement, also related to homelessness. The Sisters of Charity Federation further cosponsored a statement speaking of the importance of gender equality policies as they relate to climate issues. These statements become part of the official UN record.
The Sisters of Charity Federation had planned to cosponsor an event highlighting alternative health care for women, particularly migrants and refugees, who experience trauma. The Daughters of Charity were part of a group cosponsoring a viewing of the film, “Sisters for Sale.” The documentary relates to two Hmong women living on the border between Vietnam and China, who were trafficked and sold into forced marriages, and their friend’s efforts to find them. Both events were cancelled.
SECRETARY GENERAL’S STATEMENT
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, though disappointed at the cancellation of most CSW events, said he also takes heart because he knows the UN remains committed to the cause of gender equality and achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, which focuses upon it.
“This is, quite simply, a matter of justice,” he said.
“As Secretary-General, I see one overwhelming global injustice: gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls,” Guterres said.
“Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power,” he continued. “We still live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, and have done so for millennia. Centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems and our corporations. This simply has to change.”
The Secretary General noted that the Beijing Platform For Action’s vision, developed 25 years ago, has only partially been realized.
“Women in parliaments are still outnumbered three-to-one by men, women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and unpaid care and domestic work remain stubbornly feminized the world over,” the Secretary General said. “In some areas, progress towards gender equality has stalled or even gone into reverse.”
“Some countries have rolled back laws that protect women from violence; others are reducing civic space; still others are pursuing economic and immigration policies that indirectly discriminate against women,” Mr. Guterres observed.
He urged all to strongly reaffirm the Beijing Platform For Action and to work towards its full, effective, and accelerated implementation.
In a moving address, a youth representative from Afghanistan pointed to the importance of women being involved in peace processes. “I fear peace with the Taliban may mean war with us (women) if we are marginalized from the peace process,” she said.
The Civil Society representative mentioned funding for global policy processes, and debt cancellation, as two particularly needed efforts in an era in which transparency, accountability and democracy are undermined.
ADDRESS BY UN WOMEN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Exexutive Director of UN Women, noted progress with regard to gender equality, such as a greater number of girls in school, lower extreme poverty, and more legislation to address violence against women. But much more needs to be done. Solutions need to be brought to those who have yet to benefit from progress.
“We are challenged by limited implementation,” she said. “Women are radically impatient for action that improves their lives. They see the progress made, but also that it is accompanied by pushback and erosion of gains. They see that the scale and pace of change has not been what it should be. Younger women do not want to go through the experiences of their elders. And the elders are tired of waiting.”
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATION
Great enthusiasm permeated the General Assembly Hall, Friday, during a celebration of International Women’s Day, March 8. This year’s theme was, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.”
It included intergenerational voices of women and girls, including that of Finland’s leader, Sanna Marin, who at 34, is the world’s youngest female Prime Minister. Also featured was 14-year-old Alexandria Villasenor, who was motivated by the Paradise fires in California to take action related to climate change. She spends each Friday outside of the United Nations in New York, striking to encourage action to address climate change.
Another inspiring participant was 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee who is Founder and President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, based in Monrovia, Liberia. Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo had the audience clapping and singing as did Broadway singers who closed out the event. Kidjo called for movement from talk to action in terms of women’s issues.
SECRETARY GENERAL’S COMMENTS
“Women have had enough,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in his address.
“They are protesting against femicide – the killing of women – in the streets; they are on strike for equal pay and conditions; they are calling out powerful men for violence and abuse,” he observed.
“Thank you for your activism and your advocacy,” Guterres said to the assembled. “Please keep up the pressure. Please hold the world to account. We need your passion and conviction as we face a whole range of global challenges, from climate change to conflict.”
“Generation Equality cannot be Generation Gradual Improvement or Generation Incremental Change,” the Secretary General cautioned. “Generation Equality means equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls, now.”
STATEMENT OF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UN WOMEN
In her statement for International Women’s Day, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, pointed out some causes for celebration.
The UN Women leader first noted a 38 per cent drop in the ratio of maternal deaths since 2000.
“131 countries have made legal reforms to support gender equality and address discrimination,” she added. “Twenty-five years ago, discrimination of women was legislated in many countries. Today, more than three-quarters of countries have laws against domestic violence in place. And more girls are in school than ever before, with more women in tertiary education than men globally.”
But she also mentioned challenges. “Girls are making no secret of their disappointment with the stewardship of our planet, the unabated violence directed against them and the slow pace of change in fulcrum issues like education,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “For example, despite improved school enrolment, 1 in 10 young women today are still unable to read and write. This has to change in order for girls to fully own their power, take their place in the world, and play their vital role in technology and innovation.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka also pointed out the lack of women at tables of power. “Three-quarters of all parliamentarians in the world are men,” she said. “A proven solution is to introduce legally binding quotas for women’s representation. Nearly 80 countries have already successfully done so and a few States have gender-balanced cabinets and explicitly feminist policies. This is a desirable trend that we need to see more of in both public and private sectors, where overall the proportion of women in managerial positions remains around 27 per cent, even as more women graduate from universities.”
The Executive Director also discussed peace negotiations, where the vast majority of negotiators and signatories are men. “We know women’s involvement brings more lasting peace agreements, but women continue to be marginalized,” she said. “Women’s groups and human rights defenders face persecution yet are ready to do more. For this they desperately need increased security, funding and resources.”
But her biggest concern relates to economic inequality.
“Women and girls use triple the time and energy of boys and men to look after the household,” she said. “That costs them equal opportunities in education, in the job market and in earning power. It’s a driver of repeating poverty. Young women raising families are 25 per cent more likely than men to live in extreme poverty, affecting millions of young children, with impacts that last into later life for both mother and child. The solution includes good policies that promote more equality in childcare responsibilities and that provide state support to families, and those who work in the informal economy.”
Progress and challenges in efforts to achieve gender equality are documented in a new report entitled, A New Era for Girls: Taking stock on 25 years of progress. The report highlights that in 2016, women and girls accounted for 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims globally, mostly involving sexual exploitation. It also reflects the disturbing statistic that one-in-20 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, has experienced rape in her lifetime. The report was prepared by UNICEF, Plan International and UN Women. It can be downloaded from this page: https://data.unicef.org/resources/a-new-era-for-girls-taking-stock-of-25-years-of-progress/
The Secretary General has made several recommendations for future CSW themes. “Women’s participation in public life and decision-making” was suggested for 2021. In 2022, he suggested that the Commission consider the theme: “Innovation and technological change to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the digital age.” And, in 2023, he recommended the theme, “Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of environmental degradation and climate change”.