As the dust settles on the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women and the relief at having reached Agreed Conclusions this year begins to subside, it is time to consider what the international community has actually achieved.
The starting position was a mixed one. The zero draft document produced by UN Women to open the discussions was widely perceived by women’s rights activists, organizations and movements as a strong one. It recognized:
- that achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women is essential to tackling the root causes of violence against women and girls;
- the need to provide a wide range of accessible multisectoral services and responses for all forms of violence against women and girls, including services for sexual and reproductive health;
- the links between prevention and response services, and the need for governments to take comprehensive, holistic and accountable approaches therefore;
- the need to tackle violence and harassment of women and girls in public spaces and urban areas, as well as responding to domestic and intimate partner violence, which remain the most prevalent forms; and
- that the elimination of violence against women and girls needs to be reflected as a priority in the post-2015 development framework, with clear targets and indicators to realize gender equality.
Against this however was a challenging political backdrop. Not only did last year’s CSW not result in any agreed conclusions, Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development which followed in June, also proved a disappointment to many women’s rights activists when it concluded without any reference to reproductive rights in the final agreement. This suggested that rather than offering opportunities to advance on our women’s rights concepts and commitments, these global negotiations were forcing us to defend previously agreed basic rights.
As member states are currently poised to negotiate on the post-2015 framework and how gender equality and women’s empowerment will be included, this year’s CSW was to a degree also acting as a weather vane on what might be possible in the coming months.
The fact that conclusions were reached this year is therefore a welcome signal. But we do need to assess at what price. While from the above list much was retained, lost was any reference to ‘intimate partner violence’ and the call for violence against women and girls to be included as a priority in the post-2015 framework.
The former is perhaps of more significance as it would have acknowledged ‘that not all women are in relationships formally recognised by the state’, as my ActionAid colleague Rowan Harvey explains in her analysis for the Guardian. In fact, one of the most painful sacrifices made to reach agreement was the removal of any reference to violence women and girls face due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
On the other hand, there were some very positive gains. For example the zero draft was strengthened in two key ways. First, a new paragraph on the role of small arms and light weapons in aggravating violence against women and girls was added. Second, as the Center for Women’s Global Leadership notes, ‘for the first time in a negotiated document, there is acknowledgement of the risks faced by women human rights defenders and states’ obligation to support and protect them.’
In addition, deeply problematic language such as the proposed get-out clause affirming states’ sovereign right to implement CSW recommendations according to their own national priorities and laws, was resisted.
The work it took to achieve this result by both civil society and member states should not be underestimated. The next big negotiated moment is the UN High Level Panel on Post-2015 which meets in Bali next week. This will be followed next month by the 46th session of the Conference on Population and Development (CPD), which tracks implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. We can be sure that this conversation is not over.