Thank you Madam Chairperson and distinguished UN and government leaders. I would like to focus my speech on five key messages, which have been shaped by hundreds of women from around the world:
Firstly, let’s celebrate! Today, I celebrate the women - lesbian, black, indigenous, urban and rural women living in conditions of poverty, workers, disabled, trans & intersex people, leaders from different generations - the relentless and tireless work of women and girls, organized in all our diversity, in different groups and movements, who are transforming our world.
The achievements of the last 20 years have been significant, and the transformation of some of the challenging conditions women and girls face is noteworthy. The level of awareness, recognition and visibility that several women’s rights issues currently have in society is clearly an important achievement and represents a major opportunity to be tapped. Such transformations were advanced by the Beijing Agenda, and by the commitment of some governments to its implementation.
We must also commemorate the lives of thousands of feminists and women’s rights defenders who are no longer with us - either because they have died over the past 20 years, or because they were killed or disappeared. And we honour all the women human rights defenders who do their work under dangerous conditions, from the corners of Congo to the mountains of Mexico, and those whose lands and livelihood are under threat due to climate change in the Pacific and elsewhere.
Second, today we must acknowledge that progress achieved has been very limited. The overwhelming lack of political commitment and financial resources, plain old sexism and misogyny, along with increasing religious fundamentalisms have affected the quality of the agreements produced by governments within the UN and at other levels. All these have impeded the fulfilment of key commitments made by governments and other actors in Beijing.
Third, current challenges to gender justice and women’s human rights around the world demand urgent and bold actions by governments, the UN, the private sector and civil society. Key challenges include deepening inequalities and the ongoing structural discrimination that exploits women in the economy, climate change, increasing power of religious fundamentalisms across regions and religions and the violence they exercise over women and communities, the threats posed by other non-state actors such as growing criminal networks and the increasing power by transnational corporations over lands and territories, deepening conflicts and militarisation, and widespread gender-based violence in both conflict and non-conflict situations.
Fourth, over the years, we have observed a worrying trend of criminalisation of social dissent, repression and shrinking democratic space in many countries. This trend is also affecting the UN and hampers meaningful participation by civil society.
In order to be more effective, the Commission on the Status of Women, the key body for norm setting in this field within the UN, needs to build a more inclusive process through which civil society makes meaningful contributions. The process of negotiations on the Political Declaration that the CSW will adopt today – in which civil society was largely excluded - represents a step backward. twenty years after Beijing we cannot afford to go back.
Fifth, the text of the Political Declaration is weak and does not go far enough towards the transformative change that is needed for gender equality. We, women of the world in all our diversity, deserve much better than this. We deserve that you put aside your ideological, political and religious differences and fully recognize and affirm the human rights of women and girls and gender justice. Nothing less. We need full reaffirmation of the Beijing Platform of Action, but also a strong commitment to ensure the following:
- Allocation of the financial resources needed to implement all agreements on gender equality, gender justice and women’s human rights. This includes meaningful resources to support the really crucial work done by feminist and women’s rights organizations at all levels. The resources are clearly there, it is a matter of reallocating them and making gender equality and women’s rights a real priority.
The centrality of human rights, including all women’s rights, in the achievement of gender equality, sustainable development and peace. No cherry picking of rights should be allowed in any country.
Sexual rights and reproductive rights and health should not be used as trade-offs among governments in negotiations. Women and girls die as a result of this. This needs to stop.
Culture, religion and tradition, as Vienna and Beijing clearly stated, cannot be used as the basis from which to violate, discriminate, and justify delay on issues related to the rights of women and girls around the world.
Appropriate mechanisms for state accountability for commitments made.
Negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals, post-2015 and financing for development should make gender equality and women’s human rights central to all agreements, in addition to having a gender goal.
A vital prerequisite for the continuity of the achievements and the future progress of our work is the integrated protection and prevention of violence against women human rights defenders in all our diversity. It is a shame that all language on defenders was removed from the Political Declaration.
This is the moment; there are important opportunities before us. This is the moment when we must have all resources needed - the political commitment and the action - to achieve real transformations.
Let’s move forward. La lucha continua!
We received over 300 messages in the lead up to CSW59 in response to our request for thoughts on Beijing+20, which helped to shape this speech. We compiled the messages that poured in from across the planet and shared them with the CSW Bureau. See the compilation here.