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It’s been a long day. At 3am Dorothea, Luliia and myself left the UN after sitting outside the negotiators room and meeting them every few hours. They still have to agree 90 paragraphs. No further progress has been made from the group negotiations for hours. It seems all countries want more time for discussion. Agreement between countries is vital for CSW63 Agreed Conclusions. It is especially important as it is the 25th Anniversary of Beijing Platform for Action in 2020 and it would be a strong platform to leap forward from recognising achievements, successes and agreeing action for the future . Fingers crossed!
It is 25 years since the Declaration of Human Rights as Women’s Rights and although we have made some progress there is still much to be done. . In fact we are fighting ‘Push back’ and regression on women’s rights at this very moment. This is why we need Civil Society to play an active role in the 2030 Agenda , to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and associated targets, ‘Leaving no one behind’.
This year there has been one thousand more delegates registered than last year. There has been over 400 events in the UN, Side events and Parallel events throughout CSW63 calling for action, highlighting good practice and paving the way to improve the lives of so many women and girls .Not forgetting the men and boys.
An increase in young people as CSW63 with vitality , enthusiasm and passion has provided inspirational ideas , thoughts and activities and along with the older women it provides an intergenerational platform for growth and action.
Important dates to remember:
2019 100th Anniversary of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
2020 25th Anniversary of Beijing Platform for Action
2020 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 Resolution on Women’s Peace and Security
Latest news. CSW63 negotiations halted at 5 am this morning resuming at 11am. Little progress has been made so it will be ‘Chairs Text’ to resolve . Tensions growing for positive conclusion.
A meeting at the European Union United Nations Mission briefing in New York brought countries together to hear the latest position on the CSW63 negotiations starting at 9am today. The negotiator, Greet Vermeylen, Policy Officer European Commission, was wondering why she had arranged to see us at 9am when she didn’t finish negotiating at UN until 2am this morning and was counting her sleeping hours.
The negotiating process was reported as being slow with the countries coming from a variety of positions and most of the text not agreed. Articles were being addressed in groups with the facilitator writing particular ones to move things on.
Areas causing difficulty are: the family, SRHR, use of technology in relation to gender equality and migration which is proving to be a concern. Linkage is one of the priorities of the team to make a way forward.
Country delegates fed back their areas of concern which included the position of the Holy See within the UN; the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts on street harassment; Social Protection for girls; keeping language where appropriate so there is no regression; keeping robust language on widows, widowhood, rural women and indigenous people; the role of the private sector and corporate social responsibility audit as a gender right; plus tax avoidance.
Greet, the negotiator, stated that 99% of the issues raised were being worked on and that we were on the ‘same line’, keeping to strong language and the issue of non-regression. She would re-read the reference to private finance to check if it is unbalanced and if so strengthen. Corporate social responsibility is not mentioned in the text and cannot be included at this point but will be noted for next time.
Attention was bought to the petition prepared by the Women’s Major Group in support of the CSW63 facilitator Her Excellency Koki Muli Grignon from Kenya who has received a high volume of abusive messages whilst performing her official duties.
The briefing ended on a positive note
A new message from the UN…
The hour is 22:22 and we are gathered at a Café just outside the negotiation room, on the eve of the close of the CSW63, where all is still active and busy. The experience is beyond words and yet, I will try to squeeze it into a combination of alphabets.
To give a sense of the energy that the 63rd Session on the Commission on the Status of Women brings to the United Nations headquarters in New York City, is best captured by one of the UN security guards, ‘we love it when you are here, the energy and excitement you bring is fabulous’.
The people that have gathered to further all women’s and girls’ rights are amazingly inspirational. We are getting to know our sisters from all walks of life, from all over the world and building beautiful relationships, whilst deeply embedded in our work here at CSW63.
All are positive that agreed conclusions will be reached before the close of CSW63, tomorrow at noon.
A Day of Hope and Dispair
Daily NGO Briefing
The day began on a hopeful note with the declaration by Ms. Koki Muli Crignon of Kenya, the Facilitator of the Agreed Conclusions, that she has “incredible faith” in the process which will yield the agreed conclusions of CSW63.
This declaration emerged during Ms. Crignon’s oral reporting on the progress being made by Member States and Civil Society representatives towards the Agreed Conclusions Document of CSW63. Advising that a third reading of the document had started on the previous afternoon, the Facilitator of Agreed Conclusions exuded strength and resolve as she reflected on her role and reminded the delegates in attendance that “if we all remain prisoners of hope, we will achieve something great” (Reverend Desmond Tutu).
Latin America / Caribbean Caucus Meeting
In contrast to the NGO daily briefing, this regional caucus meeting was textured with both hope and despair. In terms of hope, it was suggested that shadow reports can be prepared by civil society groups in cases where national laws (example Argentina’s litigation policies) can sometimes block implementation of the agreements signed at the UN level.
Another hopeful idea was asking for non-regression principle and using #CSW63 to share the real stories of women in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the agreements made at the CSW are “soft law” and not legally binding but states should still comply.
It is despairing that countries are taking individual positions rather than working in blocks As such, an outcome document may not be possible from CSW63.
“The Safety of Women and Girls in Educational Settings” – hosted by the International Sociological Association and the American Society of Criminology Division on Women and Crime.
A key provider of hope in this session was the Guidance Note on campus violence prevention and response produced by the Ending Violence Against Women Section of UN Women. It offers ten (10) essential actions to address campus violence, the underlying principle being that university administration must be held accountable for addressing violence against women on campus and for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“The Role of NGOs in the Promotion of Social Protection Systems and Providing Services for Women and Girls” – hosted by the Working Women Association of Sudan (WOWA) and the International Peace and Development Organization (IPDO). Hope and Despair were intermingled in this presentation by three women of the Sudan where despite deprivations resulting from economic sanctions and war, women are still able to ensure the dignity and welfare of their families through the organisations identified above.
Side event “Women Investing in Peace”.
The permanent missions of Sri Lanka and Kenya to the UN in partnership with the NGO committee on Sustainable Development co-hosted this event, which bought together a group of experts to explore how women can use economic leadership to invest in sustainable peace.
One of the statements delivered here which impressed upon the power of women’s movement was by Ms Marjan Mateen, Deputy Minister of Education, Afghanistan, on ‘Women in conflict and Peace’.
She highlighted the commitment and engagement of Afghan women as citizens and agents of change in working for progress and a better future for their country and view challenges. Women have raised their voice to bring peace to their country.
With a special focus on the meaningful participation of women in peace initiatives a group of women formed ‘National Consensus for Peace’ along with the office of Afghan’s first lady and other groups organised a tribal council that brought together over 3500 Afghan women from country’s 34 provinces with representatives from government offices, religious institutions, academia and civil society to air their views, concerns and suggestions for the peace process. They went to each province and met with women and found out how they coped and faced on daily basis war and conflict and what peace meant to them? Also the important role Afghan women can play in prevention and resolution of conflict.
Their findings were:
What Peace meant:
At the conclusion of each event across the country, participants made joint recommendations to improve women’s participation in peace initiatives through creating more education opportunities, raising awareness among communities about the value of their contributions and increasing women’s participation at all levels.
Sonja Yr Oirbergsdttir, chair of an umbrella organisation of trade unions in Iceland, spoke on the Icelandic Equal Pay Standard, a new tool that ensures equal pay for equal work within a work place.
Women’s activism commenced in Iceland in 1975 with ‘The Women’s Day Off’ when 90 percent of women refused to work, cook, or look after children on 24 October. In Reykjavik 25,000 women demonstrated in the city. This was the same year as the United Nations dedicated to the cause of women in the world.
This influenced the election of the first woman President of Iceland in 1980 and the formation of Foundation of the Woman’s Alliance which was very influential in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2016 and 2018 women in Iceland again protested and left work at 3pm to protest against the gender pay gap and to demand a more equal society.
Following this, Equal Pay Certification became law which obligated employers to implement an Equal Pay Management System based on Equal Pay Management Standard to obtain a certification from the certificated accreditation offices. This is all based on the ILO principle of equal pay for equal work and work of equal value. This law applies to almost 80% of all employees in Iceland
The Equal Pay Standard took four years to make and was the first of its kind in the world. It is a kind of rule book which requires management to define a policy regarding gender wage equality. Just as they are already required to under the Gender Equality Act. It has to have at least one wage analysis carried out in the workplace annually to ensure there are no gender based discrimination in wages being practiced.
To date the findings have overall been positive, it transfers the responsibility of equal pay from the individual employee over to the employer. It has to be said that some findings have shown that women are paid more than men in the same job!
The economic disparities between men and women are one of the most urgent political issues of our times . Economic independence is the key to women’s liberation and an extremely important tool to work towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls. Reference Article 22 Declaration of the Human Rights
In 1990 in Iceland Parental Leave introduced the father’s programme, with the time out structured as mothers taking the first 3 months of maternity leave followed by the father taking the next 3 months and a choice of mother or father taking the next 3 months. This is to ensure that the father has time with his child at an early age.
Maternity leave may be extended to 2 years.
Iceland is a great example of implementation of the equality and pay gap.
I attended a Side Event at Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, on
‘Social Protection To Eliminate Violence Against Girls and Women’
Varied topics were touched upon but the one which is our area of focus was…
‘GIRLS NOT BRIDES’
Ms Brenda Dora from Kenya gave the presentation….
Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Marriage is an international non-governmental organization with a mission to end the institution of child marriages throughout the world. The organization was created by The Elders to enable small groups from around the world to address the common issue of early marriage.
Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 28 girls every minute – are married off too soon, endangering their personal development and wellbeing. Child marriage is a human rights violation.
Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 500 civil society organizations from over 70 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential.
Members are based throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. They share the conviction that every girl has the right to lead the life that she chooses and that, by ending child marriage, we can achieve a safer, healthier, and more prosperous future for all.
Stronger together, Girls Not Brides members bring child marriage to global attention, build an understanding of what it will take to end child marriage, and call for laws, policies and programs that will make a difference to the lives of millions of girls.
Members of ‘Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage’ are committed to ending child marriage, a harmful traditional practice that affects millions of children, predominantly girls, every year. Members of Girls Not Brides are joining hands to accelerate efforts to prevent child marriage, and to support girls who are or have been married, all over the world.
Girls Not Brides will amplify the voices of girls at risk of child marriage and defend the rights of girls to health, education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 18 should be the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls.
In working to end child marriage, social change cannot succeed without community engagement. Members of Girls Not Brides will have to work together to enhance and strengthen efforts to end child marriage at community, local, national and global levels. Specifically, They aim to:
Raise awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage by encouraging open, inclusive and informed discussion at the community, local, national and international level;
Facilitate learning and coordination between organisations working to end child marriage; and
Mobilise all necessary policy, financial and other support to end child marriage.
Efforts to eliminate violence against women will be more effective by working together than by working alone.
ENSURING ROBUST SPACES FOR CIVIL SOCIETIES
I had the opportunity to be a panellist and speak at an event on ‘Civil Society and Gender Empowerment – Ensuring Robust Spaces for Civil Society to Strengthen Sustainable Infrastructure for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls’, a parallel event held during CSW63, organised by UK NGO CSW Alliance.
I spoke on the topic from an Indian perspective, discussing how CSOs in India are increasingly facing challenges due to the restrictive policies of the government on receiving foreign funds. NGOs have to register for a license to receive foreign funding, and this administrative procedure turns out to be extremely tedious and it may take months before an NGO receives their license. NGOs also face the threat of having their licenses revoked if they participate in activities which are ‘political’ in nature, i.e., if they critique the policies or views of the government.
The other panellists discussed similar situations in their own countries, such as in Uganda. The agreed conclusion from the whole panel discussion was that the rights of CSOs must not only be enshrined in the letter of the law, but should also be apparent in the political will.
The session ended with an interesting engagement with the audience, where they had the chance to deliberate on issues they faced as members of the civil society.
YOUNG PEOPLE – OH YEAHHH!
‘Take the Hot Seat – A High Level Intergenerational Dialogue’ was a youth event organised during CSW63, where young people had the opportunity to engage in conversation and ask important questions to senior government and UN officials. This was the first time in the history of CSW where policy makers were asked to make tangible commitments for the youth, ensuring that the voices of young people take centre-stage in every discussion relating to empowerment of women and girls.
Every member of the panel was put in the ‘hot seat’, whereby they had to answer questions from the moderators and a few young leaders who had participated in the Pre-CSW Youth Event, ensuring that they took into consideration the Common Minimum Standards.
The result was strong commitments from each of the panellists. My favourite was that from Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. To quote Jayathma on the inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable youth, particularly at the 25th year celebrations of the Beijing Declaration next year: ‘’If there’s no space at the table, we need to make the table bigger.’’
It now remains to be seen what difference can be made through targeted interventions and investments on the youth.
Soroptimist International held an event called Lifting Women from Poverty through Lifelong Learning today at CSW63.
We heard about work in Nepal to provide a school and educate girls. The economic opportunities that follow help girls resist promises of work that end in their being trafficked.
SI of the Americas presented their project Dream it Be it. This one day session helps girls explore career opportunities, identify their strengths, set goals and overcome obstacles. The network of professional women supports thousands of girls.
SI if Great Britain and Ireland runs a STEM project for 13 and 14 year old girls. The challenge is for girls only at an age when they choose their exam subjects.
Applicants have to devise a project to resolve a problem in a deprived part of world and judged by professionals drawn from companies. Last year over 200 girls entered and the club has received the Queens award for voluntary service.
SI of Europe described projects in Italy and Turkey. In Italy they have helped 54 young women graduates by providing a qualified coach, Soroptimist mentors and work traineeships in partnership with 25 companies. In Turkey they have helped 22 women join the workforce when they were released from prison.
SI of South West Pacific spoke about their SPOT project in Malaysia where there have been 18,600 under age pregnancies. 22 volunteers have provided reproductive health education to 2500 participants in 22 schools. Their GER project funds homes (gers) on land provided free by the government to homeless women and children.
The event closed with the SI International President’s Appeal to address the lack of access to water for over 5bn people by 2050. Recognising the disproportionate impact on women and girls there are location appropriate projects in Kenya, Malaysia, Bulgaria and Indonesia.
I had the chance to attend a very interesting session on the rights of older women during CSW63, that was organised by Age International, Help Age International, ODI, Oxfam and UN Women. The programme was titled ‘EVERY WOMAN MATTERS: SOCIAL PROTECTION AND OLDER WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT’.
The panel was very rich and consisted of members from both developing and developed countries. The common picture that came out from the entire discussion is that women face immense social insecurity in old age, due to financial instability or the lack of funds in their disposal. This is a common happening all over the world. In most countries of the world, including Uganda, Pakistan and others, women take up unpaid care work, incur wage penalty, they are paid less than men and therefore receive less pension. In old age they are written off, and it is assumed that they do not need money for themselves. This idea thereby limits their ability to enjoy the rights to leisure, the ability to participate in community programmes, and the ability to enjoy their right to freedom.
The need of the hour is for the governments to take steps to ensure they meet the basic needs of older women, and to concretely involve them in the economic growth by respecting women’s autonomy.
Push back against the push back.
The central message is that some member states are pushing back against women’s rights. Not only by putting obstacles in the way of progress. There is also a very real threat of regression.
At this morning’s briefing to NGOs a speaker from Nicaragua illustrated the threat. Over 60 women there are imprisoned for speaking up for women’s rights and human rights. Their plight underlined by their defender being accused of terrorism. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern, especially since the UN team had to leave Nicaragua at the request of the government.
The Beijing Declaration Implementation is not a popular agenda for everyone. We must push back against push back, sometimes in the face of reprisals against women.
In spite of the USA never ratifying The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), women activists have worked locally with cities across the United States to implement the 16 articles into local government legislation.
This has transformed social policy locally. The incidence of domestic violence has reduced and the implementation of ending violence and harassment against women in the workplace has reduced to a negligible number.
The mayor of Pittsburgh received the Second Annual Cities for CEDAW Award for his achievement for bringing the global and local initiatives together to impact women and gender rights.
The theme of the Secretary General’s speech was ‘WE NEED TO PUSH BACK AGAINST THE PUSH BACKS’. He discussed how women continue to face barriers and are not given power in a still largely male dominated society. To overcome this, he mentioned three internal and two external priorities, which he has attempted to implement within the United Nations Organisation. They include:
It is critical to the issue of women wielding power that strong measures be taken against the difficulties posed to their human rights. This can be done through cooperation between CSOs and the UN.
An early start on a crisp cold morning brought us to the NGO CSW63 New York Consultation Day. It was a great start to the days ahead, meeting women from throughout the world, all with like-minded passion and determination to make a difference. Paprika’s performance of drumming and international music sent a message of determination to raise the volume of the voices – women will be heard.
Susan O’Malley Chair of the NGO Committee CSW New York, stated that 9,000 people had signed up for CSW63 the largest number ever. Not all had arrived yet but over 4,000 were expected. Networking was essential to strengthen our work on social protection systems and develop a sustainable infrastructure to move women’s empowerment and gender equality forward.
Read full blog on Soroptimist International website.
As a first time attendee at the United Nations, I am overwhelmed by the number of main, side and parallel events!! Making a choice ‘tough’, I want to attend them all and then I check the location on my Google maps…oh I can’t make it to most of them, the timings clash….however for today I made my choice.
I attended the Soroptimist parallel event. “Addressing Gender: Through the compact for safe and orderly migration”
One of the panellists was Dr Nina Smart, Ph.D, Human Rights Activist, Author, Doll Designer and a Soroptimist.
Nina narrates true stories of three young girls in her authored book ‘Wild Flower’ a true story of a Romanian girl in Africa. She earned her Ph.D for her research on the subject of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The book gives you an insight into deeply rooted ‘tradition’ that demands girls undergo FGM, the heart rendering stories of Geanina, Khatija and Nina. Hair-raising, chilling paragraph from the book…
When Nina was 19 years old, her father made arrangements for her to be initiated into what is called the ‘female secret society of Sierra Leone’ but who are ‘they?’- the women who did the cutting? She heard ‘they’ had special powers. What kind of cutting did those women do? She didn’t know exactly, since it was a secret. The cutting was neither on the stomach, nor on the legs, because she had seen many women walk around with hardly any clothing on and there were no visible marks on their bodies. It must be her genitals they were after! Oh my gosh! That was it!!! But why would women want to hurt other woman? ‘Tradition’.
Story of Geanina. The girls were kidnapped, then they stripped these girls naked and painted their bodies and called it celebrations. Then it happened to the first girl. They dragged her into their circle so that the rest could not see what they did. They sang and danced around her. Monstrous fear took hold of our bodies and minds, and we awaited our turn.
My body was heavy when they dragged me into their circle. I remember they were laughing as they opened my legs wide. Two of them on my chest and I could vaguely hear they were singing. How could they celebrate such horror? I wanted to die, my body fought against the knife, but I was very afraid. The blade sliced deep into my clitoris. I didn’t even know it was so juicy till I felt them struggling to cut it off. They sat on my knees so my legs could not kick them. They sat on my breasts, with their dirty feet pressing down on my arms, so my fists could not punch them.
They sang while I screamed! I screamed! till I could scream no more..they danced and sang and I was barely breathing, but I was breathing. I did not faint, so I felt it all, the scrapping of the inner lips of my vagina, the removal of my flesh, the gushing of the blood! My hips were floating in my blood. And they danced and sang…and I cried.
Just the thought makes icy chills run down your spine…these girls were kidnapped and thus FGM prevails because of migration.
There is evidence that migration leads to revaluation of the practices involving female genital cutting, resulting in growing opposition.
At the end of the session I couldn’t stop admiring Nina for her courage.
Today was the opening day of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63), a busy one as usual.
I attended the opening session, chaired by the Ambassador of Ireland. A minute’s silence was observed for the 21 UN personnel who perished in the Ethiopian air crash.
The meeting was chaired by the Irish Ambassador who underlined the importance of women’s resilience, if we are to achieve implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We were addressed by a number of heads of UN departments but the main ones were from the Secretary General, Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly and UN Women.
These were followed by two impressive civil society representatives, one lady in a wheelchair from Pakistan and one young lady from Africa. The lady from Pakistan refused to be labelled disabled and stated that from her viewpoint it is the environment which is disabled! The African perspective was the lack of access to affordable healthcare and other facilities taken for granted by so many elsewhere.
The Chairman of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) said that the convention has been ratified by 189 of the 193 member states but implementation remains inadequate. The Special Rapporteur on VAW underlined the need for all states to take action.
Overall the speakers were concerned that there is evidence of ‘push back’ so we need to be both vigilant and active to ensure that this does not happen and that progress is made in achieving women’s equality.
The afternoon roundtable enabled governments to state what they have achieved and what they hope to achieve. The variety ranged from Bangladesh to Finland with all claiming progress. The overriding message from the day, for me, is that although much has been achieved there is much still to do.
There are several important anniversaries in 2020 – the UN, CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, and UN Women. All opportunities for us to press the issues that concern us and to make progress in achieving the SDGs by 2030.
I look forward to working with everyone to ensure that our children and our grandchildren have a very bright and equal future.
The sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019.
Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world are expected to attend the session.
Two Members of Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) have been chosen to present at CSW63: