Advocating for our rights : YWCA Canberra at the Commission on the Status of Women

6 May 2015

Zoya Patel

Zoya is the Senior Manager of Corporate Relations and Communication at YWCA Canberra.

This March, members of YWCA Canberra joined YWCA Australia’s delegation to the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. Jane Alver, immediate past-President of YWCA Canberra was one of the delegates, and here she shares what she learnt, the highlights and the challenges of this important global forum. 

How would you describe the CSW to someone who hasn’t heard of it before?

Jane Alver - CSW 2The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was established by Council Resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946.

The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In 1996, ECOSOC expanded the Commission’s mandate and decided that it should take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities.

During the Commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York. They discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, and the 23rd special session of the General Assembly held in 2000 (Beijing+5), as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women. Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. The outcomes and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up.

UN Women supports all aspects of the Commission’s work and facilitate the participation of civil society representatives.

What were the goals of the YWCA delegation for CSW?

  1. The YWCA Australia delegation in 2015 set the following objectives:
  2. Provide support and women power to the World YWCA delegation in particular in the second week (when the Australian delegation remained and many others from the World and other YWCAs returned home).
  3. Create a fun, supportive, safe environment for all YWCA delegates and wider delegates.
  4. Raise the profile and influence of YWCA Australia in the processes of the political declaration, working methods review and side and parallel events.
  5. Expand our individual and collective feminist and advocacy journey.

YWCA Australia delegation - CSW4What were the outcomes of the session?

A Political Declaration and Working Methods Declaration were both negotiated by Member States. Controversially, the Political Declaration was negotiated prior to arrival in New York and merely assented to on Day 1, which shut out civil society and many smaller countries or country blocks who had not yet had the opportunity to caucus.

  • The wording of the Political Declaration was also contentious. To give you a flavour, the following submissions were made for changes:
  • A number consistently called for “gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls” throughout the document;
  • Some countries sought the introduction of a listing of grounds for discrimination, but omitted key groups most notably on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Some sought the introduction of language on violence and human rights abuses
  • Some sought language on women’s human rights
  • Countries wanted to strengthen the language on the means of implementation, accountability, and others called for the addition of indicators.

What was the most challenging thing about CSW for you personally?

The most challenging aspect was seeing civil society cut out of the negotiations.  We know that it is civil society that is on the ground, working at the grassroots, leading the trends and letting governments and the UN know when issues are emerging, and yet the Political Declaration was negotiated prior to the opening of the CSW and merely approved in the first day in a very fast session with no opposition voiced from the floor.

Further, the Working Declaration negotiations were held in a very small room, with civil society locked out, and confined to sitting in the hallways in an attempt to either influence their government delegations as they walked past, or to merely be visible as a presence.  Some of our activities therefore focussed on protesting this exclusion and working to influence the Working Methods to ensure it does not become part of the settled practice of the CSW.

Forum - CSW3And the most rewarding?

The highlights were:

  • Witnessing the participation of the World YWCA in so many sessions, standing out for their inclusion of young women on all their panels,
  • Marching through the streets to Times Square, holding up traffic, as part of the World YWCA movement on International Women’s Day
  • Feeling part of a broader global women’s movement
  • The opportunity to attend UN Mission visits in the second week including Argentina, the EU and UN Women – a great insight to see how caucus work can influence
  • The great privilege of access to events and the General Assembly that participation and a grounds pass gave.
  • Learning about international rights machinery – both UN and working groups. Increased understanding leads to an increased ability to leverage them for change.

Why do you think global forums like CSW are important in terms of furthering gender equality?

  • Accountability, transparency, ownership, being held to reporting annually, and having ‘sunshine’, and the world’s eyes on particularly regressive attempts.
  • Getting beyond country and regional influence to hear from all member states,
  • The opportunity for high level presentations, panels, side events, parallel events, and having civil society in attendance.
  • A forum to push the agenda for aspects of women’s rights too often left off the agenda eg. lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex women, and Indigenous women.

What’s next?

There are other opportunities in 2015 for conversations at the global level. The World YWCA encourages member associations to take opportunities to follow up with governments on the Financing for Development conference in July to ensure there is commitment to resourcing gender equality, and to keep governments committed to gender equality in the negotiations for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, so that priorities are not watered down.

Of course the World YWCA Council in Bangkok this year will provide a space to further reflect on the global situation of women and girls rights and empowerment.

Lastly, planning for the 60th CSW is already underway. The theme is ‘women’s economic empowerment’. Look out for a call for nominations from YWCA Australia later this year so you can be a part of it too.

We’ll be hosting a special She Meets event with Jane, and her fellow YWCA Canberra delegates to the CSW this month. Stay tuned for more info, coming soon!


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