- Laurie Richardson
UN Commission on the Status of Women CSW59 – Beijing+20
March 2015, New York
Gender justice is a human imperative. It is time for women to lead to change the paradigm, not adapt to the existing paradigm. We can not be satisfied with our progress as long as any women or men suffer inequality, injustice or violence.
CSW59 was the largest gathering of women's organizations ever held at UN Headquarters. There were 8,600 participants, 450 NGO CSW Forum events and 200 Side Events. Interactive sessions with ministers, government officials and UN agencies provided opportunities for government delegations and civil society representatives to share experiences and best practices and learn from each other. In this report, I highlight the CSW59 Political Declaration, point out the challenges we still face, and share some insights and impressions from a selection of CSW events.
Governments pledged to take action in the CSW Political Declaration, but words must be followed by deeds. The 167 Beijing+20 National Reviews are the basis for concrete next steps. NGOs should engage at the national level with governments and other stakeholders to address identified implementation gaps.
Young women were a strong presence, as the next generation takes on the challenge in a new wave of activism for gender equality and justice. Increasingly, men and boys are supporting women's equality for a better world for all people.Young men activists were welcome at CSW59, joining the cause for gender equality.
Twenty years after the Beijing Platform for Action, no country has achieved gender equality. Changes have been achieved and legislation exists, but obstacles remain and new challenges have emerged. We need to change the paradigm, not adapt to the paradigm. We have to pick up the pace of change in economic and political empowerment for women. Women and girls must be full participants in the post-2015 agenda. The new UN Women campaign: 50-50 by 2030!
Soon-Young Yoon, Chair, NGO CSWomen/New York and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women, said that in 2015, at Beijing+20, the question is not what is to be done, but HOW. “We are here to make sure that gender equality is mainstreamed into all of the UN's post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.”
The top priority is economic empowerment to raise woman out of poverty. We need to change socioeconomic structures perpetuating inequality. Women bear the burden of unpaid care work, and lack choices and control over our own bodies. Lack of resources is no excuse; there are enough resources. The issue is lack of political will.
Charlotte Bunch, Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers University, described the women's movement today: What we have achieved since 1995 can be seen in the diversity and depth of the women here, expressing views, having debates, learning from our differences and coming together in solidarity. The fundamental cause of resistance to women's equality is a backlash because we challenge the status quo and question the existing hierarchy. Women with control over our own bodies are a fundamental threat to the power structure.
At the CSW59 Opening Session, the presence of Secretary General Ban ki-Moon's and high-level national delegates signaled the importance of women and girls. Ban Ki-moon welcomed civil society, and called on the international community to turn outrage into action. Progress has been unacceptably slow and is not irreversible. He said “we can not achieve 100% of our development goals if 50% of the world are not able to realize their full potential.”
The CSW59 Political Declaration was adopted on the first day of CSW59, and the timing was controversial. The goal was for the declaration to be agreed to in the presence of the largest number of high-level ministers. The Political Declaration represented a strong commitment to full, effective, accelerated implementation of the Beijing Platform, with a target date of 2030 to achieve the goals. Civil society should use the Political Declaration to hold governments accountable. Ministers pledged to take concrete action in six areas:
Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, spoke about UN Women's strong support for civil society participation and leadership. The B+20 Regional Reviews included inputs from the broadest possible range of NGOs and CSOs. She called for transforming institutional mechanisms and social norms, improving monitoring, and reporting on implementation. NGOs have very important roles to play, pushing these agendas forward in the field, and identifying emerging challenges.
The World Bank Consults with NGOs on its New Gender Strategy
Caren Grown, head of the World Bank's Gender Group, and her team are consulting with stakeholders, including ministers of finance, the private sector, and CSOs to get input into the Bank's new Gender Strategy to be adopted in Fall 2015. This session was an excellent example of a major international development institution reaching out to learn from civil society, bringing the perspective and experience of grassroots practitioners into their policy-making. Dr. Grown called upon civil society to advocate with governments to help the World Bank push an agenda for change.
Talking to ministries of finance, the World Bank communicates a clear and strong economic case for gender equality and reducing gaps in women's economic opportunity: increasing women's workforce participation leads to reductions in poverty. The Bank's new Gender Strategy will work to achieve more inclusive economic growth by increasing informal employment and asset ownership. To increase economic opportunity, we need to change norms of occupational segregation and close the gender wage gap. The Bank's investments in infrastructure can also contribute to improving women's lives through the use of gender analysis in project planning and design.
Girls are near parity with boys in primary school enrollment, but secondary school is where education leads to increased ability of girls to control their own lives. The World Bank education policy leverages opportunities to change curricula and behavior. Another challenge is that many women and girls do not have control over their fertility. Millions of girls will be married before age 18, with negative impacts on their lives, including leaving school and health consequences of early child-bearing.
Women produce and raise the next generation of the labor force and the source of future growth. Women's disproportionate share of unpaid family care work is a major reason for women's lower work force participation outside the home. Estimates of the value of unpaid care work range from 15 – 50% of GDP. We must value unpaid care work and redistribute household work to enable women to enjoy equal rights.
Arab Women in Peacemaking
War creates opportunities for women, as they create shifts in gender roles. Men go off to fight, leaving the women in charge of the communities. In Syria, women are getting more involved in politics and becoming empowered so they can be part of peacemaking processes. They are learning to use UN resolutions like SCR 1325 and CEDAW as tools to educate women about their rights and to provide support from the international community for their efforts.
Sudan was in a civil war for 50 years. There was a peace agreement but the war continues. In Beijing in 1995, women created the Peace Tent, where for the first time women from north and south Sudan began to greet each other, and started laying the groundwork for peace. The Peace Tent was a place where they could see that the war was started by men, and women did not need to fight. Within Sudan, public space was not conducive for civil society action. Gatherings with the international community like CSW offer a forum where women can come together and share experiences, learn from each other, and build solidarity to work together for peace.
A Libyan woman thanked the audience for their interest in “hearing our stories.” She commented that it was a unique moment in that room with women and men who are agents of change, civil society activists coming together, breaking down the old paradigms.
Another speaker quoted a Somali saying: “You can't have peace without milk, and you can't have milk without peace.”
To be more effective, Security Council Resolution 1325 should be brought down to the grassroots level, and translated into meaningful policy and action. 1325 should not only be a normative way of working, but should dig deeper. Women should be included not only at peace negotiations, but in all aspects of conflict resolution and community reconstruction, including arms control and reintegration of combatants. We need to engage everyone and empower those who are committed to democratic values and to the fight against terrorism.
Positive Masculinities, or Real Men Don't Hurt Others
Enlightened men offered interesting new perspectives on the movement for gender equality and justice. They pointed out the need to transform, feminize and humanize society as a whole, to heal the distortions in our societies. We have to start where we are to change social and cultural norms, and work with opinion leaders at the local community level.
if you don't engage men, you can't achieve equality. We need to promote alternative models of masculinity to achieve a transformation of gender in society. The pervasive “alpha male” model makes it dangerous to be born in a man's body, with societal pressures to behave in specific “masculine” ways which can be destructive. The challenge is to break the cycle of violence and foster a culture of peace. To do that, we must challenge the fundamental notions of masculinity that promote violence. Male psychologists are working with young men and boys in group programs, for example building up gang members' self esteem, and showing them healthier ways of being men. We need to change societal expectations of men, so being at peace with one another is acceptable, fostering an atmosphere of respect for one another and for women and girls.
The idea that there is such a thing as a “real man” is wrong; there are many ways to be a man. These men are working to open minds to other possibilities: our strength as men is not for hurting. We need to change the problematic, violence-prone, misogynist definitions of masculinities that threaten women and girls, and are also harmful to men and boys.