A quote for Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason at closing of the Commission on the Status of Women from the Irish Poet Seamus Heaney. ‘Walk on air against your better judgement” and from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women quoting Mary Robinson quoting Nelson Mandela on another occasion during the commission – “We are prisoners of hope” sum up some of the experience of the commission. The Lebanon Representative quoted Simone Beauvoir ‘never forget it will be enough for one political, economic or religious crisis for women’s right to be questioned. These rights can never be taken for granted. You must remain vigilant your whole life.’
I reflected on the above quotation against the backdrop of the parable on the fig tree Luke 13:6-9. ‘…for three years I have come in search of fruit …but have found none.’ The Commission on the Status of Women has just completed its 63rd session. See http://winifredd.wordpress.com for more reflections on the outcome. Susan Daily, an Australian Sister of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin (Loreto), an artist gave us this piece of art for Sunday’s reflection. I was struck by the color and the fruit. This reflects my vision for gender equality and the full recognition of the human rights of girls, women and children, indeed for all people to be in relationship of respect in the face of diversity and difference.
There is an Ethiopian Proverb that says ‘little by little the egg walks’. The Direction Statement of the Congregation (2015) states ‘We struggle to find a way to address global issues. We identified the most pressing needs of today as poverty, human trafficking, migration, refugees, gender equality, violence towards women and children and religious intolerance.” All of these issues are in one way or another part of what the two weeks of CSW and the Agreed Conclusions were about. I/we who attended CSW on your behalf were struggling to address global issues through the framework of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The day was spend mostly at the UN from 2.30 p.m. until 11.00 p.m waiting, watching, wondering, getting updates, chatting with friends, approaching delegates as they entered and left Conference Room 4. What is the situation of the negotiations now? How many paragraphs agreed? What are the sticky areas? Will there be an outcome document? It’s hopeful! Maybe at 5.00, no not 5.00 maybe in another hour or hour and a half! Then there is movement a rush towards the door – it is approximately 6.40 p.m. Yes we have Agreed Conclusion. A sigh of relief and excitement. We NGO’s file our way in and up to the balcony to await the opening of the 14th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. There is a delay – the agreed document has to be printed and distributed before the this session starts. Groups are moving around. It is approaching 7.45 when the session starts. The session is webcast Do look at it and you will have a global view of the current situation of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The session opens – with accounts of cyber bullying and telephone bullying of the facilitator of the Agreed Conclusions Ms. Koki Muli Grignon (Deputy Permanent Representative, Kenya), Vice-Chair (African States Group). Ambassador felt scared! These tactics are an attack on the multilateral system which strives to accommodate different opinions and celebrate diversity.
Objections to the agreed conclusions we expressed by some member states. By reviewing the webcast you can see what the red lines were. Some positive aspects for me – there is reference to ILO Recommendation 202 in paragraph 6, in paragraph (d) under strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks, (f) ensure the right to social security in national legal frameworks, as well as ensure universal access to social protection, supported by national strategies, policies , action plans, and adequate resources, to enhance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Under strengthen women’s and girls’ access to social protection paragraph (gg) Work towards establishing or strengthening inclusive and gender responsive social protection systems, including floors, to ensure full access to social protection for all without discrimination of any kind and take measures to progressively achieve higher levels of protection, including facilitating the transition from informal to formal work. Other areas are highlighted (hh) to have social protection measures incorporated into humanitarian response, (jj) women’s access to pensions, and income security for older women, (ll) maternity benefits and (kk) access to social protection in countries of destination for migrant workers. The Agreed Conclusions stopped short of ‘universal child benefits’ or ‘basic income security for children’ (ILO R 202) but did elaborate a paragraph (ii) on nutrition policy. See the press release by UN Women
Second week of CSW 63 started this morning with attendance at the NGOCSW Morning Briefing. Side events commenced at 8.15 a.m and parallel events at 8.30 a.m. I am attending two parallel event this afternoon – one sponsored by the Women’s Major Group and the second an event on Human Trafficking organized by Mercy International.
Asa Regner is the Assistant Secretary-General, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women. Asa is from Sweden and was appointed to this role in March 2018. Read more Andrew Gilmore is Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, heading OHCHR’s office in New York. He outlined the distinction between ‘pushback’ against women’s rights and ‘backlash’. Pushback is resistance to the human rights agenda whereas backlash is a reaction to the same agenda. We hear with increasing frequency these words both in discussion and examples in people’s lives. Reprisals are a growing phenomenon. Persons and groups are prevented from co-operating with the United Nations, and in some cases there are reprisals and punishments for having cooperated with the United Nations. Women Human Rights Defenders are particularly vulnerable to reprisals, on line harassment, sexual assault, and targeting of family members. Haydee Castillo was on the panel too sharing on the situation in Nicaragua.
Secretary General held a townhall meeting with women gather for CSW 63 yesterday March 12. “To promote human rights for all, as gender equality is a central instrument for human rights. To ensure development for all, as gender equality is a fundamental tool for development.” Read more
The opening of the Commission was webcast and can be found in the Archives Secretary General indicated that this is the Commission on the Status of Women. But it could equally go by another name: the Commission on the Status of Power. How apt! Because he said this is the crux of the issue! Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. The statement of the President of the General Assembly is in Spanish. The Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Ms. Hilary Gbedemah said ‘Women are disadvantaged in social protection systems, experiencing lower coverage rates and substantially lower benefit levels. The Committee recognises that social protection policies are an important tool for reducing . poverty and gender inequality. Gender gaps in accessing social protection vary per region and country, as they are largely dependent on the characteristics of the labour market and the structure of the social security system.’ See the full text If you wish to see who is who with regard to Women’s and Girls Leadership at the United Nations review the panel line up. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women also made a Statement. If you prefer to read an account rather than watch the webcast go to UN Meeting Coverage
While there is optimism and hope for a good outcome many sharing and stories tell of backlash against gender equality. ” As push back against women’s rights around the world threaten to reverse hard-won gains, conviction and political courage must drive forward progress and build on achievements, high-level speakers pledged at the opening session of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women.” … “United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that when women are excluded, everyone pays, also warning that the world today is witnessing a deep, pervasive and relentless push back on women’s rights. “We will push back against the push back,” he pledged, adding that the United Nations is also making progress in achieving gender parity.” All quotes from the UN Meeting Coverage link above
Our statement to the Commission on the Status of Women makes the following recommendations. These are our advocacy points
Enact a just, integrated and sustainable model of development, inclusive of gender, environmental, and economic justice, that puts the interests of disempowered, marginalized and impoverished girls, women and their communities at the centre of policy concerns, ahead of the corporate agenda, and upholds the protection of their human rights.
Establish human rights-based, gender-sensitive Social Protection Floors at the national level as a first step in the creation of Universal Social Protection, in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and ‘to reach those furthest behind first.’
Express strong political will to reject austerity measures in favour of the implementation of social protection systems financed through progressive taxation, addressing Illicit flows, and the reallocation of military expenditures.
Ensure better access to health care, quality education, skills training, and public services for girls and women.
Enable inclusive, non-tokenistic participation for girls and women at all levels of decision-making including policy design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
Participation at the Commission was in the following ways – submission of a written statement, (also available in French and Spanish) attendance at panel discussions, delivery of an oral statement, sponsoring a side event,moderating a panel, attending the Civil Society Forum and contributing to the Civil Society Declaration. The keynote speaker for the forum was Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. View the webcast! Start at marker 34.05 The issues being addressed are inequality, fiscal policy, wage policy and social protection which may be intimidating, boring, and uninteresting; issues to be addressed elsewhere. You may experience resistance to a discussion on fiscal policy but the reality is that the policies we care most about – the rights of girls and women, and human rights more broadly are fundamentally determined by how economic policies are evolving worldwide. Throughout the world today we are seeing the triumph of neo-liberal policy prescriptions – taxes are being cut in many countries and governments are under great pressure. Governments are less relevant, less interested and less able to respond to the sorts of agenda that are before this group. Privatization is the only option – governments cannot do it. Deregulation becomes important because we need a more conducive environment for business. This becomes problematic if the starting point is how to protect and promote the rights of girls and women or how to protect the least well off or those close to it – which is a much higher number. Policies of austerity are often anti-girls and anti-woman. He cited examples from Ghana – an African success story determined by neo-liberal policies but 1/4 of all girls are married before their 18th birthday and there are direct connections between child, early and forced marriage and poverty; and the UK where he identified that single mothers were under the greatest pressure – with a moralistic response coming from a male-dominated government and punitive policies designed to force young mothers out to work and make it difficult to get the benefits they are entitled to. We need to bring alive and create awareness that fiscal policy and austerity measures have social consequences for everyone but in particular for girls and women.
Our recommendations to the Commission are as follows: Implement national social protection floors, in line with ILO Recommendation 202 and SDG 1.3, while scaling up existing social protection policies towards universal social protection. Realize SDG 8 by protecting and promoting human and labor rights, decent work, and living wages so that people can work and live in dignity and prosperity. Achieve SDG 10 by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, and by creating inclusive fiscal, wage and social protection policies that create resilience and economic opportunity among vulnerable communities. Implement progressive tax systems and end impunity for tax abuse to mobilize resources for social protection floors and other public services. Invest in financially inclusive loan programs, microfinance loans, and small business cooperatives that empower socially excluded people to reclaim their dignity and become active participants in their financial decisions. These recommendations are at the heart of our position paper for Economic Justice “The disparity between the accumulation of extreme wealth and the inescapability of extreme poverty offends the dignity of human beings, is an affront to the common good, and tends toward disastrous cyclical misery. Extreme amassment of wealth and refusal to share resources and material goods are both cause and effect of social and spiritual ills.”