The 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in New York between 14 and 24 March 2016. The principal outcome of the annual CSW is the Agreed Conclusions on priority themes set for each year. They contain a series of concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level.
This year’s theme: “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.” This priority theme made CSW60 the first test of Member States’ commitment to the gender sensitive implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). In addition to the Agreed Conclusions, the Commission adopted i.a. a resolution entitled “Women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS.”
Both documents were adopted on the final two days of the conference and the result of lengthy and difficult negotiations. Contentious topics, that were among those pushed back until the very end of the conference, include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and families. Despite the efforts of progressive delegations - such as those of Canada, the US, Mexico, the Philippines and the EU - and NGOs, reference to these issues could not be (entirely) secured throughout the text of both documents. While the last R of SRHR was omitted, CSE and SOGI were removed from the draft texts altogether, after the African Group declared itself unwilling to engage in any discussion on the latter. The paragraph on families - the final obstacle to adoption of the Agreed Conclusions on the night of the 24th - does not in the end reference “families in all their diversity,” meaning that it merely highlights the importance of the institution of the family for development and women’s empowerment, based on traditional views of the family (mother, father, children).
Gains: What’s in it for us?
The aforementioned setbacks clearly mark the recent surge of conservatism around the world these days. Indeed, regressive powers at the UN are gaining power. At the same time, the progressive forces did manage to secure a number of their priorities. Of great importance in this respect is the repeated mentioning “ the empowerment of all women and girls, gender equality and their human rights,” although they could have been more consistent. Additionally, recognition of the fact that “ ..many women face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination” is a step forward, especially because it may serve as an entry point to safeguarding the rights of LBTI women. New is also the recognition of the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality. The biggest victory entails the removal of the sovereignty clause, traditionally fiercely defended by Russia and China, even though some reference to sovereignty and national peculiarities remains in some paragraphs, but none relating to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), meaning that the universality and inalienability of women’s rights and the BPfA remain intact. They must take priority over national interests.
Still, a lot of work remains to be done, beginning at CSW61 next year. Next year’s priority theme will be “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.”