This week is the 57th session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicks off at the United Nations in New York, and will be held on the priority theme “the prevention of all forms of violence against women”.
CSW is the chief international policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Each year, Member States meet to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, and negotiate agreed policies to facilitate the achievement of gender equality globally. CSW is also responsible for reviewing the critical areas of concern outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action, the ground-breaking document adopted at the 1995 World Conference on Women.
The primary outcome of CSW is the “agreed conclusions”, which focus on a specific priority theme each year. Conclusions cannot always be agreed upon by member states, often due to the strong resistance of particular member states to gender equality, or the necessary steps to achieve it.
For instance, last year CSW was held on the priority theme of empowering of rural women, particularly as relates to their role in development and poverty eradication. Despite the importance of taking steps to ensure rural women are not left behind their urban sisters, the perennially controversial issue of women’s reproductive rights proved a sticking point for many member states, and so the commission ended without agreed conclusions.
As the only policy-making body devoted to gender equality, it is deeply disheartening that issues of integral importance to the elimination of gender inequalities cannot be agreed upon. It is therefore, of vital importance that this 57th CSW does not end on such a demoralizing note.
Agreement in itself is not enough- it is also important that the influence of vested and conservative interests do not water down agreed conclusions to such an extent that they become a basis for the regression of gender equality gains already achieved. This can prove tremendously difficult work, and since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, there has been a strong backlash against much of the progressive language and areas for action adopted in that document.
Of particular relevance to WILPF’s work and mission is that the connection is made between issues of arms proliferation, militarization and military spending and violence against women.
“Militarization, and cultures of militarism, exacerbate gender roles, further reducing equality, and enabling the legitimatization and continuation of violence. Militarized societies and structures reinforce patriarchal control and power, all of which are incompatible with equal rights and peace.” (Written Statement by WILPF to the 57th CSW March 2013).
These concerns where very strongly addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action and despite some gains- weapons and militarism continue to be notably absent from CSW agreed conclusions, including from this years draft text. This is something that WILPF seeks to influence and change.
For instance, the Women Peace and Security Resolutions adopted to prevent and address the gendered nature of violence before, during and after armed conflict, fail to receive attention in the present draft text, as does any mention of the need to regulate the global arms trade.
It is perhaps particularly symbolic then, that this years CSW will be immediately followed by the resumption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations, which were concluded last year without agreement. As has been WILPF’s consistent position on the ATT, the document needs to not only be comprehensive and robust, but also address the gendered impact of arms, and include provisions that prevent the transfer of arms where there is a risk that the weapons will be used to facilitate gender-based violence. As too often proves the case, the introduction of gender language became a point of contention for many conservative states and the vested interest lobby groups, and the draft was weak on gender language and contained significant loopholes that would undermine the intention of the treaty.
For the this years 57th CSW, the difficult task for progressive member states, civil society and for WILPF is to ensure that the connection is made between violence against women, arms proliferation and militarization. The conclusions reached at CSW must not sit in isolation from “hard” security issues, and must be connected to the ATT negotiations and Women Peace and Security Resolutions.
This is the message that May Maloney and I will be taking to CSW as WILPF Australia delegates, in united voice with 70 international WILPF delegates from all over the world. We will be lobbying the Australian government to take a strong position, on behalf of Australian women, and women globally.
We will be tweeting throughout CSW – you can follow us at ywilpf_peace, and WILPF’s PeaceWomen Project @Peace_Women, using the hashtag #WILPF_CSW
You can also “like” us on Facebook at WILPF Australia and PeaceWomen for regular updates.
-Sharna de Lacy
Read the full WILPF Statement and Recommendations to the 57th CSW here
Find WILPF sponsored and cosponsored side events here
Learn more about gender and the ATT here