CSW58 - reflections on week two

Initial reflections on this year's CSW from the co-chairs of GADN's Post-2015 working group.

This is a very initial set of thoughts, and others who were there to the bitter end will be able to provide much more detail, particularly Heather who has contributed her thoughts below.  There is no final text as it still has still to be neatened by the UN staff but there is a rough version available, from which Heather has quoted.

Probably the most important thing now is how we use the outcome of CSW in the post 2015 negotiations.  The UN Women release  March 22 press release: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/3/executive-director-statement-on-csw58-outcome suggests a strategic approach where we emphasise the positive outcomes rather than dwelling on what was missing – and this seems a good place to start.  In addition to their mention of VAWAG and unpaid care, we could also add the language on social norms as positive steps forward. 

The issues:

Initial attempts, led by the Africa group, to exclude the language of rights proved an early sticking point but the final document includes many references to women’s rights.

There were major fights over language on ‘the family’.   The women’s caucus was pushing for Beijing language on ‘various forms of family’ which they did not get – but the paragraph on the family is thought to be OK.  We need to watch in forthcoming negotiations however that ‘the family’ is not used as a way to legitimise discrimination against women again.

Sexual rights and Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) were pushed hard by feminist group, and strongly resisted by some states.

The language on economic development was not particularly strong, and neither was the CSO lobby in these areas.  Paragraph 26Aq is particularly weak and instrumentalist.

Unpaid care however does appear throughout the document and is clearly now an ‘emerging issue’.

Recognition of the need to challenge social norms also stayed in the document.

Calls for a stand-alone goal within the post-2015 framework work along with mainstreaming, were maintained, although vague.  This may apparently have been part of a strategy not to constrain future negotiations (Paragraph 27 )

Heather Barclay's  reflections

The climate at the Commission on the Status of Women negotiations this year was very challenging. We entered the negotiations with a very ambitious set of asks (SRHR, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), CSE), some of which had never been recognised at an international level before. The Opposition also came in with some really problematic positions, including a standalone goal on the family, no references to gender, and the ability to interpret the outcomes according to national laws, cultural and traditions. Some conservative states were rejecting all agreed language, including that of last year’s CSW Agreed Conclusions. So it was never going to be an easy ride! However, despite that, the progressive states, with our support and backing, managed to hold strong.

Overall, I think we can call this year’s CSW a qualified success. The reference to a standalone gender goal is excellent and will help the further engagement in the post-2015 process. There are references through out to gender equality, and the human rights of women and girls, which was on the table for deletion at one point, and close to the best agreed language of SRH and RR, and SRH services. References to sovereignty and sex selection didn’t make it to the final text and the references to family are weaker than the opposition wanted. But we did not move the agenda as far forward. Most of the discussions were a rear-guard action to protect what we have and the space to open up a more progressive conversation on women’s rights was limited.

Some of the highlights (based on the paragraphs in the currently available agreed text) included:

Standalone goal:

27. The Commission urges States to build on the lessons from the implementation of the MDGs as the new post-2015 development agenda is being shaped. It urges States to tackle critical remaining challenges through a transformative and comprehensive approach and calls for gender equality, the empowerment of women and human rights of women and girls to be reflected as a stand-alone goal and to be integrated through targets and indicators into all goals of any new development framework.

  • This is the call that we need to take the standalone goal discussion forward into the Open Working Group

  • It includes gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights, which is positive, as it’s not just restricted to one or two of the key elements

  • The reference to mainstreaming via targets and indicators is also helpful as it will allow us to make the case for tangible gender targets under all goal areas.

Gaps in the MDGs:

19. The Commission is concerned that several critical issues related to gender equality and the empowerment of women were not adequately addressed by the MDGs such as: inter alia, violence against women and girls; child, early and forced marriage; women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; women’s access to decent work, the gender wage gap, employment in the informal sector, low paid and gender-stereotyped work such as domestic and care work; women’s equal access to, control and ownership of assets and productive resources including land, energy and fuel, and women’s inheritance rights; women’s sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences; universal health coverage; non-communicable diseases; accountability for violations of human rights of women and girls; and women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels. The Commission recognizes that unless all dimensions of gender inequality are addressed, gender equality, the empowerment of women and the realization of human rights of women and girls cannot be achieved.

  • The recognition that SRH and RR, violence against women and girls, access to assets, and participation in decision making was missing from the MDGs is a big win for us, and will allow us to increasingly push for these elements to be included in the post-2015 framework

  • We would have preferred reference to SRHR, instead of SRH and RR, but countries were very resistant to recognising sexual rights.

  • Recognising the link between gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment and sustainable development is also very useful.

Addressing Social Norms:

(d)  Implement concrete and long-term measures to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes including those that limit women’s roles to being mothers and caregivers, and eliminate harmful practices including, inter alia, female genital mutilation and honor crimes, in order to achieve gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment, and the full realization of the human rights of women and girls;  

  • Operational Paragraph reflects the importance of addressing the underlying causes of gender inequality such as social norms and stereotypes, which is positive as it moves beyond acting on the surface issue and tacking what causes the inequality in the first place. This is reinforced by para 20.


i) Ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences, including through the development and enforcement of policies and legal frameworks, and strengthening of health systems, that make universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, commodities, information and education, including, inter alia, safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programmes for adolescent pregnancy, maternal health care such as skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care which will reduce obstetric fistula and other complications of pregnancy and delivery, safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law, and prevention and  treatment of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and reproductive cancers, recognizing that human rights include the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination, and violence;

  • Comprehensive listing of SRH services, including emergency contraception is very welcom

  • The ICPD and Beijing are still qualified, but of having a qualification, this is a softer one as it allows for the inclusion of all their review conferences.

Intersectionality of poverty

(g) Address the multiple and intersecting factors contributing to the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and girls over their lifecycle as well as intra-household gender inequalities in allocation of resources, opportunities and power by realizing women’s and girls’ civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development; and ensure women’s and girls’ inheritance and property rights, equal access to quality education, equal access to justice, social protection, and an adequate standard of living, including food security and nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, energy and fuel resources and housing, as well as women’s and adolescent girls’ access to health including sexual and reproductive health care services, and women’s equal access to full and productive employment and decent work, women’s full participation and integration in the formal economy, equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, and equal sharing of unpaid work;  

  • This comprehensive statement on the areas that have a disproportionate impact on the poverty of women is very welcome, especially as it links to household patterns, resource allocation ns access to services

  • The burden of unpaid work on women around the world is a key factor influencing gender inequality, so having it recognised here is very positive.

Data collection

Similarly there are a range of paragraphs (paras aa to dd) that speak to the importance of gender sensitive data collection and appropriate indicator frameworks; the commitment to taking this work forward is central to monitoring the MDGs.

Some of the low lights included:

Multiple discrimination

9. The Commission is deeply concerned that overall progress for women and girls across all the MDGs remains slow and uneven, including on MDG 3, both within and between countries and that lack of progress on gender equality has hindered progress towards all of the MDGs. It is especially concerned about the lack of progress for poverty-stricken regions and areas and for marginalized, vulnerable and disadvantaged women and girls and those women and girls who experience multiple forms of discrimination and inequalities of any kind.

  • A hard-fought area, we had really wanted to see reference to the intersectional discrimination that some women face based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead of recognising SOGI in the text, it was agreed that a listing of the groups that are “marginalised, vulnerable and disadvantaged” would just be left out

The Family:

(h) sept, (ee) bis and (hh) ter. Recognize the family as a contributor to sustainable development, including in the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals for women and girls, that gender equality and women’s empowerment improve the well-being of the family, and in this regard stress the need of elaborating and implementing family policies aimed at achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and at enhancing the full participation of women in society;

  • This reference is a disappointment though it could have been worse. The progressive states had argued for references to “families in all their diversity” or “all forms of the family.” Both were rejected, as the point of these references from the conservative side is to recognise that traditional family structures are the only “valid” forms of the family. However, through a lot of work and a strong intervention from the Latin American countries and Australia, these references managed to be restricted to the above, which still places gender equality at the centre.

Financial resources

There are a range of paragraphs that speak to the need to increase funding gender equality and women’s rights (paras v to z) and the implementation of gender responsive budgeting, though the commitments are not as strong as we would have liked. The Western Europeans and Others Group resisted most commitments in this area which was disappointing

Some of the key players included:

  • A lot of the Latin American countries championed our issues and were “leading lights” on this agenda.

  • The Philippines and Turkey, as with last year, could be counted on for strong interventions and support.

  • The European Union had strong positions on a lot of our issues but did not speak up as robustly as we would have liked.

  • Egypt and South Africa were the champions from the Africa Group, speaking consistently and strongly in favour of women’s rights.

  • The conservative forces were very active this year. The Holy See tried to dominate the debate, but found itself isolated by the middle of the second week. Russia worked closely with Belarus. Iran was active as well.

  • Caricom and the African Group were more conservative and a source of solid opposition on some of our issues


Jessica Woodroffe

CSW58 - reflections on week one

GADN members have been in New York at the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The following reflections were made at the end of the first week, ahead of further negotiations in week 2.

The big debates

At every UN negotiations on gender there will be an issue around which controversy coalesces, even if this isn’t the real issue of debate.  At CSW 58 this is human rights.  The Africa group in particular has questioned the need for human rights language arguing that the MDGs, and therefore the post MDGs, should be about development not rights.  This is of course partly in reaction to the calls for human rights to extend to everyone, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.  But it may also be a way of asserting a different, African, approach.  In response some feminist groups have suggested we should use the language of ‘human rights based development’.

The importance of the family has also been used to resist gender equality.  Belarus for example (widely seen to be speaking for Russia) has referred to women as the reproductive unit of the family.

Another point to watch is that language proposed sometimes refers back to the ICPD or Beijing agreements, rather than to the subsequent reviews where some progress was made.

Other areas of controversy include:

  • Sexual and reproductive rights as always, with vocal lobbies by religious fundamentalists of different persuasions focusing on abortion

  • Social protection, with the US particularly opposed to progressive languag

  • The US and some other OECD countries also reluctant on concepts around the living wage although some of the decent work agenda is being supported.

  • Some OECD countries are also reluctant to make commitments on financing. Within the EU block there is an interesting discussion about whether to refer to financial support for women’s organisations or women’s rights organisations – with the latter being seen by governments as including ‘mainstream’ organisations doing work on gender equality and women’s rights.

  • The Africa group has also raised the issue of sovereignty – widely seen as a way to dilute commitments on gender equality.

Emerging issues

  • Unpaid care appears to have made it onto the agenda now, although many delegations don’t really seem to know what it is. NGOs are calling for increased state services as well as redistribution of care roles between women and men

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has been included in some of the lists of the way that people are marginalised – but will be very hotly debated.

  • Discussions on men and boys are popping up often, with some concerns about the diversion of resources from women’s rights work.

Indicators - The techi bits – that are really political

The UN has launched a new paper on indicators at unstats.un.org/gender/data with 52 indicators.  Getting the indicators right is now recognised as key – this is where the political priority and funding will flow.  Recognition by the statisticians that we should measure what we treasure suggests there is room for political and strategic interventions on what indicators should be – and that we shouldn’t feel restricted by the data sets that exist.

The good news

There seems to be very little opposition to a standalone goal.  The US had been saying they did not want to pre-judge negotiations, although apparently came out in support early this week.  The EU position has also been in support.  Only Russia now appears to be actually opposed.  However support is not the same as championing and this could still be negotiated away.

Also good news is that the facilitator (from Switzerland) is seen as good and, at least so far, negotiations are seen as productive – although that could all change in week two when the contested bits are tackled!

Next steps

There is no guarantee that good language in the CSW 58 Outcome document will make it into the Post 2015 framework, so lobbying will be vital.

Gender equality must be a development priority in its own right



The UN high-level panel that meets for development talks this week cannot ignore the importance of a dedicated gender target

In the consultations about what will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015, there is pressure on politicians and political commentators to come up with the next "new" idea.

The lack of focus on inequality was a key limitation of the MDGs and, rightly, this has become a major priority for the post-2015 agenda. But the discussion about inequality is evolving in a way that may undermine, and even reverse, the international commitment to gender balance. There are welcome efforts to define new ways of measuring income inequality, but gender and other social inequalities are invisible within these measures (pdf). And, while greater attention is finally being paid to social inequalities, there is a worrying tendency to treat gender as justone of many inequalities that generate poverty and exclusion. There is even a proposal to replace the current gender equality goal with a general and so far undefined "inequalities" goal.

 The fundamental premise behind the demand for a standalone goal is that gender is not just one of many inequalities but the most pervasive.

 First, it places women at a disadvantage at every level of income and within every disadvantaged group, including those disadvantaged by caste, race and disability.

 Second, gender is structured into the organisation of social relations of production and reproduction of every known society, in the same way class inequalities structure capitalist societies, racial inequalities structure South Africa, and caste inequalities structure India. In much of the world, there is a marked inequality in the responsibility that men and women take for the daily unpaid care work within the family and community, in their ability to mobilise resources and access opportunities to contribute to family and community on both a paid and unpaid basis, in the value and recognition given to these contributions, and in their capacity to exercise agency on their own behalf.

 Third, the structural nature of gender inequality means it is central to meeting development goals. Wide-ranging benefits accrue to society when gender equality is taken seriously – and corresponding losses when it is not. A recent review of the literature (pdf) found robust evidence that countries with greater gender equality in employment and education were likely to report higher rates of economic growth and human development. The reverse relationship – that economic growth contributes to gender equality – was far weaker and less consistent.

 For all its limitations, the MDG on gender equality and women's empowerment demonstrated the impact that a dedicated gender goal can have – as a mechanism to hold governments accountable for their responsibilities to women, as an advocacy tool for organisations concerned with gender equality and human rights, as a line of defence against forces of conservatism that threaten to reverse equality gains, and as a catalyst for funds and measurement in relation to work around gender. Any new framework that fails to include gender as a distinct goal would significantly backtrack on previous commitments (pdf), sending a clear and dangerous signal that the issue is no longer a political priority.

 While mainstreaming gender across the post-2015 framework will be vital, not all targets can be adequately slotted under other goals. For example, maternal mortality was an important element of the MDGs, but under a health goal interventions focused on service delivery (pdf) rather than on the deeper causes of gender inequality – unsafe abortion, early marriage, violence against women, male dominance in household decisions about spending on health, and so on.

 What should a standalone goal look like? This is clearly likely to be the subject of considerable debate, but we will focus on criteria that seem consistent with the discussion so far. The goal should: reflect the priorities of marginalised women and girls; address the structural causes of gender inequality; be accepted and acted upon by national governments and the international community; and address issues that cannot, or should not, be placed under other goals. Among the gender-specific injustices that do not fit neatly into other goals are ending violence against women, the single most important issue identified by women's organisations across the world; reproductive health and rights, including a continued focus on maternal health; and women's unpaid work burdens, a major factor in curtailing their participation in the public sphere.

 Among the demands most likely to have a transformative impact on structural inequalities are women's economic empowerment through ensuring fairer access to productive resources and employment opportunities; women's political empowerment through ensuring greater representation in formal and informal decision-making positions in public and private sectors at local, national and international levels; and women's social empowerment by strengthening their capacity for collective voice and action through support for organisations dedicated to women's rights and gender justice.

 The MDGs taught us that, without addressing the underlying structural causes of gender inequality, progress is likely to be uneven and prone to reversals. To abandon these lessons, backtrack on previous commitments, and remove a dedicated gender goal – while at the same time embracing the concept of inequality – would be a cruel and harmful irony.


Naila Kabeer and Jessica Woodroffe

Naila Kabeer is Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She will be joining the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics in October 2013.

Jessica Woodroffe is Director of the Gender and Development Network in the UK and a freelance consultant on international development.

This article first appeared on The Guardian's Poverty Matters Blog on May 14, 2013. To read the original version click here.