Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

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UN: Reports from CSW59, “Change is coming”

Published in the May-June 2015 NewsNotes.

The 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place at UN headquarters in New York from March 9-20, 2015. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and NGOs from all regions of the world attended. Maryknoll Sisters Veronica Schweyen, Elizabeth (Claris) Zwareva, Mary Ann Smith, Jean Fallon, Meg Gallagher and Maryknoll Affiliate Jo Albright were participants.

Held two decades after the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, which took place in Beijing, a repeated theme at this year’s event was that, in too many places, not enough progress has been made in raising the status of women.

Hundreds of side events and parallel events were offered; one entitled “The SDG on Inequality: How Useful Can This Be for Women?” asked panelists to respond as to whether the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are expected to be adopted in September 2015, will be able to avoid the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), on which the UN development agenda was based so far. Kenyan activist Gathoni Blessol spoke about the inequality and degradation experienced by women in the slums of Nairobi; her perspective is that the MDGs promulgated by the UN have not helped most women in Kenya, and in fact have sidelined them. She stated that policies that promote privatization actually increase poverty, endangering women who are already at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The Women’s Rights Movement of the Philippines released its statement: “We deplore that 20 years after the 1995 Beijing Conference, in most countries including the Philippines, gender inequality remains pervasive – economically, politically and socially. Women continue to suffer from authoritarian and military regimes, increased militarization, violence and armed conflicts, unlawful foreign interference, lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, corruption and poor governance and much discrimination. ... ‘National development’ or the touted ‘public-private partnership’ continue to be used as a pretext for plundering and appropriating lands, territories, and resources owned by marginalized women and peoples, for private and corporate gain. ...”

In many of the presentations, the conclusion was the same: the soon-to-be-approved SDGs must include mechanisms by which governments will be held accountable for recognizing the rights of women as equal citizens.

In her closing speech for CSW59, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that the post-2015 development agenda has to put gender equality at the core of sustainable development. “We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realizing gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us. We know we must continue to work, systematically and relentlessly, to bring about transformation in our families, societies, economies, and political and public spaces.” 

She thanked the ministers and government representatives who approved the Political Declaration, which reaffirmed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the role of civil society, and set a target date to end gender inequality.

“We will need to see solid, measurable progress by 2020, and make sure that 2030 is the expiry date for gender inequality,” she stated. “I will rely on all of you to make sure all our governments and broader society ‘step it up.’ …

“Change is coming. Change has to come. We have to focus on dismantling patriarchy, not just reforming it or trying to find a way for women to thrive within it. The discussions of these last two weeks have made it crystal clear that the gaps and the issues are both structural and psychological. There can be no real progress in changing the world for women unless we change both. … When we change the laws and the customary practices, as well as the attitudes and beliefs that shape behaviors, we will have a world in which to thrive. …”

Learn more about CSW59.