The importance of civil society participation at CSW
Victoria Cook, Global Voices National Scholar
From its inception in 1946, civil society organisations have played a significant role at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This differs from other UN meetings, and is a source of controversy in discussions around the evolution and continuing relevance of CSW. However, the role of civil society organisations at CSW must be viewed within the historical, social and political context of inadequate female representation in government and formalised systems of power.
At its foundation, only 25 of the original 51 UN member states allowed women equal voting rights with men. Sixty years since the first CSW was held, we continue to live in a world that lacks female political leadership, with disproportionate female representation at all levels of institutionalised power. Today, only 22 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are women. The parliaments of four countries exist without a single woman; and eight governments without a women in cabinet. As has often been quoted at this session of the CSW that we are yet to have a female Secretary General of the UN.
As an intergovernmental panel, made-up of UN Member States, the role of civil society organisations at CSW is dependent on inclusion on government delegations or alternatively, through accreditation with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. The participation of civil society organisations at CSW is a key alternative to governmental representation, guaranteeing a platform for women’s voices at the UN, despite relative exclusion from political systems in national or domestic settings.
However, in recent years the CSW has seen a shrinking of space for civil society and often relegated to participation in side events. Many have highlighted that the space for civil society input on negotiation and participation in formalised CSW activities is shrinking. In this context, civil society has been, and must remain, a key player at CSW to ensure that the voices of women are heard and prioritised at the international level.
The wealth of female leadership that converges on New York City each year for CSW is unparalleled. We must not take for granted the impact of this platform for female leaders, both those formally elected into our current political systems, and those who have forged a platform in civil society when their political systems proved limited or inadequate.
Australia has a strong track record of engaging and supporting the participation of civil society organisations at CSW, in particular including civil society delegates on its official delegation. In order to recognise and elevate the key and critical role of non governmental and civil society actors in the women’s rights movement, Australia must continue to advocate for the ongoing and increased participation of civil society organisations at CSW.
~ By Victoria Cook, Global Voices National Scholar. Victoria is an MD Student at the University of Sydney.