Reflections on CSW 60 from Dr Anu Mundkur

Report on the UN Commission on the Status of Women (60th Session)

By Dr Anu Mundkur

Acknowledgements

It was an honour to be selected as one of the civil society representatives on the Australian Delegation to CSW60. I would like to thank the Australian Government for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my expertise on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls while at the same time deepening my knowledge and enhancing my skills in addressing significant issues faced by women in Australia and across the globe. I would particularly like to thank the Office for Women, DPMC, for their flexibility and tireless efforts to accommodate the needs of the CSO delegates, who given the nature of their work, were travelling extensively during the preparatory period. I deeply appreciate the collegiate and inclusive space created by all delegates. A special mention for my fellow civil society representative Ms Sarah Boyd who made the entire two weeks a rich and rewarding experience.

Key reflections

The Commission on the Status of Women’s 60th Session was a revelation on how we negotiate for women’s rights. For an idealist the process can be quite confronting as it dawns, pretty soon, that any progressive language that may substantially impact the realisation of women’s and girl’s human rights will never find consensus. If you are a pragmatist, like me, you will just about survive if you keep telling yourself that the only way to reach the goal of gender equality is to keep chipping away at the foundations of inequality.

It is a roller coaster ride of emotions – there were times when I was angry and frustrated that we still have to negotiate to secure fundamental human rights and freedoms for all women and girls. At other times I sat there incredulous and amused at abject lack of knowledge amongst those negotiating for the rights of all women and girls. Then, there times when I was moved by the passion and sophisticated articulation of why women and girls are central to achieving the sustainable development goals. A time for hope when you hear about the tireless campaigns and projects focussing on realisation of human rights for all women and girls.

Overall, this is an invaluable experience for civil society organisations (CSOs). Given that spaces for direct CSO engagements in key agenda setting processes is shrinking, it is commendable that Australia is one of the few delegations that resources the attendance of CSOs as representatives on the official delegation to CSW. CSOs delegates get to see and learn how negotiations are carried out, hone their lobbying and persuasion skills, and contribute their knowledge and expertise to direct the outcome of the process. Equally important, participation in high-level negotiations like CSW helps CSOs make vital links between what are perceived as “international” vs “local” issues. This is crucial in the wake of the Sustainable Development Goals which unlike its predecessor (MDGs) is truly a global agenda.

What has become apparent is that the nature and role of CSW has undergone a shift and this has given the Commission a new lease of life. As per the agreed conclusions, CSW has, on one hand, a central role to play in the follow up and review of SDGs as a whole not just Goal 5 and on the other an ongoing role in the review of Beijing Platform for Action. CSO participation at CSW has also undergone a change with more engagement from the private sector, multi-faith and trade unions organisations.  The Youth Forum held prior to the start of CSW60 was a resounding success. Though we were unsuccessful in institutionalising the forum as part of CSW, with their mention being deleted from the final Agreed Conclusions, there is no doubt that youth organisations are pushing at the door with meaningful contributions to the discussions on the SDGs as reflected in the Youth Statement drafted at the end of forum and presented at the opening of CSW60.

Australia’s role in CSW is also changing. Australia has nominated to serve as a member of the Commission (2019-2023). This provides opportunities and opens up spaces to engage more proactively with local, national and international CSOs to call for a more progressive agenda in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.  CSOs in Australia will also need to develop a strategy to work collaboratively to influence the national implementation of the SDGs.

Overview of recommendations to enhance CSOs contribution on delegation

Details regarding the recommendations can be found towards the end of this report.

Prior to the commencement of CSW

  1. Review composition of the CSO representatives on the official delegation to include representation from Aboriginal and indigenous women, women with disabilities; and young women representing youth-led organisations.
  2. Early selection of CSO representatives to the Australian delegation will greatly enhance their ability to work with the National Alliances to better coordinate CSOs inputs into CSW
  3. Earlier engagement on the zero draft – CSO delegates can be coordinating – building coalitions – prior to CSW on key thematic issues
  4. CSO workshops to enhance understanding of CSW negotiation processes and developing capacity in negotiations
  5. Pre-departure meeting of CSOs could be more structured with time allocated to discuss inputs for the first reading of Agreed Conclusions; logistical issues related to coordinating activities during CSW; and building a sense of community and shared understanding of key negotiation points.

During CSW

  1. Encourage and facilitate CSO delegates participation in the CSW Youth Forum
  2. Leverage the knowledge and skills base of CSO delegates to serve in a policy advisory role during the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions

Post CSW

  1. Explore ways to promote CSO engagement with CSW
  2. Facilitate continued interactions between CSO representative on like-minded delegations (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, UK, Brazil)
  3. Develop a CSO delegate alumni to support new CSO delegates attending CSW for the first time and to support CSO delegates during CSW

Preparing for CSW60

The preparations for CSW60 involved 3 teleconferences amongst the Australian delegation and attending the CSW60 NGO pre-departure briefing on 12th February. The teleconferences between the delegates provided a space to discuss (a) the role of the CSO representatives; (b) communication strategy to engage and connect with Australian CSO’s attending CSW60 as well as those back in Australia; (c) inputs for Australia’s priority issues during CSW negotiations; (d) updates on CSO’s perspectives on the zero draft of Agreed Conclusions and submissions on/to Agreed Conclusions; and (e) travel and other logistics.

The CSO representatives’ communication strategy comprised the following:

Preparations for CSW60 also involved commenting on the zero draft of the Agreed Conclusions and keeping track of inputs/comments being shared on various networks such as the Women’s Rights Caucus.

Attendance at CSW60

The lists of events attended can be found in Appendix 1. As a CSO delegates we saw our role as (a) keeping the Australian CSO delegation informed about CSW closed door negotiations and seeking their inputs, where appropriate, on the text of Agreed Conclusions; (b) creating a sense of community and identity by sharing information on CSW events attended and experiences; and (c) supporting the official delegation with expert advice during negotiations. We made a conscious attempt to reach out to our NATISAW delegate Vicky Welgraven to ensure that the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and indigenous women were reflected in our discussions.

The daily debriefs and email updates (via the CSO email list) served as an effective and efficient mechanism to keep Australian CSOs informed about the Delegations daily activities and to seek their inputs as required. The efforts made by the CSO representative on the delegation to create an open and safe space to raise and discuss issues during debriefs was much appreciated by Australian CSOs. Most debriefs were well attended with those unable to attend due to conflicting parallel/side events catching up with the day’s briefing via email.  A sense of community was fostered CSOs being encouraged to share their experiences and attend events being hosted by Australian CSOs to show solidarity. The website, facebook page and twitter hashtag were extensively used to publicise events and provide real-time updates on CSW proceedings.

The CSO representatives on the delegation also provided social media support to all Australian hosted and co-hosted events as well as facilitation and reporting support for the Asia-Pacific Dialogue and the Pacific CSO meetings. By attending all the negotiation sessions during the second week – most which went into the early hours of the morning – the CSO representatives on the delegation were able to assist negotiations by providing inputs with reference to agreed language as well as advocate and seek support for Australian positions. Attendance at the country statements allowed us to feedback to the Australian delegation, potential countries who might support Australia’s positions at CSW (for instance documenting the countries who mentioned the importance of national human rights institutions).

In terms of events attended there are too many highlights to mention. I will focus on one that had a significant impact on me. As CSOs working for gender equality it’s easy to get jaded and disillusioned by the slow pace of progress. I left The World YWCA ??CSW60 delegation’s breakfast with the Australian delegation, hosted by our Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms. Natasha Stott Despoja and Her Excellency Ms Gillian Bird, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, with a renewed sense of hope. Personal stories of courage, determination and commitment to working for women’s and girl’s empowerment from Solomon Islands and PNG peer educators (YWCA’s Rise Up! Young Women’s Leadership Program supported by Australia Aid) were moving and re-invigorating. This sense of hope carried into the opening session where a representative from the first ever Youth Forum held as part of CSW60 addressed the gathering.

There was buzz and energy around youth participation in CSW60. The YWCA and Girl Guides have always sent strong delegations to CSW. This time it was different – it went a step further. It was not just about hosting side events but about pushing that participation to the next level and getting a foot in the door. A demand to be recognised as a force to contend with and without whose active and substantive participation realising the SDGs will remain a pipe dream. The Youth Forum Advancing Agenda 2030 - Empowered Young Women and Young Men as Partners in Achieving Gender Equality (11-12 March) was this year’s flagship event at CSW. Strategically held before the start of CSW60 and organised by UN Women, YWCA and the Inter-agency Network on Youth’s Development Working Group, the forum provided a safe space for young women and girls, young men and boys to discuss, debate, strategise, network and build alliances to advance a gender responsive approach to achieving Agenda 2030.

The YouthCSW Declaration on Gender Equality and the Human Rights of Young Women and Girls is a powerful statement calling for among other things the recognition of diverse expressions of gender, realisation of sexual and reproductive rights, impacts of climate change and the importance of youth’s participation in leadership and decision-making. I simply love the fact that the statement begins with defining gender – something that I think every CSW Agreed Conclusions should do;  to serve as reminder that we actually understand what we mean by gender – given the tendency for delegation negotiators to conflate sex and gender and use the terms interchangeably.

Another win for youth-led organisations is an explicit mention of such groups in Agreed Conclusion (21) which welcomes the major contributions of civil society organisations, among others:

…youth led organizations, in placing the interests, needs and visions of women and girls on local, national, regional and international agendas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizes the importance of having an open, inclusive and transparent engagement with them in the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Now that CSW60 has concluded and we have a set of Agreed Conclusions, how did we do? In the coming months there will be much analysis of this text. Australia’s priority areas as shared with the CSOs during our first meeting in New York were:

  • Ensuring that CSW had a significant role to play in the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through the UN High Level Political Forum and remains relevant beyond 2030 – (Agreed Conclusions, 30)
  • Maintaining a strong focus on the need to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls if the SDGs are to be achieved and gender equality and women and girl’s empowerment is to be realised – (Agreed Conclusions 15; Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (r))
  • Advocating for the participation of National Human Rights Institutions in their own right at CSW – (Agreed Conclusions, 29)
  • Advancing women’s economic empowerment as one of the means to realise of gender equality and sustainable development – (Agreed Conclusions, 11 which includes a recognition of the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work done by women; Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (e) which references “equal opportunities for full and productive employment and decent work” and (f) which in addition to women’s rights at work emphasises “equal pay for equal work or/and work of equal value”)

Australia also strongly supported the call to:

  • Recognise the contributions of indigenous women and rural women to sustainable development and address the significant discriminations they face – (Agreed Conclusions, Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (v) and (u) respectively)
  • Acknowledge the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities – (Agreed Conclusions, Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (w))
  • Recognise and support women’s agency in addressing climate change (Agreed Conclusions, 14; Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (l))
  • Address differential pricing of goods and services intended for or marketed to women and girls, popularly referred to as the “pink tax” (Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (j))
  • Include women’s human right’s defenders as an important part of civil society organisations working to achieve Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (Agreed Conclusions 21)
  • Engage with men and boys as strategic allies and partners in advancing gender equality (Agreed Conclusions 22; Strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks (t)

Where we failed to make any dent in progressing the agenda was on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and sexual and reproductive rights. These will continue to remain contentious issues where no consensus will be reached as long as countries continue to criminalise homosexuality. For advocates of the women peace and security agenda, it was disappointing to see its application restricted to a humanitarian context alone as opposed to recognizing it as an integral part of achieving the SDGs.

Fierce battles were fought to prevent the addition of caveats such as “taking into account different national realities,” “respecting national policy space,” and “bearing in mind national priorities,” which allow countries to opt out of addressing substantive rights issues claiming that they are not in the national interest. We succeeded in some places but not others. Our inability to either remove the reference to “family” (note usage in the singular) or at the minimum diversify the concept to include different kinds of families (note plural) was a major setback as it entrenches and privileges a hegemonic, patriarchal, view of a social institution that plays a significant role in enabling or hindering the empowerment of all women and girls.

I would like to make a special mention of our social media presence during CSW60. The statistics in Appendix 2 indicate that we were able to reach out to a substantial number people and we strongly recommend that future delegations device similar social media strategies to amplify the voices of CSOs.

Ongoing CSW60 engagements

As part of my commitment to sharing knowledge and experience gained from CSW60 with CSOs the following activities have been undertaken or are being planned:

  1. YWCA Adelaide blog http://ywca.com.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Anu-Mundkur-CSW60-reflections.pdf
  2. Sharing the importance of CSO representation on official CSW delegations with the Vietnam Women’s Union and their affiliated NGO the Centre for Women and Development (7th April, Hanoi)
  3. CSW60 NGO Delegate debrief with the Commonwealth Office for Women (19th April, teleconference)
  4. WAVE National Conference (20th April, via skype)
  5. Debriefing ACFID Gender Equality Community of Practice on key outcomes from CSW60 (27th April, via skype)
  6. CSW60 Report Back Forum (29th April, Sydney)
  7. Reflections of CSW 60 for CALD Women’s Forum organised by Migrant Women’s Lobby Group of SA, Women’s Legal Services of SA and Multicultural Hub (20th May, Adelaide)
  8. Reflections of CSW 60 with Vicky Welgraven NATISWA representative (24th May, Adelaide)
  9. Meeting with South Australia’s Minister for the Status for Women, Zoe Bettison (TBA May 2016)
  10. Meeting with South Australia’s Office for Women ( TBA May 2016) and Premier’s Council for Women (27th May)

Sarah and I are also still working on gathering analysis from other global and regional groups (e.g. Women’s Major Group, Post 2015 Women’s Coalition, and Women’s Rights Caucus, UN Women’s summary of gains and losses) which we share with CSOs who attended CSW as well as other CSOs more generally. We are also preparing an analysis of women peace and security issues as discussed at CSW60 for the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women Peace and Security.

Recommendations to enhance CSO representatives contribution on delegation

Prior to the commencement of CSW

  1. Review composition of the CSO representatives on the official delegation to include representation from Aboriginal and indigenous women, women with disabilities; and young women representing youth-led organisations. Taking on the role of a CSO representatives for the first time can be a significant learning curve. It is recommended that at least one CSO delete should have attended CSW at least once before.
    1. OFW should explore different funding models, while keeping in mind that CSOs must be financially supported to participate in the delegation. It could be the case that some of the above delegates are funded by their organisations/alliance to attend CSW. In this case we need to think about how they can included as part of the official delegation, without the need to actually fund them
    2. In order to resource the above composition cost-savings will need to be realised through for example shared accommodation/suite (e.g. service apartments) that can also provide a space for civil society to engage during CSW
    3. Develop a CSO representative’s guide to assist in better understanding their role, responsibilities and plan actions ahead of time.
  2. Early selection of CSO representatives to the Australian delegation will greatly enhance their ability to work with the National Alliances to better coordinate CSOs inputs into CSW. This early selection will significantly assist with mapping of Australian CSO networks and work, including Pacific work.
  3. Earlier engagement on the zero draft – CSO delegates can be coordinating and building coalitions prior to CSW on key thematic issues. This early engagement will also give CSOs time to connect with delegations of other likeminded countries.
  4. CSO workshops to enhance understanding of CSW negotiation processes and developing capacity in negotiations will greatly improve the quality of inputs provided by CSOs to CSW negotiations. Workshops could focus on how CSW works and the best way CSO delegates can contribute and be effective in influencing negotiations. Training can include UN jargon/language, an understanding of the process, pitfalls etc. Most of these workshops can be run online. There is a potential to commission the development of an online course (combined with an online/face to face intensive) that can be run every year for CSOs who wish to attend CSW.
  5. Pre-departure meeting of CSOs could be more structured with time allocated to discuss (a) inputs for the first reading of Agreed Conclusions; (b) how we are going to coordinate our activities while in New York; (c) building a sense of community and shared understanding of key negotiation points. This entire preparation for CSW needs to start in May/June as it take about a year to galvanise support and momentum. We can also explore the creation/establishment of an International engagement forum that brings together the National Women’s Alliances, ACFID and other CSOs.

During CSW

  1. Encourage and facilitate CSO delegates participation in the CSW Youth Forum
  2. Leverage the knowledge and skills base of CSO delegates to serve in a policy advisory role during the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions – this intersects with recommendation (3) above
  3. Facilitate interactions between CSO representative on like-minded delegations (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, UK, Brazil)

Post CSW

  1. Explore ways to promote CSO engagement with CSW – some of this involves resourcing CSO representatives to organise debrief sessions for CSOs post CSW and linking in with
  2. Facilitate continued interactions between CSO representative on like-minded delegations (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, UK, Brazil)
  3. Develop a CSO delegate alumni to support new CSO delegates attending CSW for the first time and to support CSO delegates during CSW. Alumni can mentoring new CSO representatives supporting them through the process.