Friday, February 26, 2010
FROM INVISIBILITY TO VISIBILITY WITH A VOICE-THE EVOLUTION AND TREND OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND CSW 1945 TO MARCH 2009
Historical Background of Women’s Charter and CSW
Prior to the above Roosevelt’s noteworthy remark, the UN Charter on the Advancement of Women was signed in 1945 in San Francisco, interestingly by mainly men representatives (only 4 women out of the 160 signatories). Few days after the signing of the Charter, a sub-commission was established under the Commission on Human Rights to look into the status of women. Upon start of work, the first Chairperson of the sub-Commission, Bodil Bosterup, a Danish re-echoed the necessity as been claimed by many women and Non-Governmental Organisations for the setting up of a separate body specially dedicated to women’s issues. The Chairperson requested the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in May 1946 for a change to full commission status. In her efforts to pursue her case further, Bosterup said “Women’s problems have now for the first time in history to be studied internationally as such and to be given the social importance they ought to have, And it would be, in the opinion of this Sub-Commission of experts in this field, a tragedy to spoil this unique opportunity by confusing the wish and the facts. Some situations can be changed by laws, education, and public opinion, and the time seems to have come for happy changes in conditions of women all over the world”
The efforts of these women and their NGO partners was actualized on 21 June 1946, when the Sub-Commission was formally transformed into a full-fledge body called Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The commission was aimed at ensuring women’s equality and to promote women’s rights. Its mandate was to “prepare recommendations and reports to the Economic and Social Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields” and to make recommendations “on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.” Shortly thereafter, the Section on the Status of Women of the United Nations Secretariat—which later became the Division for the Advancement of Women in 1978—was established in the Human Right’s Division of the United Nations to provide secretarial functions.
This proceeded the first meeting of the CSW in February 1947 in Lake Success, New York. It’s interesting to note that during this meeting all the 15 government representatives were women and this gave the Commission the unique character of gathering a majority of women delegates ever.
February 1947 session, the Commission also forged a close relationship with nongovernmental organizations. Several international women’s organizations addressed the Commission at the first session, and from then on, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with ECOSOC were invited to participate as observers. In the 1950’s, the average number of NGOs attending the Commission’s sessions rose to 30 and then 50. The openness of the Commission to civil society has continued up to the present time, and has allowed many NGOs’ contributions to be incorporated in its agreed conclusions and UN resolutions.
During the period 1946-1962, the Commission focused its attention on promoting women’s rights and equality by setting standards and formulating international conventions aiming at changing discriminatory legislation and fostering global awareness of women’s issues. However, the codification of the legal rights of women needed to be supported by data and analysis of the extent to which discrimination against women existed, not only in law but also in practice. The Commission, thus embarked on what could be referred to as a global research and polling of efforts to assess the status of women worldwide. Several questionnaires and studies were launched in order to collect information on the legal Status of women, their access to education, work opportunities and civil rights.
Member States provided the Commission with statistics, while non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other UN agencies provided additional information, especially of a more qualitative nature. These fact- finding efforts produced a detailed, country-by country picture of the political and legal status of women, which over time became the basis for drafting human right instruments.
The Beginning of Greater Awareness on Women’s Issues
The l960s and l970s were a time of profound change in the United Nations, whose membership had begun to expand dramatically with the emergence of newly independent nations. The organization began widening its focus to include the concerns of developing nations. The 1960s and early 1970s also saw the emergence in many parts of the world of a greater awareness of discrimination against women, and a rise in the number of organizations committed in combating those discrimination. The mushrooming international women’s movement influenced the approaches to women and development within the UN, thereby compelling the Commission to increase its focused on the role of women in development, both as beneficiaries and as agents of change.
As evidence began to accumulate in the 1960s that women were disproportionately affected by poverty, the work of the Commission centred on women’s needs in community and rural development, agricultural work, among others. The Commission encouraged the UN to expand its technical assistance to further the advancement of women, especially in developing countries. This call was further influenced by a 1970 study on Women’s Role in Economic Development. In 1968, long-term Commission member Helvi Sipilä, a representative from Finland, was nominated as special Rapporteur for the Status of Women and Family Planning Project and in this capacity launched numerous studies on the subject. The Commission also appointed a Special Rapporteur to report on ways to eliminate stereotypes in the mass media portrayal and coverage of women and girl child issues.
In an effort to consolidate standards on women’s rights that had been developed since
1945, the General Assembly requested the Commission in 1963 to draft a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Four years on, the declaration came to light. On November 7, 1967, the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was ultimately adopted by the Genera] Assembly. However, the declaration didn’t achieve much because it was seen as a mere ‘Statement of Intent’. Their reporting procedure was voluntary, and thus the level of response from Governments was low. There was the need for a legally binding Convention that defined women’s rights—the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was ultimately adopted in 1979.
In the follow-up to a recommendation from the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, the UN declared 1976-1985 the United Nations Decade for Women
Equality, Development and Peace. The Decade contributed to bringing legitimacy to the international women’s movement, and moved women’s issues forward on the global agenda. Over the course of the decade, the belief that development served to advance women shifted to a new recognition that development was not possible without women.
The period 1986-1995 was considered as era of Putting Women on the Global Agenda. In 1987, the Commission began to meet annually instead of biennially. It took the lead in coordinating and promoting the UN system’s work on economic and social issues for women’s empowerment when the General Assembly mandated it to monitor the global implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. As a result, the Commission’s efforts shifted to promote women’s equality as a cross-cutting theme in economic development, human rights, political, cultural as well as social policy issues. Its approach was to deal with women’s issues as part of the mainstream rather than as a separate issue. The late l980s and early l99Os, the Commission, the CEDAW Committee and the Commission on Human Rights brought the issue of violence against women (which were then considered as a private matter, rather than a public or a human right issue requiring government or international action) to the forefront of the international agenda. This was encouraged by an active NGO movement that saw this issue as a major organizing tool for the women’s movement. The Commission undertook the drafting of the Declaration for the Elimination of Violence against Women in the early 1990s.
As the preparatory body for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the Commission was mandated by the General Assembly to play a central role in monitoring, within the UN system, the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and advised the Economic and Social Council. Multi-year programmes of work for the Commission were decided for 1997-2001 and 2002-2006, under which the Commission reviewed each of the 12 critical areas of concern, making recommendations on concrete measures to accelerate the implementation of the Platform for Action.
The 53 Commission on the Status of Women (53rd CSW)
Throughout its sixty three years of existence and its fifty third sessions, the Commission on the Status of Women has consistently promoted the advancement of women. It has been instrumental in expanding the recognition of women’s rights, in documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, in shaping global policies on gender equality and empowerment of women and in ensuring that the work of the UN in all areas incorporates a gender perspective. It continues to play a critical role by bringing together governments, UN entities, NGOs, and other international and regional organizations to promote women’s rights and advance gender equality.
The 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held in New York from 2’ to 13th March 2009. The session brought together participants representing Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations all over the world. In an effort to incorporate a gender perspective, the 2009 session being the 53rd, has its theme as “equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men including care giving in the context of HI V/AIDS”. The session witnessed various presentations around the theme from governments and non government entities. Other sessions focused on policy issues, governance and actions already taken by government and their agencies in connection to the theme.
Whilst governments sessions were more focus and directed towards governance and policy issues facing various continents, regions and governments, the non governmental organizations and other civil society organizations, are more concerned with the implementation of those policy issues, advocacy for policy pronouncements and implementation.
The Gambia, which was represented by personnel from government including Her Excellency the Vice President Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy and other high profile representatives and Non-governmental organisations, have a lot of good and similar practices in relation to the theme of the 53 CSW. However, the scope and scale is minor and therefore needs more expansion and active involvement of male especially on State run events and programs so as to enable the male counterpart become more active and committed to the fulfilment of women’s rights specifically, their economic, social and political empowerment.
Personal Recommendation for Further Events
Ø It’s always good for those participating in the CSW from the same country to team up as one delegation and strategies on who to attend which session and what to contribute. Meaning, the Gambia’s delegations from both government and NGO would teamed up and divide themselves on different thematic issues Most counties at the session has country delegation that employed this strategy and share a debriefing session at the end of the day
Ø The delegation to the CSW should always be more than one. There are so many interesting events being organized at the same time and so if there is more than one representative it would be easier for the delegates to attend as much forum as possible.
Ø There were side events organized by country’s permanent mission to the UN in collaboration with its national and international NGOs, and civil society organizations. In this kind of events, country specific experiences are shared from government and non government entities. Most Countries’ permanent missions had organized side events; such as Nigeria and Philippines. It would be great if The Gambia could do the same and use the platform to share experiences and challenges on the status of women.
Ø It is absolutely important for countries to gather data and shared them in audio visual forms. People are more likely to listen and watch audio visual materials than just verbal or power point presentations. Even though I shared the findings of the situational analysis I conducted before attending the session, people wanted to have copies of it in CDs because it is much easier to carry and store.
Ø It is always advantageous and good for first time delegate to the CSW to be chaperone/mentored/coach by someone who had participated in the event before. This will help the new recruit to understand how the whole process works. I was grateful I had the opportunity to be briefed adequately about this meeting.
The Author (Muskuta Badjie) is a Staff of the Child Protection Alliance and member of the Gender Action Team of the Gambia. She was an NGO Representative to the 53rd Commission on the Status of Women. Her participation was funded by African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHR S).
Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.