Friday, March 19, 2010

Overheard at CSW

The UN headquarters is relatively quiet this week. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is over for another year and the hundreds (nay, thousands) of women from around the world have returned home.

Deeply disillusioned.

This year was the 15 year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). Many studies measured gains and losses, by country, by region, by theme. The gender gap in employment and decent work is not closing. In some aspects of education the gap is widening: in sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of enrolment of girls compared with boys in secondary education fell from 82% in 1999 to 79% in 2007.

Social Watch launched its 2009 Gender Equality Index which measures inequalities between men and women and showed a wipe-out of previous gains due to the economic and financial crisis.

And how did the governments address this sad situation? With a one-page declaration that noted problems, progress and urged that we all keep at it.

Some voiced feelings of betrayal: “Governments are saying nothing new and hardly confirming existing commitments”. A civil society statement phrased it thus:

The 54th Session of CSW was intended to be the opportunity to review progress and promote the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. However, in its failure to strongly reaffirm and commit to renewed and concrete actions and resources to implement the BPfA, the Declaration represents a backward step. The Declaration appears to overstate the progress made, and to ignore the slow and partial nature of implementation.

Others felt betrayed by the institutions; “They not accountable. They don’t feel the need to implement any more.”

Much energy went in to addressing the institutions gap and some took heart from the stirrings around the establishment of a new UN institution, perversely named the “gender entity” as no-one can define it clearly. The speculation of who could head it continues to a favourite sport of some women’s organizations. Rumours have it that the current front-runners are: Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile; Winnie Byanyima, Director of the UN Development Programme Gender Team; Geeta Rao Gupta, President of the International Center for Research on Women; and Asha-Rose Migiro, the Deputy Secretary-General.

But in closed meetings, doubts abounded: “what kind of gain is this entity in the context of the broader UN development agenda being eroded?”; “women have risen high on the agenda but without any content”; “this is more of the same of being integrated into the wrong model”.

Some saw these failings in the broader context of shifting global politics and governance, clearly expressed by DAWN as multilateral disfunctionality in their statement at CSW:

The uncertainties of inter-governmental negotiations within the United Nations reflect the multiple shifts, cracks and crises in global geopolitics and global governance of a run-away neoliberal globalization as well as a militarized and financialized political economy. DAWN recognizes the developing multilateral terrain as part of a ’fierce new world’ that is replete with huge threats and doubtful opportunities for women’s rights and gender equality.

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