Conflict & Justice

Dispatches from CSW: Will there be an agreement today?


Protesters march against female genital mutilation outside the United Nations in New York City during the 57th annual Commission on the Status of Women. Observers fear an international agreement to end violence against women and girls could be held up by more conservative countries with bad records on women's rights.


Jamie McCarthy

NEW YORK – In the final hours of the annual Commission on the Status of Women, tensions ride high around a series of unresolved and conflicting conversations concerning women’s rights to reproductive health, peace, and security.

Last week, the session kicked off with an unprecedented number of commitments to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) from participating governments, offering hopeful promise that a resolution could be reached by the end of the week, a UN official who preferred to remain anonymous told GlobalPost.

“We’ve had close to fifty states commit, it will be a great disappointment and embarrassment to women watching around the world, if member states walk away without an agreed International declaration on how to end their suffering,” said the UN official.

More from GlobalPost: A short primer on the 57th annual UN Commission on the Status of Women

Many delegates and activists rest the blame squarely on member states like Russia, Iran and the Vatican (which participates as a “Non-Member State Permanent Observer”) whose conservative agendas aim to compromise important language enforcing women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood spearheaded the mission of the so-called "unholy alliance" on Wednesday, releasing a statement that denounces the Commission’s draft of agreed conclusions for threatening to undermine fundamental principles of Islam, family, and society.

In the statement, the party outlines ten points derived from the UN document, which comprise the “final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries.” It also urges Islamic leaders and their UN representatives to reject the UN declaration, insisting that its implementation should be left to each individual state’s discretion.

The Libyan parliament also called upon authorities to reject a declaration of “false allegations, misleading calls, and obvious rebellion against all heavenly teachings and supreme ethics,” Daily News Egypt reports.

More from GlobalPost: Dispatches from CSW: Protecting the rights of Egypt's women

The UN draft was circulated at the end of last week. Among its prescribed requirements for eliminating gender-based violence it included: prosecution of perpetrators of violence, elimination of harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation, control over sexual and reproductive health for women and girls, and accessible health services for victims of violence.

NGOs and activists fear that the political storm surrounding reproductive health rights could likely result in unfavorable compromise, or a “watering down” of crucial language that will roll back already-established gains and agreements made for women and girls.

“There is also an overriding sense that history might repeat itself,” a returning delegate who also requested to be unnamed, said on Wednesday, referring to the commission’s 56th session, which closed last year without reaching any agreed conclusions. “We cannot, once again, have conservative members dissembling the multilateral systems, and questioning women’s rights. And we especially cannot afford to renege on language that has already been established during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing [in 1995], or under platforms like CEDAW,” the delegate told GlobalPost.

In response, on Thursday, dozens of NGOs issued a joint statement, demanding that governments’ commitments to ending violence against women should remain unchallenged by "customs, tradition or religious considerations” that try to justify gender-based violence.

More from GlobalPost: No liberty for Liberian women as rapes continue

According to Lydia Alpízar Durán, executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights and Development, a signatory to the NGO document, “It is egregious that the Vatican is even at the table for negotiations,” and the fact that delegates are abusing their seat in the commission “to advance their agenda to attack women’s rights is outrageous."

“Religion, cultural tradition, should not be used to curtail gender equality or justify backlash against VAW,” she said.

Another political storm surrounds two landmark Security Council Resolutions (1325 and 1820) that affirm the relationship of peace, security and militarism to gender violence. While Switzerland, Canada, and members of the European Union (EU) underscore the importance of these linkages, the Africa group requested the Commission eliminate all references to the two resolutions.

“It is surprising,” said Duran, “that the African group will not acknowledge the relationship between gender violence and militarism, considering the number of atrocities that are happening in conflict and post-conflict regions.” According to an African delegate, these issues are designated for the Security Council, not the CSW.

Today will hopefully conclude the two-week long Commission with a final outcome document, outlining agreed conclusions and recommendations to governments, NGO's and civil partners worldwide.