Skip to main content

csw59: beijing + 20

Madeleine Brecher,  UN Representative of ICJW and  Advisor, NGO Committee to the Status of Women, New York, reports on t he 59 th  Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that took place at  UN Headquarters in New York from  9 to 20 March 2015.

After years in the planning, Beijing +20 was that energizing time when thousands of global women and girls brought their the collective voices to New York City to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the 4 th World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995. They were here too to acknowledge the long distance we have yet to go to achieve a 50/50 world. We came to demand the political commitment of the world’s leaders to accelerate action to achieve gender equality by the year 2030. The 14 enthusiastic women who made up the ICJW delegation to CSW59, the largest group that I can remember, were excited to be part of this historic moment.

The celebrations were many! The kickoff began on the Sunday of International Women’s Day with a lively march for gender equality:  PLANET 50-50 BY 2030: STEP IT UP! It was organized by UN Women in collaboration with the City of New York and a number of NGOs working in behalf of women and girls. Thousands of women, girls, men and boys participated. It began with speeches at the UN and ended at 42nd Street and Time Square where ICJW participants joined the singing, raising slogans and showing solidarity for gender equality and women’s rights.

On Monday, I was privileged to have been invited to a private launch of the No Ceilings Full Participation Report by Hillary Clinton, her daughter Chelsea and Melinda Gates. The Clinton and Gates Foundations partnered to produce a data-driven analysis on the status of women and girls since the 1995 Beijing conference. is an interactive site where users can explore the data firsthand and dive into the compelling stories of women and girls around the world. It was a groundbreaking event uniting the voices of global and community leaders to bring the data to life, celebrate the progress made, and shine a light on the gaps that remain on the road to full participation for women and girls everywhere. The dearth of separate data on women and girls has been an important missing ingredient which will now help stakeholders set the agenda for the coming years to make full participation a reality.

ICJW’s annual delegates’ luncheon on Monday was a wonderful opportunity to be in the same place at the same time, to greet one another and connect on life and the issues at hand. Several of us attended the NGO CSW Reception on Monday evening. It’s always fun to chat with a cross-section of the 650 global women who come to network and showoff their national dress.

On Tuesday evening, UN Women hosted a musical celebration of the power and energy of the global gender equality movement and the achievements made, while acknowledging the challenges that remain.  The program featured celebrities such as Major Bill de Blasio of NY, Secretary-General Ban ki Moon, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, Patricia Arquette and other global musical icons. It provided an opportunity to rally public giving, private sector pledging and recommitment through a Call to Action to accelerate progress and achieve gender equality by 2030. Two thousand member state officials, business leaders, and NGOs were in the audience.

As always, government and civil society events filled much of each day. NGO CSW/NY scheduled over 450 events this year, an all-time high. NGOs selected those events that appealed to them.  The ICJW delegation was there to support the State of Israel’s event entitled “Education – The Power Behind Empowering Women”.  It was sponsored jointly with UN Women and UN Habitat. It was grand to see the room packed to capacity with diverse global women, including many from Africa and Muslim women in headscarves too. 

An example of some of the NGO parallel events we attended were: Women: Financial Security and Independence; The Effects of Armed Conflict on the Status of Women in the Arab World; Human  Trafficking: What’s Changed, What Needs to Change since Beijing where our own Rita Fishman spoke about the gift-box project; Combining Government, Civil Society, and the Tech Industry to Fight the Hidden Epidemic of Human Trafficking where the President of NCJW, San Francisco section spoke on the panel; and Hidden Victims of Sexual Violence: Children Born of War.

ICJWs excellent parallel event was entitled “Every Woman, Every Right, Everyone is Responsible THE TIME IS NOW: Feminists Working with Civil Society”. It was organized by Fran Butensky and Joan Goldberg and co-sponsored with the Council of Organizations. The panel was superb and there was time at the end for a very meaningful dialogue with the audience. Dr. Jean Bolen, clinical professor of Psychiatry and author discussed how grassroots activism motivates political will. Dr. Pam Rajput, chair of a high-level committee on status of women in India addressed the role of women in sustainable development. Finally Ani Zonneveld, founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values talked about how Sharia can be a source for women’s rights and how to change religious dogma. Dr. Tolonda Tolbert of Catalyst moderated this fine discussion.

CSW is, most-of-all, a time of rolling up your sleeves and getting down to business and these thousands of civil society delegates had traveled to New York primarily to demand that member states and other stakeholders make drastic commitments to mobilize action for a 50/50 world by 2030. The Commission on the Status of Women’s working process was different from past years with the preparation of two new documents:  “A Political Statement” and the drafting of a new process for the future organization and methods of work of the CSW.

Rather than Agreed Conclusions on the priority theme voted on during the final day of the meetings, this  Political Statement  was drafted before CSW59 began and voted on during the first days of the session. The rationale: more high-level country delegates were in town to vote, and they were charged with returning home to begin immediate deliberations on commitments to be voiced publicly at the General Assembly meetings in September.

Civil society’s disappointment was palpable. NGO delegates were angry with this process as they had little or no input into the final political draft which they felt was weak and diluted from the commitments they expected. NGO participants count on CSW as a time to deliberate with other NGOs at regional caucuses and morning briefings and, most importantly, to meet with government delegates at their missions or in the halls of the UN to state their case. This simply did not happen.

The new Working Methods Resolution was finalized at the very end of the second week and it was clear that NGOs would not attain their long-desired wish to have full access to CSW negotiating sessions. Paragraphs 18, 19 and 21 once again contained the role of NGOs in the text and, while it was seen as a small victory that this was even in the Resolution, it means that NGOs will continue to be barred from negotiating sessions. Governments are, however, encouraged to include NGOs on their country delegations. ICJW signed on to three strong civil society statements during the session expressing our contempt for this year’s procedure which blatantly ignored civil society input.

I understand that some of my ICJW sisters were seriously distressed by the lack of transformational progress at CSW59. I myself loved celebrating the achievements that have been made over these 20 years since Beijing and am hopeful that member states will make strong commitments to achieving a 50/50 world when they address this issue at the high-level meetings of the General Assembly in September 2015!