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the ngo csw forum 2015


Report by Robyn Lenn OEM
More than eight thousand people, mainly women, registered to attend the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women NGO Forum which is based in the United Nations in New York.
I was one of fourteen ICJW registrants, each one choosing and attending her preferred sessions. Over a two week period in various venues close to the UN building there were more than four hundred side events, with up to ten running simultaneously. Madeleine Brecher’s excellent report on CSW details many of the meetings and aspirations of attendees. I will give just a short list of points which I found important, taken from the many sessions I attended.
Our first engagement was the International Women's Day Celebration March and Opening Ceremony at Times Square on Sunday March 8. It was an excitement-filled event, noisy and crowded inside barriers, a multitude of banner-waving women cheering the selected speakers. The new slogan leading us towards the next fifteen years was introduced: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.
As ICJW President I was invited to CSW Opening Session in the UN General Assembly where several speakers included the UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon, Sam Kutesa President of the General Assembly and the current President of the Security Council. Each spoke of the goals of CSW 59 and of managing the transition from Millennium Goals. The Administrator of the UN Development Program, Helen Clark spoke of the 2010 creation of UN Women as a major step forward in serving women’s rights. The Draft Political Declaration on the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was accepted.
The Time is Now: Feminists working with Civil Society was the session organised by ICJW UN NGO representatives Fran Butensky and Joan Lurie Goldberg, jointly with Council of Organisations and Academia Mexicana de Derecho Internacional. The panel led by moderator Dr Tolonda Tolbert comprised Dr Jean Shinoda Bolen, Dr Pam Rajput and Ani Zonneveld. The panel emphasised that grass roots feminists working with civil society will help advance women in the post 2015 world.
Education – the Power behind Empowering Women was the Israel side event jointly hosted by UN Women and UN Habitat, with opening remarks by Israel Ambassador David Roet and Secretary General of the Knesset, Ms Yardena Meller-Horovitz. A useful booklet distributed at the event, ‘The Status of Women in Israel – Beijing plus 20’ is available in the ICJW office.
The session Sharia as a Source of Women's Rights demonstrated that Muslim women are working to find compatibility between women's rights and sharia law. The organisation Muslims for Progressive Values, has set up an echo of HEforSHE with a new initiativeIMAMSforSHE. Imam Shamsi explained that sharia means religion but sharia law means interpretation, open to cultural influences. He stated that in sharia a girl’s age for marriage is 16 with parental consent; sharia states marriage is between two consenting adults and gives a dowry to the woman, but sharia law may interpret this very differently.
Women’s participation in the Economy was a high-status panel including Ban Ki-Moon, Hillary Clinton and Mary Robinson. Among their comments: That global sustainable development goals must be related to gender equality. That pillars of patriarchy must be removed. By its sixth anniversary since 2010 Women's Empowerment in Business began, 1000 business companies have joined in. Hillary Clinton stated that now is the best time in history to be born a girl: we have nearly closed the gender gap in primary education, although fewer girls go on to high school. Still there are no laws on the books re violence against women in half the countries of the world. See . All economies would grow if there were full participation of women. Mary Robinson approved the adoption of UN Global Compact. She is concerned that the world’s women suffer a double injustice: climate change and women's rights.
Ensuring Climate Justice Towards a Just and Healthy Planet. Here the panel was concerned at the failure of global attempts to address climate change effectively. The Lima Call for Climate Action and the Roadmap to COP20 were not encouraging. There is a strong connection between climate change and demography: Climate Justice means recognition that women globally have even more difficult lives than previously. In 2015 we must demand international consensus, we need commitment to transform the situation. We need to recognise that trade agreements between governments give corporate bodies power while they erode people’s rights. Finally, there was a call to promote breast-feeding, to counteract the huge industry against it.
Transforming gender-based stereotypes in women's leadership and violence against women. A cultural and age diversity perspective.
This session spoke strongly against stereotypes as creating barriers to gender equality. Changing gender values is difficult, gender-free trials failed. Gender attitudes begin from babyhood with clothing and toys differentiated. A spokesperson from Honduras YWCA spoke of the male-driven society in Latin America. Advertisements with women domestic/ cleaning/ attitude/ sexual and ads with men showing they can do and be anything, but always a sexual image.
The New Zealand speaker stated that women are considered bossy where men are considered powerful. When 32 % women were successfully elected to parliament the program was termed MAN BAN. A speaker from a Buddhist country said it is essential to change the mind-set of both men and women. She quoted sayings: ‘Treat your husband as God and your son as the Lord.’ ‘Beat your wife’. In her society violence against women is prevalent; it is believed that women are responsible for violence against them. To marry, a woman must be virgin, but if she is raped she is forced to marry her rapist. There is a stigma of divorce. Advertisements for alcohol always include sexualised pictures of women. The Scottish speaker spoke proudly about her country’s strengths: 50/50 gender balance in parliament, the first Minister is a woman. It is a progressive country in many ways, but there are no coloured people in parliament. Young people can vote at age 16.

Young people said: Challenge gender stereotypes - they cause women to hesitate. Teachers in schools were considered among the worst for stereotyping young people. We must identify the link between stereotype and attitude. Our job is to promote unique and varied women.
Worldwide, the majority of women are of colour; there is a multiplicity of marginalisation against them. There was also a call to identify not only two genders but include transgenders in our work. Media was identified as getting it wrong and the question was asked: what appetite is there to get it right? Mainstream media needs to be challenged. The message: Don’t talk to ourselves - reach out!

Women of Power – analysis of a half century of women Presidents and Prime Ministers. The speaker was the author, with an interesting analysis of how and why women leaders have achieved leadership of their countries. An important issue is how to ensure woman leaders work for women's rights.

Gender Empowerment - how to bring it to Gender Equality. One of the concerning statements from this session was that perhaps the biggest obstacle is what we have caused in our attempts to upgrade women’s rights – the strong backlash against women's achievements. Overt male domination continues. In areas such as reproductive rights the discourse has changed in the past twenty years. Women are deciding against reproduction, as in Japan. Gender selection has become a major problem of gender balance in some countries. 

Unsafe abortion continues; 13 % of those attempting it die annually. There are bans on sexual education e.g. in India. Unpaid care is mostly done by females as an obligation; it erects a barrier to other jobs. Such care must be recognised as work, not remain invisible as currently, in economic and social data. There is a need to work more closely with trade unions. There was a query as to where the Trade Union body is within the UN? And although governments say they have money for women and girls, it is not used where we need it. There was a call to insist on financing for the new development agenda.
Strengthening civil society to advance gender equality and women's rights.Has patriarchy reached its tipping point? We seek to de-patriarch society, we still have unfinished business despite five decades of effort. Feminist economics are still not mainstream - systems of inequality continue. Militarism – women are entering the military, have we lost sight of the aims of Women Peace and Security?

Why we need an international legally binding instrument on violence against women. CEDAW doesn't have specific legally binding law on violence against women, the 1991 resolution stating the need for such a law became a declaration but not a resolution. A stand- alone treaty on the safety of women and girls is needed. It is feared that a reduction in funding to support women by governments is imminent and a funding mechanism such as new bank should be considered.

Where are we coming from, where are we going? The role of women leaders in implementing the post 2015 Development framework. Why do we partition women into so many classifications? There are many problems – women’s entitlement as citizens; we need to question laws which are based on patriarchy. In many areas it has become a numbers game - how many women? But we need a transformative agenda. Leadership needs to be able to have uncomfortable conversations, it should not be about popularity, it is about renaming and reshaping. We need to have courage to receive feedback and address it.

Attending CSW59 was a broadening and educational experience. It was inspiring to be among so many groups of women from a multitude of countries, all seeking greater equality for women and children, all working at major issues of importance in women’s lives today. I was very sorry that civil society input was not included in the final draft of the Political Statement. Particularly as a Jewish woman, one of your ICJW representatives at CSW, I was upset by the Commission’s adoption of the annual political resolution, condemning Israel on its treatment of Palestinian women.