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preparing for csw61

Madeleine Brecher reports on the NGO CSW Meeting about preparing for the Committee on the Status of Women CSW61 

On 14 February, we received the Secretary General’s Report and the Zero Draft Document via email from UN Women. We were asked to review them and come up with relevant questions on topics such as human rights, girls, education, migration, peace and security, environment, violence against women at home and in the workplace, etc.  At the meeting on 16 February, we would talk about ways to address the commission and give feedback to our own country mission and member states to improve the document.

On Thursday, the 16th, we held an interactive panel discussion with representatives of the Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Civil Society Section of UN Women, and leaders of NGO CSW/NY to prepare for CSW61.

There were two panelists:
1. Sejla Dubuzovic – Vice Chair of the Commission & Minister Counselor from Bosnia & Herzegovina
2. Vivek Rai, Civil Society Section, UN Women
Moderator: Susan O’Malley, Chair, NGO CSW/NY

Opening remarks: Sejla Dubuzovic

CSW is the most visited event at the UN and this forum has a great impact on the ground. However, CSW continues to be a totally state-driven process with NGOs always requesting a greater voice and often NOT being heard. UN Women and the Commission drafted a letter to Member States to include more civil society delegates in their CSW delegations. The result: while some states comply, these civil society delegates are often sidelined during important negotiations!

The priority theme on CSW 61 is Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work! The topic resonates with global women and to date, over 8,600 international women have signed up to attend the session, the most ever. Generally only half the number preregistered show up in NY. At this time, the current US visa situation does not seem to have slowed attendance.

Sejla encouraged the audience to look for input and translate the needs and concerns in the real world of women and girls. She reiterated that the commission wants to hear from NGOs as we are clearly the ears on the ground. She mentioned that little in the zero draft…the first draft of the Agreed Conclusions for the session before the Commission negotiations begin….addresses women in conflict and post conflict situations who are usually always excluded from economic opportunities. Nor are their needs addressed in the Secretary General’s report. Greater gender sensitivity is needed.

Rarely have I witnessed such compassion and/or honesty from a Minister Counselor at the UN. Sejla spoke about her own country’s post conflict years and the patriarchal society that exists. Her own father offered far more opportunities to her younger brother and she, the daughter, was often ignored. She fought hard for her rights and today her father is so proud of her accomplishments that he calls her “his oldest SON.” It is supposed to be a compliment but she understands the meaning.

Opening remarks: Vivek Rai
What can civil society do and how can UN Women help? Vivek encouraged the audience to mobilize their national delegations at home before arriving in NY and certainly, attend civil society regional caucuses once in NYC. There will be several caucus meetings by region so watch the program for them. UN Women sent a letter to Missions to include YOUNG civil society voices in the country delegations. NGO delegates should mobilize on this request and participate in all formal spaces to advocate for the priority theme issues. Be outspoken and ask governments how they’ll implement and address the priority themes.


The questions were pointed; the answers were remarkably honest. This is not easy ground to break!

What are the toughest issues? Negotiating on all the issues in the agreed conclusions is tough. There are definite red lines on specific issues and the need for compromise is critical. Not every state likes the Secretary-General’s report! The global realities play a large part in the success of the country-by-country outcomes.

When a conclusion recommends that a government must “strengthen a framework”, it must be remembered that not all states have a “framework”. Traditional societies do not and do not welcome women’s economic empowerment. While they may sign onto the document, the lack of political will at home will ignore implementation. When the conclusions speak of women’s role in decision-making, many countries do NOT wish to see women in positions of leadership. In the current global economic situation, with 40% of populations unemployed, why would they care about the women? Why would they insist on access to education and technology for women and girls? 

The ultimate change must come at the end of CSW back in the home country but states are sovereign so the Commission, UN Women and the NGO representatives can only hope.

Regional prep meetings for CSW61 are more inclusive than the meetings in New York. It is important to work with governments to mirror home delegations here in NY. UN Women country offices offer support at the local and regional levels and they convene meetings before and after CSW. Again, implementation is key. 

NGOs can and should raise their voices at home. Ask governments how they will address the themes and implement the conclusions. Civil society advisory groups are important avenues to press accountability and push for implementation. If NGOs wish to submit comments on the agreed conclusions, look for friendly governments to dialogue with.

What did the audience like about the zero draft document?
  • The included ILO resolutions offer a positive example to work on.
  • The ILO is legally binding.
  • The document refers to all women and girls including the ageing.
  • It talks about maternity AND paternity leave.
  • It speaks of unpaid work.
  • There is a concern for equal pay for equal kinds of work.
  • It is very focused on the theme.
  • Some things that are missing from the document:
  • There is nothing at all on violence in the workplace.
  • Where do we find the overwhelming need for basic health care for women?
  • Where is mental health care in the document?
  • The issue of sexual discrimination is left out.
  • Women’s empowerment is a complex issue.

In closing, there is a great need to suspend political tensions and come together for all women and girls. Success boils down to POLITICAL WILL but we must also remember to be realistic. Let’s use our connections and communicate; those women and men who come to NY for CSW61 must transmit the messages of CSW61 back home.