by Francesca Williams, Global Policy Coordinator
“CSW is the best representative of how much women and young people believe in the United Nations (UN). I emphasise the importance of this year’s theme during COVID, given that women have demonstrated such leadership – but much of the leadership is informal, and women have to have a seat at the table.”Lopa Banerjee, Director of the Civil Society Section, UN Women
On the last day of the first week of CSW65, members of Soroptimist International (SI) and others from civil society met with the facilitator of the CSW negotiations, Armenia’s Ambassador Mher Margaryan and Lopa Banerjee, Director of UN Women’s Civil Society Division, during a Civil Society Briefing. Civil society briefings do not represent a seat at the table for women, but they are an effective avenue for SI to represent its views and concerns.
These briefings are particularly important this year because they represent one of the few ways in which organisations like SI can engage directly with negotiations. With CSW being online there are fewer opportunities for organisations like SI to advocate for women and girls. It is not possible to ‘bump into’ your state representative in the corridor, it’s harder to engage across time zones, and fewer governments are arranging meetings where they consult with their local organisations.
Soroptimist International was fortunate in being able to questions on sexual and gender-based violence against girls and putting limits on human rights during the 45 minute consultation.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Girls
SI asked the Ambassador for reassurance that ‘violence against girls’ would be referred to in the UN resolution. Even though eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls has been a past theme of CSW, this year some states are pushing back and do not want violence against girls to be included in the resolution. Sexual and gender-based violence against girls is not a minor issue – early, child and forced marriage, FGM, sexual violence, trafficking, and other forms of violence are world-wide phenomena and are all human rights abuses. In 2021 trying to ignore this violence is a shocking position to take. We know that violence is a huge barrier to gender equality, and girls’ ability to become leaders and to participate in society. With this year’s CSW theme focusing on women’s and girls’ participation in leadership, decision-making and public life, addressing sexual and gender-based violence against girls is essential. Not mentioning it would be a huge step backwards, would be harmful for girls across the world, and would be against the very purpose of the Commission on the Status of Women. Fortunately, the Ambassador took on our concerns – now SI must keep advocating to ensure the resolution contains strong, action-orientated language on this issue.
Putting Limits on Human Rights
Every year some states will raise the issue of “sovereignty”, and this issue is always pitched in opposition to human rights. The argument that these states raise is that human rights, which are legally agreed to be universal, prevent states from exercising their own sovereignty. The implication then is that human rights somehow stop states from doing something that they want to do. It is impossible not to wonder, ‘which human rights do these states think are bad?’ and ‘which human rights violations do these states want to support or commit?’.
While sovereignty is a perennial issue for CSW, it has never made it into the Agreed Conclusions. Unfortunately, with a changing multilateral environment the risk of ‘sovereignty’ being added in is higher than ever. If this issue did make it in it would be a significant loss to the women’s and girls’ human rights agenda, and would set a dangerous precedent which it would be extremely difficult to undo.
Lopa Banerjee agreed with this, picking up on SI’s question about sovereignty and saying that SI was “correct that the issue of sovereignty has not come into the text, but would like to remind everyone that the issue has come up before but has not gone in.” It is vital that this delicate balance is maintained – it is one thing to raise and discuss the issue behind closed doors, it is another if sovereignty becomes a reasonable ground for limiting human rights in the CSW Agreed Conclusions. The facilitator, Ambassador Margaryan thanked SI for making these views known, and agreed with us that sovereignty has been a highly contentious issue in negotiations. When advocating, this is disagreement that SI can use to its advantage by encouraging more states to speak up for women’s and girl’s human rights. The more disagreement there is between states, the harder it will be to include the concept of sovereignty in the resolution.
Ambassador Margaryan’s closing remarks were a rallying cry to civil society organisations to ‘bring CSW home’. He commended CSO’s advocacy efforts at the UN and said he would “encourage CSOs to relay these activities at the national stage. We have the right documents, we are trying to have better documents but at the end of the day it’s about implementation and this lies with national authorities. By bringing CSW home, you as CSO partners can encourage and push national authorities in charge to make sure commitments that are taken are implemented properly.”
It is always difficult for states, and especially the facilitator, to share candid information about ongoing negotiations. But it was clear that this year’s negotiations are particularly challenging. The Ambassador was extremely reticent to share any explicit information except that “issues are being discussed” and that he “cannot predict the outcome of the document”. As Lopa Banerjee said, “diplomacy is about negotiations and this is a challenging environment … it is not that these issues aren’t in the document. The question is now what state and form it stays. What is strengthened and what drops out.” This is where SI’s advocacy efforts come in.
An online CSW creates new challenges for advocacy, but it also creates new opportunities. No matter where you are in the world you are able to advocate and tell your state representatives Soroptimist International’s key asks for the CSW Agreed Conclusions. Here are some issues you can raise:
- States have committed to the universal implantation of human rights, including the human rights of women and girls in their diversity. It has been affirmed in numerous UN resolutions, including CSW resolutions that states have a duty to implement human rights regardless of their national context. Sovereignty remains a state right, and it is not contrary to the achievement of human rights for all. Invite your state representatives to oppose any reference to sovereignty and to support references to women’s and girls’ human rights.
- Sexual and gender-based violence against girls is a global problem and critical barrier to women’s and girls’ participation in leadership, decision-making and public life. This is an issue which speaks to the heart of CSW65’s theme. It is not possible to address gender-based violence experienced by women and not talk about gender-based violence experienced by girls. They have the same root causes and have the same impacts; this violence must be addressed by the Agreed Conclusions. Invite your state representatives to include language on “sexual and gender-based violence against girls” in these agreed conclusions.
If you don’t have your state representative’s contact information do not worry! Often country missions are on twitter, Instagram or other forms of social media. You can search for them and tweet, comment on a post, or message them with SI’s key advocacy asks. You can make the voices of women and girls heard!