by Pat Black
“Following many hours of discussion and negotiation, the Commission on the Status of Women in its 66th session (CSW66) finally adopted by consensus the Agreed Conclusions on the priority theme ‘Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies, and programmes’.
In presenting the text for adoption the facilitator, German Ambassador to the UN, H.E. Ms. Antje Leendertse said that this was an important outcome, for which negotiations had taken place over 60 hours since the Zero Draft had been issued in February 2022.
She was very heartened that, although the debate had been tough, Member States had reached agreement on a final document to be brought forward for adoption.
What are Agreed Conclusions?
Agreed Conclusions are the formal outcome of each annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting. They start with a Zero Draft provided by UN Women as the Secretariat a few months before the March meeting of the Commission. This document is then commented on by all UN Member States, civil society organisations, and non -governmental organisations (NGOs), who add points related to the priority theme which they would like to see included. In the past the latter have usually made their comments through their own country delegations, but this year the NGO CSW Committees put together a statement with a series of ‘asks’ which were sent directly to UN Women for the attention of the facilitator.
SI also had ‘asks’ which were submitted through national delegations and through NGO CSW Committees. There are three of these formal NGO Committees, one in New York, one Geneva and one in Vienna. SI has representation on each of these.
Before the beginning of CSW all the comments are collated together and a further longer document results called REV 1. Member States then discuss this document informally well before CSW, in regional and ‘like-minded’ groups, submitting further comments to the facilitator. The facilitator will review the comments and try to bring similar suggestions together, editing where possible and producing another shorter version for Member States to continue negotiations on.
The discussions and negotiations go on usually briefly during the high-level first week of the CSW meeting, but then more extensively and intensely in the second week, often meeting long into the night.
Do Agreed Conclusions mean anything?
Even though adopted by the CSW formally, the Agreed Conclusions will still need to go through the formal UN processes, firstly for agreement at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and then at the UN General Assembly which takes many months.
Once the Agreed Conclusions were adopted at CSW66, Member States were able to make statements on their position regarding the content of the document. It is in very formal UN language and sometimes the words can be open to interpretation. In some cases, Member States will announce that they do not agree with paragraphs or sections of text; that wording they wanted included has not been, or even that because of their national sovereignty laws or policies, they will not be looking to implement particular parts of the document. It is important that in spite of these views there are no objections expressed at the final session, thus allowing adoption by consensus.
The discussions and meetings in New York each year should not be the end of the process. The actions suggested in the Agreed Conclusions should be taken back to each country and incorporated into their national policies and programmes, and where possible embedded through legislation. Each year there is a review theme for CSW to consider which looks back at the Agreed Conclusions of a previous year and asks Member States to report on what they have done to implement the actions which were previously agreed.
In many countries Civil Society organisations and NGOs will monitor Government action. However, Civil Society and NGOs are also charged with taking action in the Agreed Conclusion and as was pertinently asked, who is monitoring them and their actions?
An Historic Agreement?
Following the adoption of the Agreed Conclusions by the Commission many Member States made statements which included the phrase ‘historic’ describing the content of this response to the priority theme.
CSW66 Agreed Conclusions were ground breaking and therefore ‘historic’ for the UN.
These Agreed Conclusions are the first time CSW has recognised the connections between climate change and gender equality. They seek to recognise that all women and girls are disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change such as droughts and floods and other environmental crises, and offer specific actions which Member States, UN agencies and Civil Society/NGOs can take to ensure resilience, mitigation, and sustainable recovery, especially for all women and girls.
In choosing the priority theme for CSW66 the Commission were conscious that COP26 had taken place only a few months previously. COP26 featured strongly during the negotiations with many Member States not wishing to go back over the same ground covered by the Glasgow Climate Pact 2021.
There were many contentious issues discussed, often areas which have been the areas of disagreement in the past such as the inclusion of the terms ’girls’ and ‘young women’ in relation to leadership and decision making. ‘Family’ and ‘family-oriented policies’ once more came under scrutiny. Other familiar words and phrases causing dissension included ‘women’s human rights’, ‘sexual and reproductive health (rights)’, ‘LGBTIQ+’ and ‘in all their diversity’. New terms related to climate change causing challenges included ‘fossil fuels’, ‘climate justice’, ‘loss and damage’, ‘Net Zero’, and ‘environmental human rights defenders.
When agreement cannot be reached on detailed text, the facilitator goes back to previously agreed text in past CSW outcome documents which usually prevails.
At the same time
This CSW was indeed historic in more ways than one with concurrent global events demonstrating clearly why the Agreed Conclusions of each CSW need to be strong to protect women and girls. Many countries chose to draw attention to the impact of the invasion of Ukraine on women and children every time they spoke in open sessions.
At the same time as the CSW was meeting, the UN General Assembly was continuing in emergency session considering the plight of women and girls in Ukraine and across Europe, adopting a resolution on humanitarian aid.
Yet another global issue raised its head during the last few days of CSW with the interim Government of Afghanistan led by the Taliban choosing to stop girls going to secondary school despite a previous promise to the UN to provide all children with education. A special Security Council meeting was called to hold the Afghanistan interim Government to account for previous promises.
The CSW Regional Caucuses followed these additional activities at the UN closely during CSW and made statements on each situation urgently.
The final negotiations for official delegations took place face to face in New York, while NGOs had to follow as best they could virtually. Being involved in the negotiations at a distance was very difficult. Usually, our representatives are standing at the door encouraging supportive negotiators to be brave, to find progressive language and move things forward for all women and girls.
SI has always contributed to text and this year was able to do so thanks to NGO-friendly delegates in the room exchanging information with us. We need now to do an analysis to see how many of our ‘asks’ and suggestions were included in the final text.
Soroptimists also need to follow up what is happening in their own country. How is your government taking forward the actions which were agreed?
Are you able to work with other NGOs in your country to monitor what is happening?
Then let’s start preparing for CSW67!”
Advance unedited version of the Agreed Conclusions at: https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/CSW66%20Agreed%20Conclusions_Advance%20unedited%20version_25%20March%202022.pdf
Zero Draft at: https://www.soroptimistinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/NGOCSW66_Recommendations_for_the_Zero.pdf
More at: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/press-release/2022/03/press-release-un-commission-on-the-status-of-women-reaffirms-womens-and-girls-leadership-as-key-to-address-climate-change-environmental-and-disaster-risk-reduction-for-all
Thank you, Pat, for this very instructive and clear article. Please, keep it on the website as a reference for all those who want to become familiar with the CSW.
We will Bettina many thanks