Negotiating at CSW65: Struggling to Stop the Rollback of Women’s Rights

Blog by Francesca Fletcher Williams, SI Global Policy Coordinator.

It’s commonly said at the United Nations that ‘you know a negotiation went well when everyone is equally unhappy’. The idea is that every country, every group should have to compromise an equal amount to reach a ‘balanced’ agreed outcome. This year at CSW it was a struggle to create that balanced outcome. Over the last few years, challenges to strong language about women’s and girls’ human rights have been mounting. In an effort to push back, Soroptimists present in country delegations and working in coalition with other NGOs called for progressive language. Why is pushing for this strong language important? Because the language included in the CSW outcome document, known as the Agreed Conclusions, represents the commitments governments make to empower women and girls, and with those words it is possible to hold governments to account for what they do and do not do.

This year, CSW came to a tense conclusion. Without states being able to find broad agreement in the negotiation room, and with time running out, the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, Armenia, presented their own text for the Agreed Conclusions. This ‘take it or leave it’ text represents a last ditch attempt to find consensus among all the participating states. If even one state does not agree, that can mean that there will be no Agreed Conclusions that year. Not having Agreed Conclusions would mean that states couldn’t even commit to actions previously agreed, which would be a big step back in realising the human rights and empowerment of all women and girls.

You can read an advance unedited version of CSW65’s Agreed Conclusions here.

This is why the role of “previously agreed language” is important. If countries cannot agree on new ways to discuss and address challenges to gender equality then they look at the previous agreements and identify the language they can agree with. This means that if you go and read the CSW Agreed Conclusions from the last 5 years, they might seem very repetitive. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the more states reiterate the same agreements, the stronger those agreements and associated commitments become. However on the flip side, if we see great language one year but no agreement on it for the following years, this could represent a step backwards. States are no longer able to agree on the same commitments to women and girls.

The key controversial issues that come up at CSW are often the same every year – what types of gender-based violence are included, the role of sovereignty, sexual health and reproductive rights, how women’s and girls’ human rights are discussed, as well as other topics. You can read more about the issues of women’s and girls’ human rights and sovereignty in the CSW negotiations here.

However, this year there were some newer issues, such as whether a reference to ILO Convention 190 could be included. This International Labour Organisation Convention was agreed in 2019, and is about eliminating sexual harassment and violence in the work place. Given that gender-based violence in the workplace is a key barrier to women’s leadership and participation, including a reference to ILO C190 would have been directly relevant to CSW65’s theme of “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”. Eliminating violence in the workplace should not be a controversial issue, yet many states could not agree to including this key Convention that protects women at work. SI Representatives worked hard to appeal to states to include this reference, and while there were states that supported this reference, agreement wasn’t broad enough to include it in the Chair’s text. This will have to be an advocacy issue for CSWs to come.

Another difficult issue was getting a reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This landmark resolution helped establish the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, which emphasises the vital role of women in preventing and resolving armed conflicts, and the need to include women in peace processes and decision making. The last time UNSC Resolution 1325 was explicitly referred to by name was at CSW57 in 2013. Since then, the resolution hasn’t been named, but the content of the resolution has been described. UN Security Resolutions are particularly impactful because while all UN resolutions contribute to the international legal environment – these resolutions create ‘soft law’ – only UN Security Council Resolutions are legally binding so states cannot violate them. The theme of CSW this year was about women’s leadership, decision-making and participation, and because the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is also about women’s leadership, there was a key opportunity to bring back naming Resolution 1325. Despite vocal campaigning from SI, along with other women’s and feminist organisations and some member states, again Resolution 1325 was not included. Rather than discussing the issue, some states outlined that they would not accept including references to UN Security Resolutions in CSW negotiations. It seems that even though UN Security Council Resolutions are legally binding, they are also controversial because not all UN member states participate on the Security Council. With only 15 members on the Security Council at one time, these are resolutions made by a minority of states.

Ultimately, after some very tense negotiations that would last well into the night, the text that the Ambassador of Armenia put forward as the Chair of CSW65 was accepted. We can celebrate that efforts to regress language on human rights and the empowerment of women and girls were unsuccessful. But it’s sad that the only thing to celebrate is we didn’t go backwards. CSW should be about securing progress for women and girls, not keeping a status quo where we know women and girls experience violence, discrimination and oppression. We will have to start planning and advocating now, if CSW66 is going to be any better.

To read more blogs on CSW65, please click HERE.


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