The World Youth Alliance attended the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), which took place from March 14-24th. The Commission’s priority theme was “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development,” and its review theme, from CSW57, was, “The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.” The Commission was preceded by the first Youth CSW Forum, which WYA also participated in.
Despite great efforts by our friends and allies in the CSW60 negotiations, WYA is disappointed to announce that the Agreed Conclusions adopted by the Commission contain language which promotes abortion and other policies that violate human dignity. WYA worked closely with several delegations to support them in the negotiations, and they worked diligently, often late into the night, to find solutions to disputed paragraphs. Ultimately, however, the other side withdrew a possible compromise paragraph and refused to open the health paragraph for discussion, despite the fact that abortion, sexuality education, and other terms included in it are not agreed in international law and that many Member States found it objectionable. WYA thanks our allies for their hard work and welcomes a number of reservations on the problematic language.
The Commission also adopted a resolution from the Southern African Development Community on Women, the Girl Child, and HIV and AIDS. While the draft contained some good provisions, it also included some troubling terms. A number of Member States issued reservations on those provisions as well as others related to gender and reproductive rights.
A full report on the Commission follows below.
The Commission on the Status of Women meets annually for two weeks, usually in March, at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Member States report on their work related to the priority theme as well as the general status of women. High-ranking officials from Member States often join their official UN delegations for the event. During two weeks of meetings, they offer statements, participate in round table discussions, and negotiate on outcome documents. In this case, they adopted the documents described above.
WYA participated in the Commission through the submission of a written statement and the attendance of all official meetings and a number of additional events. WYA also provided support to key allies in the negotiation of the Agreed Conclusions. We thank our friends for all their hard work despite the disappointing outcome.
Several good side events took place during the Commission. WYA was proud to co-sponsor the FEMM event on “Investing in Research and Education to Expand Reproductive Health Programming.” There was also an event on “Best practices for maternal health in Africa” on the 17th. These two events are worth noting since they provided the audience with approaches to women’s health that respond to women’s real needs and respect human dignity.
WYA attended an event held by the Howard Center for Family called “Toward a sustainable lifestyle: Women empowered and Family strengthened” which emphasized the importance of the family structure and marriage for the development and stability of children. The Holy See hosted two events focusing on support for women and girls, one for women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited, and the other on victims of rape and sexual violence in conflict situations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq.
Meanwhile, other events proposed and advocated for women’s health programs that put controversial policies ahead of human dignity and women’s real needs. These events include an International Planned Parenthood (IPPF) event promoting abortion, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) event on the link between immigration crises and gender equality during which minister, and another one held by the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) which specifically targeted the need for African countries to sign and ratify the Maputo Protocol, which promotes legalization of abortion among African countries. A side event by UN Women and Action Aid stressed the need for funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights in cases of humanitarian disasters.
Ipas and the Center for Reproductive Rights, organizations which promote abortion rights, hosted an event called “Decriminalizing abortion in Latin America and Africa,” in which they described strategies to legalize abortion in two continents where many people strongly oppose it. Similarly, ARROW, an Asian reproductive rights advocacy organization, hosted an event titled, “Why Sexual and Reproductive Rights are essential to achieve sustainable development and gender equality,” in which speakers promoted abortion and comprehensive sexuality education while castigating religious groups opposed to them.
Although these meetings highlighted very sad realities, they did not tackle the real needs of women all over the world and instead encouraged practices that are harmful and controversial for many countries. WYA is disappointed that several involved UN agencies, which should be neutral on matters unsettled in international law, such as abortion, actively promoted it during the Commission.
In the negotiations, Member States found consensus on matters such as violence against women, child marriage, maternal mortality, female genital mutilations, and the economic and professional empowerment of women. Many governments and lobbies pushed for the inclusion of “reproductive rights,” which include abortion, as well as comprehensive sexuality education in the final declaration. Such “rights” cannot help women reach their full potential as they do not respect their fundamental, inalienable and intrinsic dignity. However, many others resisted this, and made reservations on the text.
Moreover, human dignity is key for women’s empowerment as it is only when women’s dignity is recognized, nurtured and protected that they can be treated equally to men, achieve their full potential and find the place they deserve in society. We call on governments, UN agencies, the private sector and NGOs to support and strengthen a society where human dignity of all human beings is respected, for a true women’s empowerment and the good of all. WYA will continue to work with delegations to promote dignity in future discussions and outcome documents.