Controversial Amendments Introduced at the Eleventh Hour of CSW58
Today marks the close of the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) at the UN Headquarters in New York. Early this morning, the 45-member Commission adopted a 24-page final document on the priority theme entitled “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.” Like previous years, the two weeks of highly controversial and heated closed negotiations for the final outcome document lasted long into the night, even going on past midnight for several days. However, the Commission was under great pressure to produce a final outcome document that would encourage the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before their expiration in 2015.
At 11:45 PM, after several hours of delay where regional blocs revised the outcome document, the chair presented a revised outcome document with controversial paragraphs still not formally agreed. Given the late hour, Member States were given a chance—a few seconds—to voice any last objections before the Chair pounded his gavel, adopting the final outcome document in its entirety.
The World Youth Alliance appreciates the efforts of the Commission and its Member States to address the challenges in achieving the MDGs for women and girls. In particular, we agree that improvements are needed in the areas of access to quality education, an adequate standard of living, safe drinking water and sanitation, and primary health care and essential medicines. In this International Year of the Family, we praise the acknowledgement that the family is a contributor to sustainable development.
However, the document falls far short of promoting the policies and services women and girls need and want. The much-debated and controversial “comprehensive evidence-based education for human sexuality” is included, and emergency contraception and “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law” are included in the call for “reproductive health care services, commodities, information and education.”Abortifacients and abortion have no place in women’s health care, and the focus on them distracts from real efforts to eradicate maternal mortality. The three mentions of “reproductive rights” include qualifying references to the International Conference on Population and Development, which is intended to protect countries’ sovereign rights to determine their own national laws on reproductive health.
Yet the final document excludes a proposed sovereignty clause that would have recognized the prerogative of individual States “to implement the recommendations in the present document, consistent with national laws and development priorities with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights.” WYA welcomes the affirmations of state sovereignty made by States after adoption of the resolution, in particular Djibouti for the African Group, Suriname for CARICOM, Iran, Qatar, Malta, Russia, and China. Sadly, when some of these countries spoke, members of feminist organizations loudly jeered.
The Commission also negotiated a resolution on “Women, the girl child, and HIV/AIDS.” WYA welcomes the efforts of the original sponsors, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Malawi, to bring to the attention of the international community the challenges of realizing MDG 6 on HIV/AIDS.
Up until the last minute, the draft resolution on HIV/AIDS promoted person-centered interventions that WYA supports, including delay of sexual debut and fidelity. At that point, the Netherlands presented controversial oral amendments, supported by Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica, Norway, Australia, Iceland, and Paraguay. These amendments included deleting “early sexual debut,” adding “comprehensive evidence-based education for human sexuality,” and referencing the outcome documents from regional conferences that were led by sexual and reproductive rights organizations and produced controversial language.
Voting members on the Commission were not well-represented by African Member States, and therefore the amendments were adopted. Because the resolution was changed, the African Member States one by one withdrew co-sponsorship of the resolution, followed by Russia and China, and Malawi thus called for the withdrawal of its sponsorship. There were no sponsors remaining, but due to procedural rules the resolution as amended had to be brought to a vote. The results of the vote were 22 in favor and 16 abstentions, while 7 did not vote.
The disbelief and disappointment in the room was palpable, and it was significant that no countries in Africa accepted the amended resolution, especially because African countries have the most experience and the biggest stake in tackling HIV/AIDS.
The World Youth Alliance will be publishing blog posts analyzing the outcome documents of CSW 58, so please stay tuned for our posts in the World Youth Alliance blog. We will continue to follow the UN’s spring commissions and will be participating in the Commission on Population and Development April 7-11.