Commission on Status of Women adopts political declaration at shortened session

Anniversary year helps retain original consensus, avoid controversial policies

March 9, 2020, NEW YORK—The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) met for its 64th session this morning to hear opening statements and adopt a political declaration to review and appraise progress on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25) and the 20th anniversary of the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly.

The CSW typically adopts a lengthy set of “agreed conclusions” but opted for a political declaration in light of the anniversary year. Given the controversy that attended last year’s session, and the desire to have an unchallenged outcome in light of the anniversary of the landmark Beijing agreement, this year’s declaration mostly avoided controversial topics, such as abortion, which is not agreed in international law.

The Beijing Declaration in 1995 incorporated the delicate consensus struck a year before in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development. That consensus defined reproductive health and recognized the right of countries to set their own laws on abortion. However, since that time, Member States and special interest groups committed to abortion rights have interpreted “reproductive rights” to include abortion, in violation of that consensus, and promote it as a human right. (Learn more about that by reading WYA’s white paper on Reproductive Health).

Delegations this year clearly preferred a unanimous declaration, ultimately rejecting the inclusion of controversial terms such as reproductive rights after a month of negotiations. WYA thanks those delegations who opposed the inclusion of these terms. Nevertheless, several statements at adoption, including by the European Union, Mexico, and Switzerland on behalf of a group of countries, expressed regret that reproductive rights were not included. The Holy See expressed its regret that the family was not included in its statement.

A group of Latin American countries and Mexico also voiced support for a reference to regional review conferences. These regional reviews do not reflect concerns shared globally, and are drafted by UN-Women. There was some discussion that the draft had been presented late, leading to a rushed conference and less chance to negotiate over terms that are not in line with national laws and policies of many countries in the region.

At the urging of the Secretary-General, the Commission adopted an abbreviated schedule in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis. Rather than cancel the Commission, Member States decided to hold shortened session and consider holding additional events at a later date, although the Chair stated that the 65th session (2021) would be opened on Friday. Several statements made reference to the impact of the virus.

Despite the relative lack of fanfare in honor of Beijing+25, several other events are planned to commemorate it, although they may also be affected by the coronavirus. First, UN-Women is convening the Generation Equality Forum, co-hosted by Mexico and France in May and July, respectively. This forum looks to be similar the ICPD+25 Nairobi Summit, including its attempt to circumvent the negotiated consensus and promote controversial topics. (Read WYA’s coverage of the Nairobi Summit here.) Additionally, another General Assembly session is planned for September. WYA will continue to monitor these events and encourage Member States to ensure that any and all documents adopted respect human dignity and international consensus.