PRESS RELEASE: Mixed Messages from UN on Women’s Economic Empowerment

61st Commission on Status of Women Torn Between Authentic Empowerment, Controversial Policies

March 24, 2017

UNITED NATIONS—After long hours of negotiations through the night, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women has adopted a set of Agreed Conclusions on women’s economic empowerment that included some positive measures to address challenges women face, but also included references to policies which are not agreed in international law and violate the dignity of the human person. WYA welcomes those parts of the Agreed Conclusions that are person-centered, but regrets the promotion of policies that disregard human dignity and fail to meet women’s needs.

The theme of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) was “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.” Member States discussed and negotiated ways to promote economic empowerment for women, but struggled to find common ground on key paragraphs related to health, violence and discrimination, work-family balance, and financing and accountability mechanisms.

WYA regrets in particular some language that was included in a paragraph on health. Although it incorporates an important limitation on “reproductive rights” (which includes abortion), other references include language which promotes abortion, such as “reproductive healthcare services.” WYA supported the deletion of “comprehensive sexuality education,” which refers to specific kinds of sexual education, in favor of language calling for “sexual and reproductive[ ]education,” which allows countries to choose educational programs appropriate to their own cultural and civic values.

The controversial nature of the final negotiations was evident in closing statements made by Member States. Several Member and Observer States noted that these terms must be interpreted in light of national laws and values, including their constitutions and religious and legal traditions. Nigeria, Mauritania, Poland, the United States, the Holy See, Yemen and the Sudan made reservations and statements supporting restrictions on abortion and removing global obligations on states to influence or change their abortion laws. The EU, several Latin American states, and France stated their dissatisfaction with this position, expressing frustration that the conclusions did not further press states to adopt abortion and expand abortion provision in their national laws. It should be noted that the promotion of abortion is contrary to existing international law.

WYA welcomes provisions to promote education, particularly to ensure continuing education
support for pregnant and parenting girls and women, value unpaid care work, parental and support for family and sharing of home responsibilities between men and women. Education is key to success and helps women and girls to achieve their goals not only professionally but in their social and family lives. By committing to ensuring that women and girls who become pregnant can continue their education, we indicate our confidence that they can still achieve their goals, and tell them that they will have support in doing it. Likewise, by promoting true partnership and valuing women and men in family life and tasks, the Commission recognizes that family life should be collaborative. These are truly person-centered solutions that authentically empower women and girls.

“The Commission on the Status of Women continues to use its global platform to promote political ideologies, undermining its actions to defend and empower women,” said Anna Halpine, founder of the World Youth Alliance. “Women should not be reduced to their sexuality alone, and a focus on their full empowerment, education and health care needs should become the priority for advancing women in the 21st century.”

WYA thanks all those Member States that fought hard to ensure that human dignity was respected in the Agreed Conclusions, in particular members of the European Group, Africa Group, the Caribbean Community, and the Arab Group. We will continue to monitor events at the UN and support Member States as they advocate for policies that respect the dignity of the human person and meet the real needs of people to promote authentic empowerment for women and men.