April 29, 2009

Katie Kotler, Helena Gronberg and Joeyta Bose





The 53rd Commission on the Status of Women rolled to a close on March 13, 2009, with a hard-won set of Agreed Conclusions on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS -- its priority theme, as well as several resolutions on women’s empowerment. The outcome document, which is the principal output of each commission, urges governments to use policy to scale up efforts significantly to achieve universal access to comprehensive prevention programs, treatment, care and support by 2010.  Governments recognized the increased feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the need to review existing HIV/AIDS policies to ensure that they reduce women’s vulnerability to the disease.  They also highlighted the need to improve and promote accessibility to quality public health-care services, and design programs that encourage men’s responsibility for home-based care.


In other areas, the conclusions pushed for a focus on protecting the rights and addressing the needs of women of all ages, including older women and widows, those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as those providing unpaid caregiving. In addition, it emphasized the need for female-headed households to be the target for social and legal protection, with the goal of increasing access to economic resources such as micro-credit, sustainable economic opportunities, pension and saving schemes, education and access to health services, including affordable antiretroviral treatment and nutritional support. 


The conclusions also called on governments to incorporate the value and cost of unpaid work to society in policies, strategies and budgets across relevant sectors; ensure that women and men have access to maternity and paternity leave; increase access to public infrastructure, such as transportation, to reduce the care burden on households; develop strategies to eliminate gender stereotypes; collect sex-disaggregated data to inform policymaking; adopt measures to overcome the negative impacts of the economic and financial crisis; and allocate financial resources at the international level for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, among other instruments.  Access the conclusions, at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw53/AC%20adopted%2013%20March%20advance%20unedited%20version.pdf




For the first time since 2004, CSW delegates entered in to discussions regarding a review of the Communications Procedure and the working group that oversees this mechanism. This procedure allows individuals, non-governmental organizations, groups or networks to submit complaints, appeals or petitions, to the commission, about violations of women’s human rights in any country in the world. These submissions are then used, by this working group, to identify emerging trends and patterns of injustice and discriminatory practices against women for purposes of policy formulation and the development of strategies for the promotion of gender equality.  The five-member working group, made up of representatives from each world region, presents a report of substantiated allegations to the commission, along with the responses made by governments.


While the procedure has been largely ineffective, member states have postponed discussions on its repair and rejuvenation, each year since the 48th CSW session in 2004 when it was addressed in addendums to a report from the Secretary-General, which reviewed the functioning of the working group and the procedure, and proposed recommendations for its improvement. While postponing the discussion on the procedure last year, the commission requested the Secretary-General to update the 2004 addendums with additional or updated views from member states.  Nine states (Azerbaijan, France, on behalf of the European Union, Egypt, Lebanon, Madagascar, Morocco, the Russian Federation, Switzerland and Thailand) responded to the Secretary General’s requests for information, and their views were presented in a report: http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/627/82/PDF/N0862782.pdf?OpenElement


Several delegations made numerous comments on the report and the procedure, including observations on its limitations, suggestions on strengthening it, as well as ideas for an additional mechanism that would better capture the situation of women around the world. 

In addition, the commission appointed Hoh Sang-Wook (Asian States Group) to the Working Group on Communications but decided to defer naming remaining members till the session next year. To find out more about the discussions on this issue at the CSW, go to:



To read more about the procedure itself, go to: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/communications_procedure.html#where


To submit a written complaint for consideration during CSW 2010, write before August 26, 2009 to: CSW Communications Procedure, Women's Rights Section, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, DC2, 12th floor, New York, New York, 10017; Fax: (212) 963 3463 or send an e-mail message to: csw-cp@un.org



Member states also considered a resolution that addressed the difficult situation of women in Palestine and called for the protection of the human rights of Palestinian women and girls and for the intensification of measures to improve the conditions faced by Palestinian women. Further, it reaffirms that Israel’s occupation “remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society…” and demands that Israel comply with international declarations and conventions that protect the rights of Palestinian women, among other provisions.


Though the resolution was passed by the commission (with some abstentions and some votes against it), it caused some controversy. In particular, the representative from Israel raised the point that it omitted all references to the contributions of  ‘Hamas’ and ‘terrorists’ to the continued plight of Palestinian women, and therefore did not present an accurate picture of the situation there. The US explained that while they were deeply concerned about the situation in Palestine, they voted against the resolution as it presented an ‘unbalanced’ view of the situation and politicized the commission. The UK, which also voted against the resolution, raised similar objections.  For more detailed coverage of the proceedings, go to: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/wom1728.doc.htm

Access the complete resolution: http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/5ba47a5c6cef541b802563e000493b8c/695631d2afcc1bf88525757800604801!OpenDocument



The issue of the gender architecture reform process was vigorously discussed by government delegates and NGOs alike.  The basis for much of this discussion was the recently released report “Institutional Options for Strengthening the Institutional Arrangements for Support to Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.   This paper outlines funding, governance structure, and staffing issues for the four institutional options (see IWTC’s GlobalNet #341 https://www.iwtc.org/gnets/341.html) with an emphasis on the fourth option, the composite entity.  The composite entity would bring together the four existing women-specific agencies within the UN, i.e. the UN Development Fund for Women, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and the International Research and Training Institute for Women.  This report can be accessed at http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/letters/swcgenderequality.pdf


Government delegates addressed this issue in the Agreed Conclusions. In particular, paragraphs 14 and 15h of the outcome document support the process moving forward and acknowledge the need to address under-resourcing for gender equality in the UN system.  Although there is not complete agreement among Member States, a growing number of States are favoring the composite entity.


NGOs have been a strong force in keeping discussion of the gender architecture reform process alive and on track.  More than 300 organizations have become part of a global campaign  known as the GEAR campaign which is spearheaded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership  and WEDO —that has been working with women in every world region to pressure governments for action. The GEAR campaign supports the creation of a composite entity that would be led by an Under-Secretary General, be “ambitiously funded” and which would include meaningful participation of civil society. 


During the CSW, the GEAR organizers convened workshops and strategy sessions in addition to launching a petition to be signed by individuals that calls for the creation of a new women’s entity at the UN and for significant civil society participation to be integrated into all stages of its development and functioning. To sign the petition, visit http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/GEAR.

To keep current on progress on the gender architecture reform process and to access information from the GEAR site, contact gearcampaign@gmail.com with your organizational affiliation to request an invitation to the website. .


To become an active member of the GEAR campaign in your country, contact your regional focal for information.  Regional focal points are:

- Africa:   African's Women Development and Communication Network (FEMNET),

- Asia:  Asia Pacific Women’s Watch (APWW) ,

- Latin America:  Foundation for Studies and Research on Women (FEIM), - South Asia:  South Asian Campaign for Gender Equality (SACGE)/SAATHI, and

- Europe:  European Women’s Lobby: Globalising Gender Equality and Social Justice.

For a complete list of the WG see  http://gear.collectivex.com/uploads/files/x/000/017



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