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UN Commission on the Status of Women

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UN Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. It is the principal global policy-making body. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.

Early Beginnings

UN commitments to the advancement of women began with the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Of the 160 signatories, only 4 were women, but they succeeded in getting women included in an affirmation in the preamble “faith i fundamental human rights, in the dignity of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of Nations large and small.”

During the inaugural meetings of the UN General Assembly in London in February 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt helped get a Sub-commission dedicated to the Status of Women established under the Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

On 21 June 1946, the Sub-commission became the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a full-fledged Commission dedicated to ensuring women's equality and to promoting women's rights. CSW was established by ECOSOC Resolution 11(II) with the aim to prepare recommendations and reports to the Council on promoting women's rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women's rights.

CSW had its first meeting at Lake Success, New York in February 1947. At the meeting, it established relationships with non-government organizations, and began building close relationships with international human rights treaty bodies. It also participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, insisting on gender- sensitive, more inclusive language, a ground- breaking achievement at the time.

Evolution of CSW's Mandate

The Commission's mandate was expanded in 1987 by ECOSOC Resolution 1987/22 to include the functions of promoting the objectives of equality, development, and peace by monitoring the implementation of measures for the advancement of women, and reviewing and appraising progress made n at the national, subregional, regional, and global levels.

Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program a follow- up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.

ECOSOC again modified the Commission's terms of reference in 1996, in its resolution 1996/6, to include, inter alia, identifying emerging issues, trends, and new approaches to issues affecting equality between women and men.

Membership and Composition

Forty-five Member States of the United Nations serve as members of the Commission at any one time. The Commission consists of one representative from each of the 45 Member States elected by the Council on the basis of equitable geographical distribution: 13 members from Africa; 11 from Asia; 9 from Latin America and the Caribbean; 8 from Western Europe and other States; and 4 from Eastern Europe. Members are elected for a period of four years.

Significant Milestones

CSW has been able to expand the concepts of women's rights, and to get a number of UN Documents adopted by the General Assembly and accepted by Member Governments.

Universal Access to Political Rights

In 1945, only 25 of the original 51 UN Member States allowed women equal voting rights with men. In 1950, the Secretary General noted that 22 countries still did not have equal rights to vote or to hold political office; in some countries where the women had the rights, they were not put into practice. In December 1952, after an extensive debate, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which had been drafted by CSW.

Removing Discrimination in Marriage

UN reports revealed that discrimination against women was frequently due to differences between national laws on family residence, marriage, and divorce. The Commission embraced this problem by drafting the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (adopted 29 January 1957), followed by the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration for Marriages (adopted 7 November 1962). This was followed by the Recommendation on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages (adopted 1 November 1965).

Education and Equal Pay

CSW worked with UNESCO to develop programs and advocate for increasing women's literacy and equality in access to education. A study, launched in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), led to the 1951 Convention on Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value. The Commission also brought increased attention to the question of women's economic participation, and to cultural and social factors affecting women's participation in development


The General Assembly, noting that in spite of some progress, there was still considerable discrimination against women, requested CSW in 1963 to draft a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This declaration was adopted by the General Assembly 7 November 1967. Unfortunately, the reporting on progress was voluntary, and there was a perception that implementation of the declaration had been limited. This led to a drafting of a formal convention. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was drafted and eventually adopted in 1979; it went into force 3 September 1981. The United States and Somalia are the only hold-outs on this Convention, and Somalia has not had a functioning government during the period.

International Women's Year

In 1972, to mark its 25th anniversary, CSW recommended that 1975 be designated International Women's Year. The General Assembly endorsed the proposal; it also added a third theme for the Conference to those of equality and development which had been recommended by the Commission – the recognition of women's increasing contribution to the strengthening of world peace. The General Assembly also approved an international conference to coincide with International Women's Year; this was held in Mexico City, Mexico in 1975. 133 governments participated in the Conference, and 6,000 nongovernmental (NGO) representatives attended a parallel forum, the International Women's Year tribune. Based on a recommendation from the World Conference, the General Assembly declared 1976-85 the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace.

In July 1980, the second World Conference of the International Women's Year was held in Copenhagen. Among other things, it expressed strong support for CEDAW. The 1985 World Conference, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, reviewed and appraised the achievements of the UN Decade for Women. The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in 1995, significantly advanced the global agenda for women's human rights and gender equality. Review of the Beijing Platform for Action took place in 2000 in a special session at UN Headquarters in New York: Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development, and Peace for the Twenty-first Century.

Issues Before the Current CSW Session

The 2008 Session of the Commission (52nd session) began on February 25th. Svetla Marinova, of the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), attended this year's CSW Session and submitted the following report describing the issues before the Commission, concerns expressed by principal UN officials, and significant discussions in the meetings:

UN Urges Investing in Women and Girls, Ending Gender Violence and Genital Mutilation

By Svetla Marinova

The United Nations has proposed an urgent worldwide campaign to end violence against women—including rape as a weapon of war—and to adequately finance programs that would boost women’s economic power.

Noting that the 2005 World Summit leaders agreed that “progress for women is progress for all,” 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined ambitious plans to invest in programs for women and girls to combat poverty, improve health, and reduce infant mortality as part of the Millennium Development Goals targeted for 2015. At the same time, a half-dozen major UN-related organizations delivered a controversial, hard-hitting report, branding the practice of genital mutilation as a human rights violation. The campaign calls for eradication of the practice that affects millions of young girls each year.

Secretary-General Ban said men must be enlisted in the fight—including those at the highest levels in government and business to join women’s groups in making gender equality real. “I call on men around the world to lead by example: to make clear that violence against women is an act perpetrated by a coward, and that speaking up against it is a badge of honor,” he said.

Rape, sexual violence and the abduction of children to be used as combat soldiers or sex slaves are “today’s weapons of armed conflict,” the Secretary- General said in opening the session February 25th. Studies show that at least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In addition, through the practice of prenatal selection that favors males, the imbalance persists.

Recalling his meetings with many victims, Ban said: “I will forever be haunted by their suffering, but equally, I will always be inspired by their courage to reclaim their lives.” Ban pressed governments to review and revise applicable laws so that punishment is ensured for perpetrators of crimes against “the greatest resource for development: mothers raising children; law makers in parliament; chief executives, negotiators, teachers; doctors, policewomen, peacekeepers.” Pledging to work with leaders to “spur action” at the local, national, regional, and global level (including in the UN system), Ban urged a review of progress by 2010.

In response to Ban’s initiative at the Commission’s February 29 panel, speakers said that a gender- sensitive perspective on conflict resolution, the peacebuilding, and rehabilitation is essential in order to end the use of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. Women must be allowed to take part in peace talks as official negotiators and observers, and to participate fully in conflict prevention.

Gender-Sensitive Finances

Gender-equality experts and representatives of UN agencies analyzed creative ways to support women’s economic rights and integration during the Commission’s two panel discussions on February 26. Stressing that although governments had committed to providing development assistance to women through the General Assembly’s 23rd special session on women (2000), the Monterrey Consensus (2002), and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), panelists pointed out that “adequate resources had not been systemically allocated.” It is wrong to assume that men and women could equally benefit from the provision of public goods, emphasized Mireille Brunings-Stolz, head of the annual reports division of the Central Bank of Suriname. Women often suffer financially, in part because of their reproductive functions and traditional tasks. “A small budget could still be gender-sensitive,” she pointed out, adding that examining all policies through a “gender lens” is essential to break up what they consider a stagnant reform effort.

Genital Mutilation: Human Rights Violation

Calling female genital mutilation/cutting “a violation of human rights,” the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UN Development Fund for Women, and six other UN agencies pledged to work with local communities and leaders to help end the practice within a decade, and significantly reduce the numbers of girls affected by it by 2015, to coincide with the scheduled meeting of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals. The Interagency Task Force, in a statement February 27th, pointed to the dangerous health consequences for newborn babies, their mothers, and girls who have undergone the religiously or culturally rooted procedure that practitioners contend improve a girl’s chance to get married by preserving her chastity.

It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million females had been subjected to genital mutilation in 2000, and 3 million girls in Africa are at a risk every year. The statement of the Task Force denies the justification of what many nonprofit organizations and governments consider a harm- reducing alternative to female genital mutilation: a mild version of the procedure performed by health professionals. The Agencies argue that: “[They] are violating girls’ and women’s right to life, right to physical integrity, and right to health. They are also violating the fundamental medical ethic to ‘Do no harm.’”

The coordinated approaches of the ten agencies include:

  1. instigating positive social change at the community level through education and by alternating traditional rituals;
  2. initiating national-level actions through media, laws, and policies;
  3. mobilizing parliamentarians, NGOs, professional organizations, and health-care providers to cooperate; and
  4. effectively promoting capacity building, research, and evaluation.

The initiative was launched in the Commission by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who called on member states to partner with the 10 Agencies in the fight against female genital mutilation, and in the effort to punish those responsible for inflicting harm on the victims of the practice.

Emerging Issue: Women as Agents of Change in Global Warming

Gender Perspectives on Climate Change, an emerging issue requiring increased international attention, was discussed at the Friday-afternoon panel of the Commission. The main focus of the interactive dialogue was the complex link between climate change and women’s inferior social roles.

Climate change is not gender-neutral—it affects men and women unequally. Women make up the majority of the poor in communities dependent on local natural resources for their survival. Further, even though they have limited access to resources, women are usually the ones responsible for securing food and water for their families, which makes females exceptionally vulnerable to drought, uncertain rainfall, and deforestation—as well as to natural disasters, such as floods, fires, and mudslides -- that may result from climate change.

However, women are not just victims of the global warming problem; their expertise could be utilized to find and enforce ways to mitigate climate change and to build resilience to the inevitable negative consequences of global warming. “The issue of climate change is too important to ignore the voice of half the world’s population,” said Lorena Aguilar, representative of the World Conservation Union.

Having achieved consensus on the significance of women as agents of change, panelists shared ways to involve women in environmental decision- making on sustainable development, broadly recognized as the best way to address climate change. One important suggestion was to develop a gender plan of action within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and devise a gender-sensitive system of indicators that member states can use when reporting to the Convention’s Secretariat.

Svetla Marinova is a student in the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program and UNA-USA publications intern.

Agreed Conclusions of March 2008 Meeting

CSW reaffirmed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and related Declarations from subsequent meetings and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. The CSW also stressed the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and affirmed that states have the primary responsibility for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. It also recognized the importance of non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors.

The CSW noted the growing body of evidence which demonstrates that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency, and sustained economic growth. Further, increasing women's economic empowerment is central to achievement of the MDGs and to poverty eradication – and the latter is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly in the least developed and developing countries. However, CSW has found that there is a growing feminization of poverty. Further, the underfunding for women's programs is not just by states, but also within important United Nations organizations such as UNIFEM, INSTRAW, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and the Division for the Advancement of Women. In short, the global commitments for the achievement of gender equality have fallen short of pledges.

The CSW expressed concern that there is still insufficient political commitment and budgetary resources being allotted to meet the needs for empowering women. The Commission urged governments and various programs and agencies, including UN agencies, to take some 39 actions, including the following:

  • increasing investments;
  • design and strengthen poverty eradication strategies;
  • integrate a gender perspective into the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting of all national economic policies, strategies, and plans;
  • increase participation of women in economic governance structures and processes;
  • improve, systematize, and fund the collection, analysis, and dissemination of sex-disaggregated and gender-related data;
  • carry out gender-sensitive analysis of revenues and expenditures in policy areas;
  • developed countries should:
    1. increase their efforts to meet their commitments of 0.7 percent of their GNP for development assistance to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 percent to the least developed countries; and
    2. strengthen the focus and impact of development assistance to target gender equality and empowerment of women and girls;
  • undertake gender-sensitive assessments of national labour laws, policies, and programmes; and
  • strengthen the coordination, accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency of the UN system for achievement of women's equality and empowerment.

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