From the Frontlines of CSW 62, Part 9: Gains in the Agreed Conclusions

March 26, 2018 pablo (13)

This is the ninth and final part of a series of blogposts from our engagement with the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW62)  taking place at the UN headquarters in New York City. Read the first part here, second part here, third part here, the fourth part here, the fifth part here, the sixth part here, the seventh part here, and the eighth part here. For the CSW 62 agreed conclusion, click here. 

On 23rd March, the CSW 62 culminated in the adoption of an Agreed conclusions  – amidst hopes and fears for the commitment of the commission towards progressive language that reflects the reality of women and girls on the ground, and in rural areas in particular. The outcome was more satisfactory; the commission has shown commitment towards the adoption of a strong outcome document. Intense consultations and negotiations – especially between 12-23 March, which became more gruelling during the second half – yielded an Agreed Conclusions that recognises diversity of women and girls living in rural areas and make concrete commitments addressing their realities. The Agreed Conclusion was an accomplishment also in a sense that every paragraph of 20 pages long document was negotiated and agreed upon, which was a rare case in the recent history of CSW process.

In terms of the language, the document is more progressive than what we had in the post. One of the big accomplishments is the removal of the sovereignty clause, which will set a precedent for not just subsequent CSWs, but also other negotiated processes, such as the CPD. It makes several references to the rural women and girls’ voice, agency, participation and leadership, and there is a strong emphasis on women’s full, equal and effective participation at all levels of decision-making. The critical role played by rural women’s civil society organisations, trade unions, enterprises and cooperatives in gathering and uniting rural women and supporting them in all spheres is recognised. The commission also recognises women’s contribution in agriculture and shows commitment to strengthen and support the critical role and contributions of rural women – including women farmers and fishers and farm workers – to enhancing sustainable agricultural and rural development, achieving food security and improved nutrition and the economic well-being of their families and communities.

Despite strong push against SRHR by USA, Russia, Holy See and several other countries, the agreed language of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Reproductive Rights (RR) in accordance with ICPD and Beijing is successfully retained. In addition, the commission reaffirms universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and recognises that the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to their sexuality. All forms of violence against all women and girls, which is rooted in historical and structural inequality and unequal power relations between men and women, is condemned. The commission is also committed to eliminate the harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation that are pervasive, under-recognised and under-reported, particularly at the community level.

The Agreed Conclusion also includes a stronger language pertaining to comprehensive sexuality education for the first time. The commitment also ensures that pregnant adolescents and young mothers – as well as single mothers – can continue and complete their education, and in this regards, design, implement and – where applicable – revise educational policies to allow them to remain in and return to school.

In addition, a strong language is added on promoting educational and health practices in order to foster a culture in which menstruation is recognized as healthy and natural, and girls are not stigmatised on this basis. It further talks about strengthening efforts to achieve universal access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support for all women and girls, including those living in rural areas.

Another important gain of the Agreed Conclusion is the recognition of the contribution of civil society actors in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of rural women. For the first time the commission recognises women human rights defenders and commits to creating a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights and to prevent violations and abuses against them in rural areas, inter alia, threats, harassment and violence, in particular on issues relating to labour rights, environment, land and natural resources; and combat impunity by taking steps to ensure that violations or abuses are promptly and impartially investigated and that those responsible are held accountable.

Yet, despite these SRHR gains, some major concerns remain. Once again, the commission failed to recognise diversity of women and girls with regards to their sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions. Different forms of “families” are once again deliberately excluded from the text. This reflects the lack of political will of the commission towards inclusivity.

The strong language of the Agreed Conclusion is a result of robust advocacy by the women, young people and human rights organisations combined with the hard-fought negotiations by the progressive member states. However, they will mean nothing if not translated into policies, programmes and practices at the national/subnational levels. Hence, as a next step, our advocacy should focus at the regional, national as well as community levels, to ensure that the commission is accountable to the commitment made in the agreed conclusion.

Biplabi Shrestha,