ARROW is engaging with the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW63) taking place at the UN headquarters in New York City. Our team will be bringing you thoughts on the deliberations from different perspectives in order to share with you what we are learning at this venue.
With negotiation for the #CSW63 Agreed Conclusions started on Thursday last week, we, the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) yet again find ourselves outside the closed doors of the negotiation room, huddled on the couches of the infamous Vienna café of the UNHQ in New York. As CSOs, who are not part of the official government delegation, we are denied access to participate or even observe the deliberations inside the room, where the agenda for women and girls are debated, negotiated and adopted. The space for CSOs to be in the official delegation is very limited and hence, the large number of us representing diverse communities, constituencies, issues and several countries and regions are excluded from such intergovernmental processes, even just as an observer, let alone a negotiator.
Waiting anxiously outside those closed doors, looking for opportunities to talk to our allies to even be informed of the discussions behind the doors is the lived reality of the CSOs at most of such intergovernmental spaces at the UN in New York. Such exclusionary processes defeat the principles of transparency. However, we as CSOs, navigate our ways and still manage to find our spaces through strategic organising and consultations. While we should not stop questioning these processes with shrinking spaces for CSOs, it is also important for us to keep maximising these opportunities to push our agenda of SRHR for all. Our opportunities could be anywhere and at any spaces. I would not have known that corridor advocacy even existed had it not been for circumstances like this.
As the member states negotiate for the Agreed Conclusion of #CSW63 behind those closed doors, SRHR is yet again the most contentious agenda of debate. The biggest push back, as expected is against the inclusion of sexual rights specially on any references to LBTIQ. Further, diverse forms of families are not recognised and that any references to families are denied by the countries with strong religious influences. Inclusion of even the language such as Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) which was agreed 25 years back at ICPD was debated against by the USA. For SRHR activists and advocates, the battle therefore is not just about pushing for progressive languages in the Agreed Conclusions, but also about retaining some gains made in the past including in international documents such as ICPD, BPfA, SDG and other human rights mechanisms. Backtracking of some countries on previously agreed languages on SRHR is a reflection of the rising fundamentalisms and right-wing principles all across the world. This is getting more concerning with the USA voicing against even the word gender and certain countries joining in to support such regressive argument. Ironically, the country where ICPD was adopted in 1994 is taking a very regressive stance 25 years later. The Holy See’s activities are observed to be very influential both inside and outside the closed doors. As a result, some countries who remained quiet during negotiations in the past despite their non-progressive stance are now becoming vocal of their regressive stances.
This year the priority theme for CSW is social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. The social protection programmes, public services and infrastructure should take into consideration gender perspectives and SRHR issues of specially women, girls and LBTIQ people. The states are obliged to address inequities in access to SRH services and supplies. However, in the current document that is being negotiated for #CSW63, the language on state’s responsibilities to ensure universal health coverage is still weak. The negotiations thus far have not highlighted the implications of unregulated private health services and the need to regulate private health sectors to provide acceptable, affordable, accessible, quality health services. The document does not reflect that the right to health and public health services remains a state responsibility.
Despite these challenges, I remain hopeful that within the next few hours or days of negotiations, inspired by the massive advocacy work of the SRHR and human rights advocates, the member states behind the closed doors will finally recognise that full realization of sexual and reproductive rights is the key to achieving gender equality and empowerment. If all the women and girls are able to exercise their SRHR and have the autonomy to make decisions regarding her body and sexuality, their potentials are realised and utilised. This will prevent women and girls from unwanted pregnancies, poor health outcomes over the lifecycle and improve their overall wellbeing.
by Biplabi Shrestha