CSW 2015 – Beijing Plus 20

This was my fifth year participating in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held each year in March at the United Nations. This year was particularly important as it not only is a review of progress made over the past 20 years in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action developed in 1995 at the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, but also focuses on opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda. 2015 is quite a milestone year for women since it is also the 15th anniversary of UN SCR 1325 that urges the increased participation of women in all aspects of peacebuilding and incorporation of gender perspectives in all peace and security efforts.

As always, CSW was breathtaking both in the scope and diversity of issues explored as well as the commitment, passion and talent of 8,000 community leaders meeting together from all over the world. CSW is the lead champion of the global campaign for women’s equality and empowerment, and it includes both government gender ministers reporting on progress on women’s advancement in their own countries, and NGO leaders sharing challenges and lessons learned in their respective countries. This year was the 59th year that CSW has brought leaders together to explore common issues and grapple with local to global solutions.

While government leaders share their country reports in the UN building, thousands of civil society leaders discuss and share in interactive programs over a two week period held in simultaneous sessions at the UN and in 3 other venues. I’m always amazed how many women make it to New York. While I get frustrated and saddened with how many real issues still confront women across the globe, I am heartened at the passion and dedication of so many talented grassroots leaders.

The Beijing Platform of Action included 12 critical areas of concern to women: poverty, education and training, health, violence against women, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanism for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment, and the girl-child. CSW sessions focused on these 12 themes from a wide range of regional and organizational perspectives and strategies for action.

I was struck with how many sessions focused on the global epidemic of violence against women in its many forms. One in three women has experienced violence which is often under-reported due to fear of reporting, shame and many other factors. Human trafficking, including both labor and sex trafficking, is a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations. Other sessions focused on incidences of rape in societies, in the military, school-based violence, and programs to prosecute the perpetrators, train men and educate boys, provide services and employment for victims, and more.

There was also much focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, that will be adopted in September at the UN General Assembly. These goals build on the 8 Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 that galvanized unprecedented efforts to reduce extreme poverty and meet the needs of the world’s poor by this year. Out of 17 proposed SDGs that will go to the year 2030, one specifically focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls and the others focus on an ambitious post-2015 development agenda. CSW sessions focused on ensuring that gender equality, the empowerment of women, women’s full enjoyment of human rights, the eradication of poverty and a reduction of violence against women are included and prioritized in a post-2015 framework.

A number of sessions focused on action steps. Our UNA-USA program, co-sponsored with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and others, held a program on how to join the Cities for CEDAW Campaign. Practical strategies were shared from San Francisco, Louisville, Salt Lake City and Washington DC in terms of implementing CEDAW at the local level, with a goal of having 100 cities adopt CEDAW by the end of this year.

I was personally pleased to see a report I had just completed for UN Women entitled “Beijing + 20: The Representation of Women and the UN System Past, Present, and Future” just come out on the first day of CSW and be well received. http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2015/03/the-representation-of-women-and-the-united-nations-system

The real fun at CSW is meeting extraordinary women and hearing their stories – I always feel inspired hearing these stories and the commitment of so many women and girls.  We learned, shared, networked and committed ourselves to increased collaboration and standing up for justice and women’s empowerment. I again leave CSW with a renewed commitment to do all that I can to promote women’s rights and gender equality, get more actively engaged in reform efforts, and continue to provide leadership training to ensure that more and more women step into leadership positions at all levels. It was an honor to be at CSW with such remarkable women.