CSW59: The What and Why

This year, I have the privilege of attending the 59th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. Here, I am a delegate representing the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), a membership organization dedicated to inform, inspire, and mobilize Americans to support the work and ideals of the UN. As such, I wanted to first write a post shedding some light on what CSW actually is, why it is important, and some of the challenges.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) began in 1947, shortly after the founding of the UN itself. Member government representatives, in consultation with NGOs and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focused on devising standards and international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women’s issues. Work over the years includes successfully arguing against references to “men” as a synonym for humanity in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; numerous Conventions protecting the women’s rights, the investigation of violence against women, and women’s economic empowerment; the collection of data demonstrating that women are disproportionately affected by poverty; and the creation of various agencies which eventually merged to become UN Women in 2011. (For a more detailed history of CSW, click here).

This year marks a number of global milestones. Firstly, the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which flagged 12 key areas requiring urgent action to ensure greater equality and opportunities for women and men, girls and boys – actions which still require much action.

Secondly, this year sees the transition from the Millennium Development Goals, eight international development goals established by the UN in 2000 and set to be achieved by 2015, to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be 17 goals developed through a consultative process, to be presented to the UN General Assembly in September.

This year’s meeting set a record for attendance, with more than 1,100 NGOs and 8,600 country representatives from around the world. Looking around, it is clear that women attendees outnumber the men, though naturally (I state because I have been asked) men are allowed and indeed encouraged to attend and support the promotion of gender equality (#HeForShe). One participant who has been attending CSW for a number of years noted that this year’s agenda holds more sessions focused on the involvement of men and boys than previously seen, which is no doubt a positive shift.

Hundreds of side events cover topics in literally all areas of life which touch upon women’s empowerment, from financial services, business, the media, violence against women, body image, public space, and education, sharing lessons learned and initiatives from grassroots organizations to governmental bodies.

What these sessions, together with the official events, highlight is just how much work remains to be done. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that progress towards the goal of equality for women is too slow and that a change in the mindset of men is required. I invite you to join me, and to call on your own networks, to actively work to promote this change of mindset – in the home, in the workplace, in school, in social media – to work together towards the goal of 50:50 equality for women and men, girls and boys, by 2030. As Hillary Clinton stated, this is “the great unfinished business of the 21st century.”