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Advancing women’s rights… or reinforcing the status quo?

Every year in New York at this time of year, thousands of women take over New York in the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), to address gender equality and women’s empowerment. CSW takes place in March, to coincide with Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and the 31 days we’re allotted to address “all things women.”

The Commission itself was founded in 1946, shortly after the creation of the UN itself. The purpose was to raise awareness and develop policy around international women’s issues and to monitor women’s standing around the world. The Commission was engaged in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, and Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security — three historic and essential global agreements for women’s rights. Basically the backbone of global women’s rights work.

In 1987, the Commission started meeting annually. Ten years later, in 1997, the Commission adopted the policy of coming to negotiated conclusions through debates, panels and round tables. The annual conclusions form international commitments made by member countries. All this sounds great — and is important.

However, negotiation spaces are limited to government delegations and accredited organizations, leaving the voices of many activists and civil society organizations on the outside. Feminist organizations are forced to organize ‘parallel events’ on the periphery of the official meeting, outside the halls of power. There are political implications to who is present — and absent — from these spaces.

As someone who has worked on women’s rights for over twenty-five years, I have only attended one CSW. Yes, just one.

It was a few years ago, but I still recall the experience. I was wearing a suit, with a t-shirt underneath that said “feminist” — in Arabic. The security guard stopped me before I could enter.

“What does that shirt say?!” he demanded.

“Feminist!” I said.

Read more here!


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