The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) sits within the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Every year the CSW facilitates a meeting which brings together the 196 member states (countries/jurisdictions) of the United Nations to discuss gender equity and women’s rights.
This blog post attempts to provide violence against women practitioners some insight into the policy implications from this meeting. International policy development is transfersble to domestic, family and sexual violence prevention policy, advocacy and education in Australia. Initially we provide some background to the meeting itself, then an overview of policy outcomes and possible application in the local context.
Australian Government and Civil Society Delegations
The Australian Government Office for Women supports a number of women to attend CSW meetings, some as Government representatives and others as Civil Society (Non-Government Organisation/NGO) representatives. These women work together to participate in relevant meetings and events that align with their specific area of expertise, and participate in broader processes of reporting, facilitation and various levels of diplomacy.
The Office for Women National Women’s Alliances are central to Australian Civil Society representation. This year AWAVA sent four representatives: Julie Oberin, Margaret Augerinos, Maria Delaney and Bonney Corbin who worked within a small cohort of Australian women. Each AWAVA representative ‘wore a number of hats’ and represents various alliances, collectives and groups. Work and participation in various events and meetings are aligned with the AWAVA work plan.
Meeting Format and Logistics
The CSW itself is a hive of activity. Five thousand people (predominantly women) travel to Manhattan for various levels of involvement in the ten day meeting. It is the largest meeting held at the United Nations Headquarters. The capacity of every surrounding office space, hotel, grocery store, restaurant, chemist, bank and laundry is stretched for two weeks. During CSW permanent UN office staff tend to bring packed lunches or work from home to avoid the crowds.
The first week of CSW is devoted to politicians, policy makers, practitioners and activists who come together to share information and network. A key discussion occurs between member states, where draft documents are tabled relating to either or both the key theme and review theme.
Alongside general discussion, there are endless events, meetings and activities hosted by each of the 196 member states. There are numerous side and parallel events, some formalised within the UN, some hosted by UN NGO CSW and others hosted by organisations, collectives and individual feminist activists. This year youth engagement was boosted by a two day CSW Youth Forum that produced an outcomes document and a series of social media campaigns.
The second week of CSW is when the draft documents begin to take shape, and representatives of member states debate key issues. Areas of controversy can lead to hours of tense discussions, sometimes over the location of one word or paragraph. There are fewer events, and more time is spent meeting in groups to discuss and negotiate the detail of international policy and practise partnerships.
In an ideal situation, the CSW facilitates a series of discussions that lead to consensus between member states on a document referred to as the ‘Agreed Conclusions’. A number of other policy documents related to specific themes are also negotiated and agreed upon.
At the meeting Governments make a series of macro-scale commitments related to ‘the status of women’. Subsequently organisations, services and individuals can use the Agreed Conclusions to hold Governments to account. For AWAVA the Agreed Conclusions are useful to advocate for enhanced policy, services, and practise at local, state/territory and national levels.
This year negotiations were tense in areas of defining violence and harmful practises, sexual and reproductive health, comprehensive sexuality education, and linking women’s rights with human rights. These may be commonly controversial areas of international debate; however, now it is as challenging as ever. This increasing friction could be a reflection of a broader political shift away from a feminist intersectional analysis of gender equity.
Meeting Themes and Agenda 2030
Each year CSW reviews the theme, and each nation’s progress on this theme, from three years ago. This year CSW reviewed each nation’s progress on the 2013 theme: the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. The 2016 CSW meeting was crucial for member states to cement theoretical links between concepts of economic empowerment, sustainable development and gender equity. Doing so ensured CSW remains relevant to Agenda 2030, 15 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) that UN nations have agreed to work towards. This topic formed the principal theme of the meeting.
This CSW was the first since the UN implementation of Agenda 2030 and we used this opportunity to ensure consistent language and positioning of violence against women within the CSW. We realised that unless Agenda 2030 is central to the CSW discussion, Agenda 2030 may not be gender relevant.
Gender intersects and overlaps with all 15 SDGs in Agenda 2030, and is highlighted within SDG5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls. Together the SDGs present a much stronger framework for gender equality than the now superseded Millennium Development Goals.
Most importantly for violence against women policy, Agenda 2030 acknowledged violence against women and girls as an impediment to achieving gender equality and overall sustainable development. SDG5 first three points explicitly mention violence against women and girls:
- End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
- Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
- Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
International Policy Outcomes
Discussion at CSW60 rehashed conflicts on women’s rights policy that had been resolved by senior bureaucrats and diplomats only 6 months ago during the development of Agenda 2030. Our strongest international policy document continues to be the Beijing Declaration, and even something as simple as re-asserting that declaration can be controversial. International diplomacy on women’s rights is currently less about progressing policy forwards, but rather holding the line of existing policy and avoiding stepping backwards.
Below is a brief analysis of some of the key policy outcomes from this meeting.
Preventing violence against Indigenous Women was platformed a standalone paragraph about strengthening leadership and participation. Early discussions for the next CSW indicate that the rights of Indigenous Women will be increasingly central.
The inclusion and rights of girls and women with a disability was put in the spotlight with a dedicated paragraph.
|Violence Against Women||
Language about violence against women that considers ‘multiple’ and ‘intersecting’ forms of discrimination. Concepts of intersectionality and continuums of violence remain absent, despite other resolutions and agreements acknowledging both terms. Language surrounding ‘harmful practises’ was revisited and maintained.
|Violence Preven-tion and Resourc-ing||
Language in regards to addressing violence refers to ‘tackling attitudes, behaviours and beliefs.’ The lack of international response to violence against women was partially attributed to lack of resourcing to implement national laws. ‘Multisectoral’ services, programs and responses were encouraged to be collaborative and well resourced. The impact and efficacy of awareness raising campaigns was questioned when operating in isolation (rather than within a holistic model). The importance of ethical and accurate media and capacity building of media professionals was highlighted.
|Women’s Rights as Human Rights||Language maintained Women’s Rights as Human Rights. Believe it or not, this can be controversial due to some members having varying ways of defining equality.|
Climate change & women’s leadership
The gendered impacts of climate change were documented, together with the risk of conflict and violence that comes with displacement. The document celebrates women as leaders in the process of conflict transformation during times of climate change pressure and relocation.
Sexual & Reprod-uctive Health Rights
Language was maintained (although arguably watered down). Many member states continually raised objections to contraception, abortion and comprehensive sexuality education. Australia, together with a number of other states, voiced disappointment in lack of international political will to prioritise women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. A controversial document on HIV/AIDS was passed.
Inclusion of the concept of ‘The Family,’ reflecting nuclear and patriarchal family structures. There is a global shift towards recognising this language on ‘The Family’ should be written as ‘families’. This language highlights the diversity of families, for example in cultures where caregiving is communal and multigenerational. Agenda 2030 did not include any language on The Family, so inclusion at CSW60 was regressive.
Acknowledgement of civil society (NGOs and community groups) having a key role in ending violence against women. Recognition of the importance of involving ‘survivors’ organisations’ in the development of law, policy and programs. This highlights the central role and holistic work of survivor centred organisations. Capacity building of service providers was encouraged to be informed by experiences of victims/survivors.
|Engaging with Men and Boys||Recognition that this engagement must occur alongside careful power analysis and understanding of structural inequalities.|
Application for Organisations and Groups in Australia
AWAVA will continue to work with the Australian Government Office for Women, the other National Women’s Alliances, the Australian Human Rights Commission and groups such as UN Women and Our Watch to participate in global and national policy development. We welcome contributions to global and national policy by means of online or offline advocacy, research evidence or practitioner advice and perspectives.
We encourage individuals, collectives, organisations and services to engage with international policy when advocating at local and state/territory level for violence against women. Refer to these outcomes documents in your discussions and submissions. Key documents have been listed below for your reference, all of which involve commitments from the Australian Government to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Should you need support finding a policy reference you are welcome to contact us.
Central to feminist policy-making is the continual improvement of language and indicators that challenge the status quo of gender relations. Whilst this year’s CSW recognised Indigenous Women and women’s leadership in climate change, the Agreed Conclusions only take small steps to challenge the status quo.
In comparison to most other member states Australia is a leader of national violence against women policy, particularly with the ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children’. Despite having a leading role in policy, Australian women’s experiences and perspectives of domestic, family and sexual are comparable globally. Much work is yet to be done to develop Australian policy and practice to prevent violence against women. We look forward to the development and implementation of the upcoming third action plan of the National Plan.
May the policy outcomes from the 60th CSW support your work in our local context to prevent and respond to violence against women. When developing policy, education and advocacy tools, we recommend you consider reading relevant documents listed below.
Commission on the Status of Women Website
CSW57 (Violence Prevention) Outcomes Document
CSW60 (Violence Prevention) Review Document
Australia’s Report Country Statement at CSW60
CSW60 (Economic Empowerment and Sustainable Development) Agreed Conclusions Document
CSW60 Youth Forum Outcomes Document
Policy and Advocacy Briefing Guide (updated 2016) by NGO CSW, which includes a map of UN committees and working groups
The Beijing Declaration for Action
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Violence Against Women
UNiTE to End Violence Against Women Campaign