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CSW 58 outcomes critical to post-2015 development agenda

“We cannot achieve a world of dignity for all until we end gender inequality in all its forms” – stated the UN Secretary General at the Opening of CSW 58, which I was privileged to be sent to by the BGIPU this March.

This year CSW was of particular significance as the theme was “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”. Thus there was particular focus on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment, both in terms of taking stock of the MDGs effectiveness and looking ahead to the post 2015 agenda.

This was the first CSW for the new UN Women Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. UN Women has launched the ‘He for She’ campaign so that men and boys can also support the challenge for gender equality. In her opening speech she underlined the importance for a dedicated goal for gender equality in the post MDG 2015, and reminded us that equality for women is progress for all!

This year 6,000 women from across the world attended CSW, with 135 side events and more than 300 parallel events. I was extremely grateful to the BGIPU for letting me go a day early so that I could attend the NGO Consultation Forum, which sets the scene for the week ahead and highlights the important issues that will be discussed. It is also moving to see and hear from so many women from diverse countries and cultures.

Although I have attended CSW in previous years, being sent by the BGIPU meant that I was able to attend a wide range of events –both governmental as well as parallel NGO events. It is hard to put five days meetings into a few words, but I will try to give you a brief flavour!

I started the Monday by going to the Opening Ceremony at which the Secretary General and the Executive Director of UN Women spoke. I then went on to a side event run by the UK and Denmark on ‘SRHR at the Heart of the Post 2015 framework’ at which Lynne Featherstone spoke very eloquently about the very corrosive effects of everyday sexism. One of the other speakers was Professor Michael Kimmel who has written a book called ‘Angry White Man and who talked most engagingly about why many men behave in a sexist way. I attended another event run by the UK, this time with Japan and Poland, on Combatting Violence against Women. Violence against Women is endemic in every country and Lynne Featherstone outlined how the UK was tackling this.

UK representatives to CSW are envied by the other countries. Not only does our Government Equalities Office, so ably led by Helene Reardon-Bond, ensure consultation and briefing sessions before we go to New York, but once in New York the UK Mission goes out of their way to welcome and work with us. On every evening there is a briefing session at the UK Mission except for one evening when the Ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his staff hold a Reception for us all. This is hugely appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. This year, too, CSW was attended by more UK Ministers than ever before, which demonstrated the UK’s strong commitment to the gender equality agenda.

On the Tuesday I attended the IPU Day, entitled ‘At the crossroads of sustainable development and gender equality: the role of parliaments’. It was informative to hear from the parliamentary delegates from other countries during the sessions on: Women in decision-making; the Role of Parliaments in implementation and accountability of the MDGs; and The Place of Gender Equality in the next set of development goals. There was a very interesting discussion during the session on parliaments about the implementation of the MDGs can be approached and whether each country needed an overarching structure to co-ordinate them, as they inevitably involve participation from many different government departments.

I started the Wednesday by attending a meeting on “MDG Acceleration through Transformative Policing and Security” organised by UN Women. This was well attended by women police from several countries, who underlined the importance of having female policewomen, especially at community level, where they can help women access formal justice systems which can often be a challenge in developing countries. I then chaired two meetings for NGOs. The first, ‘Addressing Widowhood across the generations as a root cause of poverty’ was organised by WPD (Widows for Peace through Democracy) which networks widows organisations in many developing countries, where widows are always the poorest of the poor and often suffer from discrimination and abuse. The second meeting was ‘A development framework for conflict and post conflict countries’ with contributions from Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, Nepal, Libya and Northern Ireland. One of the Iraqi speakers was a consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist and raised the often ignored issue about how conflict leaves nearly all the populations traumatized and in need of psychological help. I finished the day with a meeting on ‘Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: How can the international community support women’s leadership in conflict resolution’ which included an excellent contribution from our Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller.

On the Thursday I began the day by going to hear some of the country statements – from Burkino Faso, Equitorial Guinea, Sudan,Zimbabwe,Brazil and Mongolia. I then went to a very interesting meeting organised by the UK with ODI and OCD on ‘Tackling Social Norms’ at which Justine Greening gave an excellent speech. I followed this by going to listen to the negotiations around the Draft Conclusions. The output of CSW is the Agreed Conclusions document, and this is reached by the countries negotiating the Draft Conclusions that are issued before CSW commences. The UK is represented through the EU and it was fascinating to listen to the countries dealing with the text line by line. I am relieved to hear that Agreed Conclusions were finally reached at deadline time, as two years ago they were unable to agree.

The Friday was my last day and I was delighted to be able to meet some of the Kenyan Women MPs attending from KOWEPA. Although women are becoming better represented in the Kenyan Parliament, they face some difficult challenges from their male counterparts who do not wish them to have equal resources. Saferworld then ran a meeting on Gender and Peace in the post 2015 development agenda’, highlighting the fact that wo voimen’sces are not heard either during peace negotiations or post conflict. There were many interesting contributions including from Liberia, Fiji, Tunisia and Sudan. The final meeting that I attended was on Women in Afghanistan: Ongoing Challenges and Successes. With the ISAF troops withdrawing, many women in Afghanistan are very worried that their rights, and the advances that they have made during the past 12 years, are going to be traded for peace with the Taliban.

CSW is always such an interesting conference to be able to attend and I am most grateful to the BGIPU this year for giving me the opportunity to go. Meeting and hearing from women from so many countries is such a fascinating privilege and experience. Although we come from different places we have so much in common. It was a critical year in terms of achieving Agreed Conclusions which will help add to the debate on The Post 2015 development agenda and addressing poverty and gender inequality because, in the words of the UN Women Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “We cannot win with half the team left outside the game.”


Baroness Hodgson of Abinger CBE