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IPU at CSW 61: Empowering Parliaments to empower Women

It was a great privilege to be sent by the IPU to the 61st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting this year, where the priority theme was “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, which was also the subject of a new report from the Secretary General.

CSW’s annual two week session, this year from 13 – 24 March, brings together UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities at the UN building in New York and is supported by UN Women. As well as holding a ministerial meeting to reaffirm political commitment to gender equality, all member states give a three minute statement relating to the priority theme.

This year was the first CSW for the new Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, and it was reassuring to hear him make clear his commitment to gender equality in the opening session.  The Secretary-General’s report had highlighted many of the issues surrounding the changing world of work. This included obstacles women faced in exercising their rights to and at work and analysed the opportunities and challenges for women’s economic empowerment posed by the increasing informality and mobility of labour, and the technological and digital developments that are transforming the world of work.

Economic empowerment emerged as an important issue throughout the week. The Deputy Secretary General, Ms Amina J. Mohammed, told us that women’s economic empowerment was central to attaining the SDGs. However, there were challenges to overcome. There is a gender pay gap and too often women are having to do unpaid care work resulting in little time available to carry out paid employment. The Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, urged the private sector to help to create jobs and enable women access to the job market.

Every year there is also a Review Theme at CSW, reflecting back on a theme from a previous session, and this year’s Review Theme was of the agreed conclusions from the 58th Session of CSW on the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

Unfortunately, this year, CSW came the week where there was ‘ping pong’ on the EU Bill in Westminster, so no-one from the House of Commons, including Ministers, were released to travel, so Baroness Armstrong and I were the sole Parliamentarians attending – as she is a Labour Peer, and I am a Conservative, we in effect ‘paired’! We attended the first week from 13-17 March and between us we tried to cover as many as possible of the UK events.

The CSW falls under the remit of the Government Equalities Office and Helene Rearden-Bond and Charles Ramsden attended. As in previous years they had put in much work prior to CSW with NGO Consultation Days and organisation for UK representation. Hilary Spencer, the Director of the UK Government Equalities Office, also attended for the first time.

As in previous years the UK Mission held evening meetings where all of us, including NGOs, could come and catch up on the day’s events. The UK Mission also holds a Reception for attendees from the UK, which is always a highly enjoyable occasion. Enormous thanks go to our Ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, and his staff at the UK Mission, who put in much work to make us all feel so welcome.

The side events are always worth attending – these are meetings run on specific topics by countries. The UK’s events included one with Lichtenstein and Nigeria on Modern Slavery, and they co-hosted events with Denmark on Women, Peace and Security and Social Norms, Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Young People.

This year’s CSW was somewhat interrupted by Storm Stella on the first Tuesday 14th March when New York, including the UN, shut down and the Mayor advised everyone to stay indoors. That meant that all the meetings that day were cancelled, which was disappointing to NGOs, although some managed to be rearranged later in the week.

The IPU day was on Friday 17th this year and was on “Empowering parliaments to empower women: Making the economy work for Women”. We had a number of good presentations in the sessions on lifting the barriers to women’s economic empowerment; empowering women at work and promoting the financial inclusion of women. However, the really fascinating bit of the day is hearing the interventions from various countries which illustrate the challenges and success that they are currently experiencing.

I always find CSW an inspiring experience as it gives one the chance to hear from women from all over the world. I would like to thank the IPU for sending me again this year and special thanks to Emily Davies who looked after us so well during the week in New York.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger CBE