Salma Hamid, UNFPA's Senior Adviser for Political and Multilateral Affairs, blogs on the big speeches and the main events from day one of the 61st Session of Commission on the the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York. The session began on March 13th and will run through March 24th. UNFPA Asia-Pacific will host a side event on measuring the prevalence of violence against women on March 22nd.
Welcoming all to the CSW, the Chairman, among other things said that gender equality could only be realized if men and boys took full responsibility, engaging as gender advocates and speaking out as agents who could transform social norms and stereotypes. He emphasized that the crucial task of engaging men and boys must involve challenging rigid notions of both masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood.
Addressing the CSW for the first time, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “male chauvinism blocks women - and that hurts everyone”. He said that the world needs more competent men standing up for gender equality. “In a male dominated world empowerment of women must be a key priority. Empowerment is about breaking structural barriers”.
Speaking to a packed General Assembly Hall and a packed Overflow Conference Room, the Secretary-General said that for the 830 women at risk of dying each day from causes related to childbirth, for the 225 million women who lack access to modern contraceptives, for the 15 million girls forced to marry each year, for the 130 million women and girls who have suffered female genital mutilation, for the women domestic workers who globally do two and a half times as much unpaid work as men, and for the nearly one billion women who will enter the global economy in the next decade, “empowerment will unleash the potential of all these women and they will lead us to a new future”.
Women and girls with better education and reproductive health will also have better chances in life. Women everywhere should be recognized as equal and promoted on that basis. For this the Secretary-General pledged the support of the United Nations as well as his own personal support.
To a cheering audience the Secretary-General asked that all hold the United Nations to its commitments and promises. “Do not let us in the UN off the hook.” He continued that each and everyone’s feet at the UN be held to the fire and that the organisation must be held accountable.
The Secretary-General further announced that he is joining the International Gender Champions, a global network that brings women and men decision-makers together to break down gender barriers. He encouraged other leaders to join as well.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at CSW61
Also addressing the CSW was the President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Frederick Shava who said that the CSW was an indispensable arm of ECOSOC that addresses vital issues to the well-being and progress of half of humanity.
He said when the CSW succeeds in the execution of its mandate, the world succeeds. He noted that that CSW 61 was taking place at a pivotal moment when the commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be turned into action.
Furthermore, the priority theme of the CSW on women’s economic empowerment was highly relevant to the ECOSOC’s own focus on eradication of poverty, and the feminization of poverty was a long-standing issue of concern for the CSW. This, he said, reinforces the links between gender equality and empowerment of women on one hand and the eradication of poverty on the other.
In his remarks to the CSW, President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson recalled that equal right for men and women were enshrined in the UN Charter.
“But let’s be honest with ourselves, progress has been slow and uneven and in spite of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, gender equality is still a goal and not a reality”, noted Thomson.
He said that all his own grandchildren were girls and could not accept the thought that they will not enjoy full and equal rights with their male peers. Hence he is deeply committed to do everything possible that this will not be the reality.
He questioned “Where do I turn to satisfy myself that the achievement of gender equality is not far away?”
The President continued that for this search he would first turn to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is universal and has specific targets and time frames.
He drew attention to paragraph 20 of the Agenda where there is consensus that the systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Agenda is crucial. Second, he would turn to SDG5 which specifically commits all to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. With this “I see the ending of all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere”.
He reminded that the CSW had called for the 2030 agenda to take a transformative and comprehensive approach to gender equality through a stand-alone goal and the integration of gender equality targets and indicators across the Agenda’s framework.
The CSW has now placed emphasis on women’s economic empowerment in a changing world of work. Innovation and technology played an important factor and could well prove to be the key to unlocking the $28 trillion it is estimated could be added to global annual GDP if women and men were to be treated equally in the world of work. In addition, technology can help monitor and enforce workplace legal protections for women. Furthermore, technology can help eliminate the global shame of violence against women, including in the workplace, by promoting reliable and secure reporting to ensure justice is served.
In her address UN-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that the CSW a “barometer of progress” working towards a world free of gender discrimination and inequality for women and girls – a world that leaves no one behind. She said that this CSW could be the much needed accelerator for the implementation and achievement of the 2030 Agenda. There are only 13 years until 2030 and every day, week and month must count. The Commission on the Status of Women must not be the Commission of the Status Quo!
Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the priority theme of Women’s economic empowerment in a changing world of work” (E/CN.6/2017/3 ) she said that inclusive economies and a positive world of work are powerful ways of breaking away from the cycles of poverty. Swift and decisive action can be brought about by the world of work so that women are not left further behind. The SDGs give a framework for far-reaching changes, and this CSW will bring renewed focus to the needs of those women and girls currently being left behind and affected by gender-based violence. With the global pay gap which at an average of 23 per cent women are also consistently earning less than men, underlying the need for action to address such “daylight robbery”.
Through the Sustainable Development Goals there is also commitment to eliminating violence against women, including sexual harassment in the workplace in the next 13 years by 2030. This would give relief to many women who are traumatized by daily harassment in the workplace. This also includes the ability for women to have a fair hearing when they report violence and harassment in the workplace.
On the question of rights, the UN Women Executive Director reiterated that it is ever more urgent to respect and promote women’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ensure the unmet needs of family planning for women are met. This would limit unwanted pregnancies and the consequences for mothers who may wish to work outside the home and protect their rights to do so.
Delegates snap a selfie at CSW61