CSW59 Kicking off with a bang

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On 8 March, 2015 thousands, including 100 YWCA delegates, took to the streets of New York City onInternational Women’s Day, for a march led by UN Women, NGO CSW New York and special guests including the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the First Lady of the City of New York, Chirlane McCray, Nobel laureate Leymah Roberta Gbowee, actors Paul Bettany and AnnaLynne McCord, and dozens of other women’s rights leaders and activists. The theme – “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights” – was the main chant of the march, with marchers bearing slogans demanding gender equality.

The march concluded before a stage near Times Square, with several  speakers giving inspiring final words. Among them, 17-year-old Isabella, of the Working Group on Girls NGO: “By 2030, I will be 32 years old. I demand to live in a world where gender equality is a reality. Not words in a speech, but a reality for every girl in every part of the world!”

The march was an inspiring way to lead into the official opening of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59).

The following day, in her inauguratal message, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka applauded global progress in the mission of empowering women, but called on countries to lead substantial change towards gender equality in the next five years  to attain Planet 50-50 by 2030. Ms. Mlambo Ngcuka stated, “Women are the solution to some of the biggest problems of growth, poverty, the sustainability of the environment, peace and human rights. I urge you, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, friends and colleagues, to make substantial progress by 2020, and before 2030, to make a world where there are no barriers to women’s empowerment and gender equality.”

Ms. Mlambo Ngcuka also noted the efforts of the World YWCA, referring to the young women and girls forum: “I also want to greet the representatives of the Young Women & Girls Forum, who have shared their Vision Statement with us. We will, as you ask, “ensure the voices of young women and girls remain at the centre””.

Keynote speakers at the opening ceremony of CSW59 delivered strong messages of hope and ways forward for member states and civil society. Lydia Alpizar, AWID, spoke about women’s movement, gender justice, challenges faced and the future of CSW.

The ceremony also included the adoption of the political declaration which is the negotiated text of CSW59 and marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women and its landmark Platform for Action. Governments pledged to take concrete action and efforts through six specific strategies: do more to strengthen implementation of laws; bolster institutions vital to women’s empowerment; transform discriminatory norms and stereotypes; close resource gaps; boost accountability; and enhance capacities and data to track progress. The political declaration highlights UN Women’s central role in rallying countries, the UN system, civil society, businesses and others around the common goal of gender equality. It also emphasises the essential roles of men and boys, and the contributions of civil society.

It was extremely disappointing that there was very little consultation with civil society during the negotiation of the political declaration, which took place before CSW59, hence the shutting out of NGO’s in the process. There is therefore a sense of disempowerment from civil society and the overall process of CSW59. However, there are some gains in the declaration, for example it is the first time that Human Rights is specifically referenced in a CSW document and its calls for BPfA to be implemented though all UN mechanisms, commissions and councils.