The 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 25 February to 7 March 2008.
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At CSW 52 (2008), 50 WILPF participants including 20 members in the WILPF-US College Practicum Program participated in the session.
WILPF was engaged in the CSW in several ways:
(1) Gender Mainstreaming in Peace and Security: Financing the Implementation of SCR 1325 in Nepal
(2) Women and Armed Conflict: The Case of Colombia, and
(3) Women, War and Budgeting for Peace
This year WILPF’s activities at the CSW centered around highlighting the opportunity cost of military spending; ensuring resources for women’s equal participation; the implementation of Resolution 1325; and advocating for reform of the UN’s gender equality architecture.
The 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 25 February to 7 March 2008. The focus of the session was on the priority theme of Financing for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Also of interest to women, peace and security advocates was the Commission’s review of progress in the implementation of the agreed conclusions from the 48th Session in 2004 on “women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peacebuilding.”
NGO participants from around the world turned out in record numbers for this year’s session. Despite unacceptable logistical problems with registration (that saw many standing in lines for more than half a day) NGOs were actively engaged throughout the session. Many took advantage of the opportunity to lobby on priority issues as well as to network and connect with colleagues through the many scheduled side-events and more informally.
The importance of NGO engagement in the CSW was rightly recognized by Slovenia on behalf of the EU when it said in its statement during the general discussion that “the meetings of the Commission on the Status of women have proven that without the contributions of women’s organizations and other civil society organizations we would not respond proactively to the major concerns of our time…”
That being said, it was thus particularly disappointing that NGOs were shut out of negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions almost as soon as they started. This is, unfortunately, not entirely unprecedented – NGOs have been excluded from observing negotiations toward the end of previous sessions – but the timing – on the first day of negotiations – was particularly disturbing. The Linkage Caucus, on behalf of women’s organizations attending, protested this exclusion through a letter to the Bureau Chair and noted the decision as being inconsistent with the spirit of participation in the Charter. While seemingly sympathetic to this, the Chair did not formally open the sessions and access to these policy discussions remained accessible only to those few with contacts on government delegations. While the professed reason for exclusion – the need to ensure the negotiations were conducted effectively and efficiently is understandable – the exclusion of NGO observers could not and did not seem to achieve that aim (with negotiations going on until 4:30am on the Saturday following the end of the session). It is a high price for non-evident expedience when policies are negotiated away from the watchful eyes of those who are most concerned.
Alongside various thematic resolutions, the main outcome document of the session was the Agreed Conclusions on Financing for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Also available at this link are the earlier versions of the Agreed Conclusions with the language proposals of the various governments and separate links to proposals by NGOs. In light of the fact that we were excluded from observing the negotiations, these early drafts are particularly valuable in tracing who was supportive of what issues and what was won or lost along the way.
An overall point to be made, is that there was a sense that the issue of financing for gender equality, rather than being an important issue to be considered as an integral part of financing for development, was used as an entry point to win points in that larger debate – points which had nothing whatsoever to do with gender equality. Also, as is increasingly the case, the concepts of national interests and priorities were put forward as overriding considerations and so the already weak operative paragraphs are reduced in impact by being actions merely urged and to be taken while bearing in mind national priorities. We already know governments will take national priorities into account, stating it in this manner in the outcome document merely reminds us how seldom gender equality itself seems to be a national priority.
Participation, 1325 & Related Peace and Security Issues at the CSW
Some have expressed serious concern that 1325 issues were not properly dealt with at the CSW. For some this concern is centered on the fact that there is no direct reference to the resolution in the Agreed Conclusions. Concerns have also been expressed at the manner in which the Review Theme on women’s participation was dealt with.
The Review Theme
For 1325 and women, peace and security advocates, the most obvious focus for these issues was in the session on the review of implementation of the Agreed Conclusions from the 48th Session on “women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peacebuilding.” As mentioned in last month’s e-news, this was discussed in an interactive session on February 29th and the outcome of the discussion was a chairperson’s summary.
This is only the second year of the implementation of the CSW’s new method of work (adopted at the 50th session) and the division of policy development and implementation review is not yet satisfactory. In reducing the themes on which policy is developed, there is a welcome reduction in texts being negotiated and the capacity of governments and NGOs can be more focused. In addition, and in keeping with changes in other ECOSOC functional commissions, there needs to be not only policy development but also an opportunity to take stock and measure progress and assess challenges. However, the manner in which the review theme is dealt with is less than perfect. That is not to say that there should be negotiation of policy on the review theme – although some NGOs expressed distress that this was not happening. It is valuable to have the opportunity to review implementation of previously negotiated commitments. Certainly the negotiation of a text is not the way to perform this review. However, is a three-hour interactive dialogue really sufficient? Surely more can be made of a policy review and the theme given more attention in the general lead up to the CSW. NGOs will be following up with the Division for the Advancement of Women and the CSW Bureau on ways to improve the opportunity provided by the review theme in future years.
Key Points from the Interactive Dialogue on the Review Theme
As stated in the summary, “some progress had been made in implementing the agreed conclusions, and ….. the pivotal role of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security [was noted].”
Fortunately, the discussion went beyond simply noting achievements and looked at gaps and challenges to implementation as well as recommending steps to be taken. Key challenges included the continuing under-representation of women in peace negotiations and processes and participants called for increased resources and technical and financial support to increase and strengthen such participation. Also key was the support expressed for the development of national action plans for the implementation of Resolution 1325.
Particularly relevant to recent advocacy efforts related to 1325, the session reflected the need for consistent attention to be paid to gender equality issues “in the work of all intergovernmental bodies dealing with peace and security issues, and especially the Security Council….” As we have long advocated, 1325 needs to be integrated into the day-to-day work of the Council and should not just be considered as part of marking of the resolution’s anniversary. In particular is the recommendation that “Security Council members should request that all reports by the Secretary-General to the Council reflect attention to gender equality issues, including violence against women, and Member States should include gender equality experts in country and thematic discussions.” Also significant was the support given to the SG’s call on the Security Council “to establish a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of resolution 1325, to strengthen accountability for women’s full participation in all processes related to peace and security and to address violence against women in armed conflict.”
While it was an impossible task to properly review implementation of the Agreed Conclusions from the 48th CSW in one session, the discussion was impressively interactive and productive and, if nothing more, it was made very clear that the issue of women’s participation is one that goes far beyond numbers.
The Agreed Conclusions
Many women, peace and security advocates have expressed dismay that there is no reference to 1325 in the Agreed Conclusions on the theme of Financing for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Certainly the theme and women, peace and security issues are connected in many ways and having such an explicit reference to the resolution would have reinforced the link and the relevance of the resolution beyond the Council. There were several countries who supported this reference during negotiations but it was lost in the final text. However, as we noted above, we need to go beyond the numbers and, in this case, look to what was achieved that relates to the substance of the resolution and not just its call signal.
In its preambular paragraphs, the Commission reaffirms the link between gender equality and peace (para 9) and urges specific actions related to women’s participation. Importantly, these go beyond financing for participation related to conflict and peace processes (para gg) but extend also to specific funding for access to DDR programmes. The language on participation in the Agreed Conclusions also extends to participation in broader decision making spheres through urging increased participation in economic governance structures (para f) and the removal of barriers and allocation of resources for representation and participation in broader political, social and economic decision-making and in administrative entities, in particular those responsible for economic and public finance policies (para h).
Also significant for WILPF’s advocacy, is the call (in para hh) to reduce excessive military expenditures. While the paragraph is weakened by the inclusion of the language “taking into consideration national security requirements” it is nevertheless important that there is the recognition that this would be to “permit the possible allocation of additional funds for social and economic development.” Another conflict related paragraph does give pause in its call to “ensure that adequate resources are allocated for activities targeting “persistent serious obstacles to the advancement of women in, [inter alia,] situations of armed conflict and in conflicts of other types.” It is hoped that this is considered to include expending resources to end or, better yet, prevent these conflicts which are themselves an obstacle to the advancement of women.
Government Statements in the General Discussion
Far from being absent, Resolution 1325 and related issues such as women’s participation and violence against women were also raised in government statements during the General Discussion segment of the CSW. Many of the statements dealing with violence against women were endorsements of the SG’s just-launched campaign to end violence against women. Many others acknowledged the serious and wide-spread nature of such violence although some statements reflected an astounding denial of the issue – such as that of Sudan which stated that “violence against women [in Sudan] is almost extinct except in single cases deterred by law and rejected by society. Some adverse effects have emerged in conflict stricken areas.” This latter point may be the most disturbing understatement of the CSW.
At least a dozen countries mentioned resolution 1325 itself and many discussed the implementation thereof through the development of national action plans. The discussion of the resolution within the forum of the CSW was important and, as Canada noted, the Commission “has a unique role to play, particularly at this session [on financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment], in supporting the Security Council’s implementation of its commitments under Resolution 1325.”