CSW58: Women’s rights under threat following back track by some African states

CSW58: Women’s rights under threat following back track by some African states

Date: August 26, 2014
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New York, 14 March: As negotiations for the agreed conclusions gain momentum at the ongoing 58th session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW58), it has emerged that women’s rights are under threat. It is alleged that several conservative African countries, including some in Southern Africa, aim to replace human rights language with ‘women’s empowerment’, arguing that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a development issue and not a rights issue, also ironically claiming that CSW is not an arena to speak about human rights. Some of the governments taking this stance are already signatory to the SADC Gender and Development Protocol which includes some far reaching rights language.

Should these states succeed in narrowing the language of the global developmental agenda and hinder the human rights approach, the fight for gender equality will be under threat. This backtrack excludes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) people; threatens achievement and access to sexual and reproductive health rights; perpetuates high rates of child marriage and maternal mortality and ultimately undermines women’s voice, choice and control.

This has sparked a vigorous advocacy campaign amongst numerous NGO and civil society groups who are hoping these conservative governments will not succeed. They are now lobbying their governments to keep women’s human rights at the centre of negotiations.

The Women’s Rights Caucus consisting of hundreds of activists from around the world has come up with key advocacy messages that call for strong language on sexual and reproductive health rights; macroeconomic policy and global governance; climate change; HIV and AIDS; and unpaid care work.

In February this year, African gender ministries, civil society and intergovernmental bodies convened in Addis Ababa to prepare for the 58th session of CSW. The goal of the meeting was to build consensus and develop a common position for influencing the post 2015 Agenda. African states adopted a position urging the CSW58 to call for a transformative stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s human rights and empowerment, grounded in human rights and tackles unequal power relations – “The Africa We Want.”

African states also agreed that the goal should include concrete targets and indicators as well as comprehensive mainstreaming of gender throughout the entire post-2015 development agenda.

Although the Africa position does not have a standalone pillar on gender equality and the lobbying continues, members agreed that ending all forms of sexual and gender based violence faced by all women and girls is a priority. Furthermore, the consensus was that the post 2015 agenda must be inclusive, placing people at the center and tackle the root causes of inequalities and discrimination for all members of humankind, highlighting the importance of recognising that women are not homogenous.

Following the alleged backtrack by some African states to focus solely on women’s empowerment and not human rights, the African Women Caucus drafted a letter to the African Ministers to remind them of the agreed outcomes of the February meeting which emphasised the linkage between rights and development. The letter also stressed the importance of Africa’s critical contribution to the CSW58.

“The Commission (CSW) is an important space to articulate women’s rights priorities as it relates to the achievement of gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. We recognise the importance of this year’s CSW as a platform to identify the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals as it relates to women and girls, and make concrete recommendations for the post 2015 development framework. In this regard, we wish to reiterate the inseparable link between human rights and sustainable development and the fact that sustainable development can only occur within a human rights framework”, reads part of the letter.

The letter did however commend the Africa Group’s introduction of strong language in the first draft of the Agreed Conclusions in relation to Peace and Security, unpaid care work, and sexual and gender-based violence.

While the narrowing language is a setback, it is heartening to note that the UN Women’s paper on the post 2015 agenda, called for the strengthening of a human rights based approach throughout the post MDG framework.

UN Women called for “a transformative goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment that is grounded in the commitment by UN Member States to gender equality and advancing women’s rights.”

As the globe anticipates the finalising of the new post-2015 framework, it is imperative that we not only zealously guard women’s rights but also strengthen and advance women’s access to rights. This backtrack is not the agreed upon African position and it is not the Africa or the world we want!

Lucia Makamure is the Alliance Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL News Service special coverage of CSW58, offering fresh views on everyday news.



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