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Commission on the Status of Women 2014

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focused on the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

Read our press release which discusses one of the conclusions reached at this year's CSW - a global commitment to address gender inequality.

This insightful blog features contributions from our staff and international partners in New York from CSW 2013 and 2014.

*Please note: facts and figures featured in this blog have been mentioned in discussion at the Commission on the Status of Women and have not been provided by Christian Aid.

14 March 2013 | by Helen Dennis, Senior Adviser, Poverty and Inequality

Today we were presented with UN Women’s latest ‘Gender Chart’, an up-to-date assessment of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals from a gender perspective.

A long way to go

For those of us immersed in a conversation about targets and indicators for future development goals, this is an incredibly helpful piece of work.

And for the real data geeks, the new database of ‘Gender Statistics’ compiled by the UN could provide hours of fun.

Joking aside, the global data is still horrific, outlining just how far we have to go in the quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment:

  • Thirty per cent of women worldwide have experienced intimate partner violence

  • Only 21 per cent of MPs globally are women

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Oceania, over 80 per cent of women find themselves in vulnerable employment.

Determining future priorities

Data is essential, but it can't tell us everything and it certainly can't implement the change that's needed. So we must ensure that politicians act on the stats.

Why, for example, has there been so little progress on maternal health when we know that around 80 per cent of deaths in childbirth could be avoided if women had access to essential maternity and healthcare services?

Secondly, to make sense of the stats and define future policy priorities, we need to continue to listen to women and girls' stories.

We heard some of these testimonies in a meeting Christian Aid convened yesterday morning.

Our partners in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and across Asia were able to tell us things that data will simply never reveal.

Have we thought about...?

  • Have we thought about the impact that gender imbalances in decision-making have had on policy-making around climate change? Why is it, asked Ellen Dzah from ABANTU for Development in Ghana, that public policy has focused so much on cocoa production and ignored the experiences of women working in agriculture?

  • Joan Nyanyuki, Director of COVAW – the Coalition on Violence Against Women - highlighted how the post-election violence of 2008 in Kenya had increased the risk of sexual violence to women and girls living in the slums. Have we focused enough, she wondered, on implementing laws and securing prosecutions?

  • The World YWCA has worked to represent the voice of 860m young women in the post-2015 debate. But Nive Sharat Chandran from Auckland YWCA, reflecting on the incidence of gender-based violence in New Zealand, underlined the importance of universal sustainable development goals.

  • Sister Lissy Joseph, representing the Migrant Forum in Asia, has spent many years working in the slums of Hyderabad and advocating for the rights of domestic and migrant workers. She has seen how women working in vulnerable employment without an adequate wage are suffering. If we want to tackle violence, early marriage and children’s education, she argued, then we must also address the issue of decent work and women’s economic rights.

  • Have we also thought, asked Ojobo Atukulu of Development in Practice – Nigeria, about the quality of women’s political participation and the need to engage directly with political parties? Ojobo spoke of party meetings where women often end up helping with the food rather than participating in decision-making. She even gave examples of women being replaced on ballot papers, without explanation, by a man.

These stories are a rich resource for those designing targets and indicators for a new sustainable development agenda.

Instead of ‘treasuring what we’re measuring’, we were challenged today to ‘measure what we treasure’.

Only then can we be sure that the stats will follow the stories.  

11 March 2013 | by Josh Levene, Corporate Gender Champion

‘How are you feeling?’ asked the facilitator. At the end of day-long advocacy training, I stood in a large circle with 50 international women from our partner organisation, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

As we all held hands, I was last to be asked. As I contemplated the question, a host of feelings, not entirely compatible, came to mind. My mouth opened, but only silence emerged.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

‘Josh? How are you feeling?’

Clasping my left hand was a lady in her early eighties - a veteran of women’s rights who has represented YWCA since the founding of the UN. Instrumental in the establishment of CSW in 1956, back then she was campaigning for women’s right to own property, equal pay and equal political participation.

‘I am standing on the shoulders of giants,’ I thought.

Gently holding my right hand was a Mexican woman from another generation entirely. Just in her twenties, only an hour beforehand I watched her on TV, broadcasting live to the UN.

With calmness beyond her years, she followed Ban Ki-Moon and Hilary Clinton to the podium and gave an emotive speech about the issues women face today, including the right to own property, equal pay and equal political participation!

How do I feel? Privileged and a little in awe to be joining them in this cause, but at the same time, I feel frustrated.

Who has the world developed for?

Has nothing substantial changed for women? While the world has developed over the last 60 years, who has it really developed for?

Have we left half the world behind? Has this development been confined to men, but built upon the cheap (often free) labour of women, forgetting their rights, hopes or needs?

And what kind of progress has really happened? What are my rights worth if my empowerment has been built upon the suppression of another?

How do I feel? Ashamed, but also upset and angry - I feel like I need to do something about this. Not out of charity, but out of a desire for this injustice to be righted.

All men need to do something – not just for women, but for men too, for our progress is inextricably linked to women’s.

It’s time for gender justice

However, I also feel that something has changed. The previous day, sat listening to various UN ministers give their opening speeches, I noticed that the rhetoric around gender inequality has changed.

For the first time, they talked of their understanding of the need for a standalone goal which gets to the root of gender inequality – for economic and social change.

I feel the time is right for something significant to happen, for the male-dominated world to commit to a new world of gender equality – to embed women’s issues in every human endeavour.

I feel it’s time for gender justice. I feel hopeful and motivated.

10 March 2014 | by Josh Levene, Corporate Gender Champion

I arrived in the ‘Big Apple’ at the weekend with my politically shrewd and Twitter addicted colleague, Helen Dennis, our Senior Policy Adviser for Poverty and Inequality. And our CEO, Loretta is joining us too.

Together, we will be attending the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – the world’s highest policy-making body for women.

Women, girls and the MDGs

Our aims over the next two weeks are ambitious.

The theme of this year’s convention is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – how have they served women and girls and what new goals should replace them after 2015?

The next set of strategic development goals will set the direction for the world to spin in for the next 15 years. At this convention, the future of a whole new generation of women and girls will be mapped out. So it’s worth getting them right.

We must ensure our voice, and those of our partners attending, are represented and heard.

Gender justice for all

Our goals are to ensure that that this new global route map reflects ‘Partnership for Change’, our organisational strategy and our soon to be launched gender strategy, ‘Gender Justice for All’.

Our gender strategy has a new vision, of a world in which neither women, nor men, are discriminated, disempowered or poor because of their gender. Or to put it less prosaically, ‘a world in which we all experience our being gendered as a source of life and hope rather than fear or oppression’.

Our gender goals

With this in mind, there are specific things in New York we will be fiercely advocating for inclusion in the new set of development goals:

a) a stand-alone gender equality goal (with specific targets to tackle social norms regarding violence against women and girls, and women’s political and economic empowerment);

b) for all of the other strategic economic, social, political and environmental development goals to be gender sensitive;

c) a data revolution to collate development data by gender, age, disability, caste and other relevant criteria (think about it – unless its counted, it won’t count, will it?); and lastly

d) a complimentary goal specifically focussed on reducing income inequality.

We think that, if all of these goals are achieved, then they will provide what we in the development world call ‘an enabling environment’ for gender equality… and much, much more besides.

So, watch this space!


CSW 2013 blog

3 March 2013

Well here I am on the eve of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and I’m already hearing news of an exciting development.

According to the Orchid Project, the Department for International Development (DFID) Minister Lynne Featherstone is expected to announce this week that DFID will set a target of reducing Female Genital Cutting (FGC) by 30%, with the aim of ending FGC as a ‘cultural norm’ within a generation. So watch this space...

Last year the CSW failed to reach an agreed outcome due to lobbying by a number of countries who took a particularly conservative approach to women’s rights. This year the NGO lobby is working hard to influence those countries and it is hoped that global standards will be set.

I am here to explore opportunities for future Christian Aid engagement, to add Christian Aid’s voice to the NGO lobby for a strong outcome statement and to network with like-minded organisations.

Keep checking back for more on the week’s proceedings. 

4 March 2013

This morning I felt like I was queuing behind most of the 6,000 NGOs represented at this year’s Commission to register for the event!

But this gave me the opportunity to meet delegates from Norway, Kiribati and Liberia, all of whom spoke of the need to target a handful of states which are providing opposition to a progressive stance on ending violence against women and girls.

The last time this was debated at the CSW, delegates failed to produce an outcome document – this year must be different.

Challenging social norms

In the formal deliberations today, Egypt spoke for a group of 17 countries who are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and seem to be intent on disrupting debate, while the Vatican is opposing references to gender, sexual violence, and sexual and reproductive rights.

This has brought home the huge potential for organisations like Christian Aid and our ACT partners to demonstrate the positive role of faith-based organisations in providing a framework for addressing women’s rights.

We have an important role to play in demonstrating the positive impact faith leaders can have in challenging the social norms that make violence against women and girls acceptable.

I will be attending sessions later this week on faith and reproductive health rights and African faith groups on preventing violence against women – these promise to be engaging discussions that will present a different take on the role of faith in addressing rather than preserving negative gender norms.


Our post-2015 work also received a boost today.

In her opening statement of the CSW, Michelle Bachelet, Director of UN Women, reinforced the message outlined in a recent Christian Aid and Gender and Development Network Report: ‘Ending violence against women is the missing Millennium Development Goal that must be included in any new development framework. We need a stand-alone goal on gender equality with gender mainstreamed across all other goals.’

I wondered whether Ms Bachelet had read our paper – her messaging was so consistent with ours! The challenge now is to turn this commitment into action.

Sickening statistic

Finally, a statistic that will stick with me from today’s proceedings – in some parts of the world, a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.

More tomorrow on debates around the post-2015 framework....

5 March 2013

‘We mustn’t allow gender to be mainstreamed until our voice becomes a silent echo,’ said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvada, Director of the World Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

Today, our attention turned towards next year’s commission theme, the post-2015 development framework.

At a session organised by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development who are calling for a human rights grounded approach, I made the case to a packed chapel at the UN Church Centre for a collaborative effort to develop a standalone goal on gender and mainstreamed indicators across the post-2015 framework.

One delegate expressed that the framework is not just for developing countries but for the whole world, something that those of us in ‘developed’ countries too often forget.

Post-2015 agenda

Later in the day, I attended our partner YWCA’s side event on ‘the future young women want’ where women from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Trinidad, Pakistan and Scotland spoke about their post-2015 framework priorities. 

High on their agenda was women’s political participation, ending FGC, forced marriage and trafficking, and the phenomena of violence in teenage relationships as perpetuated through new media.

Widespread violence

We were shocked to hear the young delegate from Tobago describe the recent discovery of a woman’s headless and limbless body, said to be a fairly regular occurrence.

Young women from each of the countries described violence against women and girls as prevalent in their own settings.

Sexual health

During a briefing by the UK Mission, we heard how Iran was using language around ‘family life’ to argue against a progressive stance on sexual and reproductive health and how a group of 11 countries, surprisingly including Bangladesh, Russia and Indonesia had made this argument collaboratively.

Fortunately, at an EU briefing later on, we heard how Britain is working with its European colleagues to counteract these views, supported by Turkey, Brazil and the Philippines. However, we also heard of a split between EU countries which could weaken this negotiation tactic.

A shocking account

Lastly, a fact that I found hard to comprehend was presented from Uganda: if a woman is raped, she has to be examined by a police doctor to prove it, otherwise she is sent to jail with her perpetrator. With only seven police doctors in the entire country it is hardly surprising that rape is massively under-reported.

This is just one of many examples which demonstrated why it is so important for the CSW to reach a positive outcome over the next two weeks.

Tomorrow I will be attending a formal panel session on next year’s CSW on the post-2015 framework, as well as hearing about human rights, security and young women in relation to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on the role of women in peace and conflict resolution. 

6 March 2013

Today we heard about humanitarian emergencies and women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings.

Women in parliament 

The day began with Lynne Featherstone, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, and MPs from the UK and Afghan Parliaments.

A female Afghan parliamentarian told how a quarter of seats in parliament are held by women, though many of these are not strong, active women’s rights advocates, but appointees nominated because they won’t cause trouble.

We heard how 90% of women in Afghanistan experience violence, a recent example being a woman who was hanged by her husband because she gave birth to a third girl instead of the hoped-for boy.

Men and boys' roles

As I sat listening, I suddenly noticed that the only man in the room was the waiter serving coffee and muffins. For most of the past three days I have spent my time surrounded by women. This led me to wonder what role men and boys could play in tackling gender inequalities.

I can’t see gender equality being achieved without the active involvement of men and boys. This is an area of work that Christian Aid is currently exploring and where I think we could have a real impact.

Early marriage

At an event on early and forced marriage, we heard how humanitarian emergencies can lead to increased rates of early marriage.

For example, in Bangladesh there was a 62% increase in rates of child marriage in the year following cyclone Sidr.

Early marriage is often seen as a survival strategy following emergencies. In the highly volatile IDP and refugee camps, parents often view marriage as the best option to safeguard their girls – it is seen as the only protection available for young girls in the context of widespread sexual violence.

Speakers told us about some practical solutions to the violence such as firewood being distributed to women so that they wouldn’t be subject to sexual assaults while collecting wood.

However, the general consensus is that humanitarian response initiatives tend to view work on early and child marriage or sexual violence as a ‘luxury problem’ in the context of what is often seen as more pressing and immediate needs. This seems rather short sighted when the consequences of early and forced marriage are so wide-reaching and long-lasting.

Negotiations start

Tomorrow the serious negotiations on the CSW outcome text begin – last year, delegates were up negotiating most of the night!

We heard today that there is some opposition to the inclusion of the word ‘girl’ in the outcome document, presumably in relation to making sexual and reproductive health services available to girls as well as women.

Battle lines have clearly been drawn and I can well imagine the late night negotiations…

8 March 2013

Today I attended sessions on faith, sexual and reproductive health and violence against women and girls.

We heard more shocking examples of the horrendous violence experienced by women and the role that faith leaders and faith organisations must take to change this.

Horrific accounts

In a session organised by the We Will Speak Out Coalition (of which Christian Aid is a member), we learned that 48 women an hour are being raped in the DRC.

We heard the story of a woman who was tied to a tree by rebels and repeatedly gang-raped in front of her husband, before being left for dead. She was treated for fistula and a range of other health complications by a local NGO, HEAL Africa.

We were informed that three million women a year are subjected to female genital mutilation, with a staggering 10 per cent of these women dying as a result of the procedure. In one case, a young girl was cut at five, raped at 10 and almost died in childbirth aged 11.

I find it incomprehensible that anybody could listen to these accounts and not be convinced of the need for immediate and concerted action.

Moreover, how could CSW country delegations block justice and action by removing progressive language on women’s rights?

Faith leaders take action

Despite these horrific stories, delegates left with positive images of faith leaders taking action and, as the day went on, the unique strengths of Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) in addressing gender-based violence became clearer and clearer.

Most of the developing world is profoundly religious and faith leaders have the credibility to change attitudes and behaviour.

We were informed about faith leaders who are already using their ready audiences to preach against violence, and how religious texts are being used to challenge social norms sanctioning violence.

We heard how FBOs could conduct outreach, mobilise congregations and share information. Presenters spoke of how congregations place great value on churches as places of compassion, and we heard how faith leaders are able to use tenets of faith to illustrate that violence against women is unacceptable.

One participant pointed out that 'when pastors talk from the pulpit, people actually believe in them. Faith is a great tool in the fight against violence against women.'

Prayer is not enough

A detailed conversation ensued around how prayer was not enough and I was reminded of the Christian Aid adage 'Give, Act, Pray'. A speaker from the Mother’s Union in Burundi told us that 'faith without action is dead', a statement that felt like a rallying cry!

Tomorrow is my last day at the Commission on the Status of Women. It has been a week of intense learning and reflection and has gone by so very fast.

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