Activists blast ‘bland’ UN declaration as step backwards for women’s rights


As the Commission on the Status of Women meets, some UN states have been accused of trying to dilute a women’s rights declaration


Women’s rights activists have expressed alarm at the proposed wording of a UN declaration that they say could portend a major step backwards for women’s rights.

The text of the declaration, due to be published on 9 March at the start of the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), has been branded bland and unambitious.

This year’s CSW will mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark fourth women’s world conference in Beijing in 1995. The conference’s platform for action, signed by 189 governments, identified 12 critical areas to empower women, such as greater involvement in decision-making and in conflict resolution, improving the rights of girls and ending violence. At the time, the agreement was seen as far-reaching and a blueprint for achieving women’s empowerment.

The two-week CSW, held in New York, will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations over the past two decades.

But last week, the Women’s Rights Caucus, which monitors discussions at the CSW, said it was concerned that the language in the declaration was being watered down by certain UN states.

The caucus called on organisations to add their signatures to a statement demanding the declaration be strengthened.

‘At a time when urgent action is needed to fully realise gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls, we need renewed commitment, a heightened level of ambition, real resources, and accountability,’ said the statement.

‘This political declaration, instead, represents a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments that fails to match the level of ambition in the Beijing declaration and platform for action and in fact threatens a major step backward.’

It added: ‘Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration.’

By Thursday, more than 770 organisations had signed the caucus statement.

It is understood that Russia, the Holy See (which has a seat on the UN as a non-member permanent observer state), Indonesia, Nicaragua and the Africa group of countries have tried to limit references in the text to human rights and to remove mention of the role feminist groups play in advancing gender equality. These states argue that human rights was just one chapter of the Beijing platform for action, rather than an overarching theme. Caribbean countries are also understood to have failed to step up to support women’s rights.

Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Canada, Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Australia and the EU are believed to be among those that have repeatedly challenged any removal of references to human rights.

The Holy See is also thought to have wanted mention of a standalone gender equality target proposed in the sustainable development goals removed from the declaration.

Any specific reference to women’s rights activists is expected to be lost.

The pushback on women’s existing rights from these states is not unusual in UN political statements, or are their attempts to block any progressive moves forward.

A record 8,600 civil society activists have signed up to attend this year’s CSW, which, as well as reflecting on the Beijing agreement, will discuss its relevance to the proposed SDGs, which are due to be implemented next year.

Photos © Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

Reblogged from The Guardian

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