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58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women reflects on MDGs, looks towards the post-2015 agenda

arton4416From 10-21 March, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) was held at UN Headquarters in New York. Focusing on the priority theme “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls,” the session also addressed the post-2015 development agenda. This article provides an overview of the two panel discussions on the priority theme, the panel discussion on the emerging issue, and the Agreed Conclusions of the session.



In two  panels  focused on the priority theme, Member States and panellists analysed the successes and gaps of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the context of discussions around what should be included in the post-2015 agenda regarding gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women’s human rights.

Panel 1 included two civil society speakers, Chrispine Sibande from  Ipas  Malawi and Radhika Balakrishnan of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. Their remarks are available  here and  here, respectively. Panel 1 also heard from the Women’s Refugee Commission, an NGO affiliated with the International Rescue Committee, which emphasized the need for the post-2015 agenda to address countries in situations of conflict and emergency, where women and girls are far less likely to have access to reproductive health services or contraception and have much lower levels of participation in decision-making. A representative of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) advocated for the implementation of conventions that protect women workers, particularly domestic workers in Africa, along with the provision of access to high quality public education for women and girls. To view the webcast of Panel 1, click here.

Panel 2, which focused on “Accountability and participation of women and girls in the implementation of the MDGs” within the discussion of the priority theme, included panellists from Member States, academia, and the UN as well as Salina Sanou of the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD). Ms. Sanou’s paper, which focused on “Achieving the MDGs for women and girls in Africa,” is available here. Three civil society representatives contributed to the interactive discussion in Panel 2: the National Alliance of Women’s Organizations (UK), the Alliance for Arab Women, and Human Rights Advocates (HRA). These organizations called for a standalone goal on gender equality in the post-1015 framework along with its mainstreaming under other targets and goals. They further called on Member States to envision how a flexible, applicable, and accountable agenda might be measured and evaluated. The representative of Alliance for Arab Women reminded those present of the importance of official development assistance (ODA) in financing gender equality, calling for the “delinking” of political considerations from the need to assist people – primarily women – affected by poverty. HRA raised the issue of the importance of women’s right to land in ensuring food security and their contribution to development. To view the webcast of Panel 2, click here.

Panel 3, which focused on the emerging issue of “Women’s access to productive resources,” also linked to the post-2015 agenda. Speakers stressed the importance of mobilizing progress in women’s access to land and productive resources, finance, and credit through a human rights approach. They also highlighted the inclusion of Indigenous rights and women’s access to natural resources, and the essential nature of ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment to achieve the post-2015 agenda. Panellist Victoria Tauli Corpuz (Philippines), Executive Director of Tebtebba, called for the post-2015 agenda to include targets on monitoring land use, thereby protecting Indigenous peoples’ right to their land. Speaking from the floor, the International Association of Women in Radio & Television (IWART) highlighted the role of the media in raising awareness and funds regarding rural women’s access to credit and as a potential remedy to the misappropriation of land.Public Services International called for increasing women’s access to water and energy, through the public provision of services rather than through public-private partnerships (PPPs). To view the webcast of Panel 3, click here.


CSW58 concluded after an intense final day of negotiations on Friday, 21 March. The Commission’s members by consensus passed Agreed Conclusions, with strong language on the inclusion of a standalone goal on gender equality, the empowerment of women, and the human rights of women and girls, along with its integration through targets and indicators, through a “transformative and comprehensive approach.” After the Agreed Conclusions were adopted, Member States raised various concerns and made statements of support, particularly on issues of contention including sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and the definition of the family in paragraph 22. Despite these comments, Member States expressed appreciation of the eventual compromise.

The Agreed Conclusions call for the elimination of “all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spaces,” including for women’s human rights defenders; the elimination of “all harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”; and ensuring “the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights,” along the lines of the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action and their review conferences. The document recognizes “that human rights include the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to [women’s] sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination, and violence.” It continues by emphasizing the need to ensure “universal access to comprehensive prevention, affordable treatment, care and support services for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections,” including for young women and adolescent girls. It mentions women’s and girls’ right to education “on the basis of equal opportunity and non-discrimination throughout their lifecycle” and calls for “comprehensive evidence-based education for human sexuality […] with the appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians.”

The outcome document acknowledges the rights of all women with regard to work, including in the informal economy, “with particular attention to women domestic workers, who are entitled to the same basic rights as other workers.” It calls for States to “promote universal social protection across the lifecycle,” and to “emphasize the need to value, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work by prioritizing social protection policies, including accessible and affordable social services, […] and promote the equal sharing of responsibilities and chores between men and women in care giving and domestic work to reduce the domestic work burden of women and girls and to change the attitudes that reinforce the division of labour based on gender.” Additionally, the Agreed Conclusions advocate the promotion and protection of “the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migration status […] and to address international migration through international, regional or bilateral cooperation and dialogue.”

Regarding the enabling environment necessary for gender equality and the empowerment of women, the document encourages “the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into development policies at all levels in all sectors,” as well as “work towards ensuring that global trade, financial and investment agreements are conducive to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls.” It also includes language specifically related to women, peace and security and sustainable development, including environmental and climate change policies. Promoting public-private partnerships, the Agreed Conclusions also call for gender-responsive budgeting of State expenditure and an increase in “resources and support for grassroots, local, national, regional and global women’s and civil society organizations.” On transparency and accountability, it calls for “the effective participation of women’s and youth and other relevant civil society organizations” in the MDGs and the post-2015 agenda.

For the UN News story on the outcomes of CSW58, click here
For the Guardian Development article, click here
For a press release by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), click here.

Photos of the conclusion of CSW, credit UN Women.

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