31 March 2017

CSW Recap: Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work

Each year the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets in New York for two weeks in March. This year, the theme focused on “the Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”. In particular, CSW 61 reflected on the women’s empowerment in relation to SDG 5 on gender equality; as well as progress and gaps in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and other issues related to gender equality and the empowerment of women. In addition to the priority theme, CSW 61 also examined the focus area of “the empowerment of indigenous women”.

After two weeks of intense discussions and negotiations, the conclusions were adopted. We talked to Marta Szostak, coordinator of the Astra network, about the key issues and developments that have happened in New York.


Why is the Commission on the Status of Women such an important event?

CSW meets every year under the auspices of UN Women. So far it is the only UN space committed to women’s rights specifically and where else if not there can women’s and human rights advocates and activists voice their concerns, deliver recommendations, keep their governments and the UN itself to account and last – but not least – celebrate every little step forward. Besides the political aspect of the intergovernmental negotiations and adoption of the Agreed Conclusions, CSW also provides a space for networking, meeting new and current partners and participation in various panel discussions, hosted by governments and UN Missions and held by NGOs and informal groups. CSW also provides one of the few spaces within the UN where we can be truly intersectional and work across movements, making sure that no one is left behind. It is not always an easy task and women’s rights advocates face challenges every year fighting for inclusion of SRHR and LGBTIQ issues in the outcome document. The rise of the opposition against sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTIQ is well observed at CSW – this is another reason why it is almost impossible to ignore it. The SRHR community cannot allow silencing of our voices and values.


What is the most crucial outcome of this year’s CSW for our cause and our community?
The CSW recognised that SRHR are essential for women’s economic rights, independence and empowerment. Even though this sounds obvious to all those working in the SRHR field, it had been a battle in the negotiations room. This is a critical statement as it might open other doors. However, the language we achieved is not yet as progressive as we wished – we are still lacking sexual rights and references to sovereignty of governments, which makes it a challenge to keep them accountable.


Why did you decide to represent your organisation at CSW this year and what were your expectations?

The main expectation was to actively contribute to the joint work of the Women’s Rights Caucus and bring along the perspective of women and girls from Central and Eastern Europe to the various discussions. Coming from Poland where the ‘Black Protest’ made itself heard across all borders last year I also had an opportunity to share information about it and raise awareness about the situation of reproductive rights in Poland and the regional perspective on the current status of SRHR.


What were the most disappointing, and the most inspiring CSW moments for you?

The UN CSW this year has been quite challenging for NGOs as the space for civil society participation is consequently shrinking. Numerous activists were not able to enter the US or to receive a visa due to the travel ban introduced by Donald Trump. In the end the ban was ruled unconstitutional but the harm was already done and the borders were closed for many of those who come to CSW almost every year.


During the second week of CSW we experienced unprecedented attacks from UN Security. NGOs could not stay at the UN after 6 pm and the negotiations had been moved to another conference hall on a floor where people with NGO passes cannot enter. This was a direct move to cut off women’s rights advocates from influencing the delegations and having a presence. In a very short time frame representatives of civil society raised the issue through a statement which was signed by 728 organisations.  It surely did contribute to our presence at the UN and outside the negotiations room during the last two days of negotiations. Nevertheless, this is a worrisome precedent that needs to be addressed through UN Women itself.


The most inspiring of this year’s CSW? The people themselves! It is always a great pleasure to meet so many dedicated, knowledgeable activists from the entire globe, working on issues which I face every day, and to get to know new and interesting territories.


Thank you Marta Szostak for sharing your insights and reflections!


Read other CSW 61-related articles and stories here: