Being a delegate to Beijing +15 and 54 Commission on Status of
Women was an extraordinary privilege, particularly if you had participated
in the 1995 Women’s World Conference in Beijing, as I was able to do. The
CSW provides a window of experience to the intensity of our movement through
the highly charged lens of a global perspective of current efforts; and
initiatives across the 191 member states. This year was particularly special
as it commemorates the 15 years of passion and fervor of almost 4000 woman
who attended the CSW in a crescendo call to action. Everyone seeking only to
bring their experiences to the table, proud to showcase the advances in
their country, but at the same time impatient to speed up the pace of
progress. Wanting to share and learn and exchange ideas in order to speed
up the process of change. Lending support where it was needed, offering
resources and mentoring to each other without the barriers of culture or
language, age race or religion. We were all united in our determination to
make the world a better place.
Women in Parliament
About the UN CSW
The Commission on the Status of Women CSW, established in 1946, is
a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),
dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women's
rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. Every
year, representatives of 45 Member States gather at United Nations
Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify
the challenges that face us all and, set global standards and formulate
concrete policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women
worldwide. It is the principal global policy-making body in the World.
Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General
Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program the following
1. A follow-up process to
2. Make recommendations to
the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field
of women's rights.
3. Regularly review the
critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action
4. Develop a catalytic
role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.
5. Identify emerging
issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting equality between women
The CSW is a crash course in understanding the big picture of how nations to
come together to discuss and plan policy that ultimately will become a moral
and ethical standard for all countries to ratify ad adopt. It is a glimpse
of the legislative state of affairs in your home country and abroad. It is
an exhibition of policy development and the tally of the blood sweat and
tears of grass root work and perspectives of women all over the world. It
is a patient and resplendent honoring of all women from a myriad the
cultures. It is above all the recognition of the work that has been put in
by our foremothers who paved the road for us the old fashioned way, one
brick at a time, and those who today continue to do so. Thank you to you
NGO’s at the CSW
The NGO/CSW/NY was founded in 1975, with the primary objective of advocate
to Member States and the UN for the adoption of programs and policies that
will advance the economic, political, legal, health and educational status
of women worldwide and to promote women’s rights and gender equality on a
global basis and across all cultures.
Representing 80 organizations NGO/CSW provides information on programs,
policies and advocacy that are making a difference in the lives of the
world’s women and to facilitate the efforts of women and men, girls and
boys, to develop more effective strategies and broad partnerships to empower
women and promote the human rights and gender equality of every woman,
Each year NGO organizes the NGO Forum Consultation Days in preparation for
the two week UN CSW sessions that take place in February and March. This
way it manages to bring together activists from around the world and
provides a venue for effective networking, allowing for the sharing of
unique strategies and best practices in lobbying governments and encouraging
them to implement resolutions; honor treaties they have signed and to
allocate necessary resources. It also enables a caucus to come together to
issue joint statements and provide wording for the Agreed Conclusions of the
annual UN CSW. This year the work was particularly effective and shall no
doubt be commended in the report on parallel events and impressions to be
presented in an upcoming paper.
CSW UN Assembly sittings
This year’s CSW went directly into the Assembly meetings with detailed
country reports, each presented by high level national representatives.
Opening remarks were made by senior members such as
Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues,
who gave a well researched and brief overview of the current state of gender
parity around the globe.
Unlike previous years, the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon gave his inaugural
speech at the celebration of the International Women’s day. He was very
encouraging in his support of women's issues and made mention that as a
father of daughters he agreed that women must have the same possibilities
open to them as men.
With 181 countries represented, these sittings heard the country reports,
each in turn recounting the achievements made in their homelands and but
also lamenting the distance yet to be covered. Some countries like Finland
have achieved a great deal , whilst smaller Island states are still
struggling to recognize the dignity and rights of women to have the choice
of what occurs in their bodies and to have political standing.
Over all, the economically stronger and better educated countries have seen
better progress, while the developing countries are still struggling to make
inroads with the problems. Keep in mind, a gain may seem small by citizens
of the developed countries where in fact they can represent a huge
milestone of progress in another. Whilst some perceived large gains in the
north may have no congruence to the southern hemispheres. Hence
perspectives of progress involve both a cultural macro and micro
understanding of the impact of each achievement. Following the protocol of
due respect to all cultures and countries, and with so many proud nations
presenting updates, this report will not name them individually. Over all
the following themes of success and challenges were presented.
Critical development: GEAR
Begun in 2006 the Gender Architecture Reform gathered steam at the 50th CSW
when there was a growing recognition that women need to be in high decision
making places. See authors report on “ Women in High Decision Making Places
“ Commensurate with this is the need for a women’s entity at that UN level
with full authority and privileges on all matters pertaining to women’s
issues. NGOs across the globe worked tirelessly to formulate and advance
this campaign and in subsequent years may well have paved the way for it to
culminate in the soon to be formed “Entity”.
At the inaugural opening ceremony on International Woman’s Day the UN
Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called on governments to take action to
create the entity without further delay. On March 4 the UN was filled with a
sea of enthusiastic women wearing the signs “GEAR UP NOW!” and a similar
sign was hung in the balcony on the day of his speech as part of the UN
official observance this day .
This CSW focused on advancing the GEAR campaign through both civil society
and governmental support and bring full pressure for the formation of the
new Entity, so referred to as it does not as yet have assigned name. The
goal is to have all the steps of the informal discussion on the System Wide
Coherence SWC resolution written and presented in the GA session ending June
2010 and have the final approval by September which is the end of this GA
session. Already over 60 countries from all regions are in support of the
new gender architecture. China and the G 77 countries are also in support.
The resolution is anticipated to pass the end of this GA session in time for
the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit review in September, but there
are still a number of important details to be resolved.
Now, the GEAR Campaign’s greatest concern is not whether the
entity will be created but WHAT will be created. NGO’ have been very vocal
on this matter and in packed parallel events at this 54 session and since
2006 have formulated and outlined proposals for the entity. Whilst continued
discussion has been taking place at all levels NGO’ have made the following
absolutes made known with resounding clarity.
Timing: The entity is created now and not be delayed until all
other matters at the UN are solved.
2. Effective and operational: The entity expected to have some teeth
which translate into real authority with sanctions and privileges. The
entity should be the driver in the UN System for women’s empowerment and
gender equality with strong country level operational capacity to hold the
system accountable for gender mainstreaming as well as able to engage in its
own programmatic work and to support governmental and NGO work at all level
Entity is well funded with $500 million to $ 1 billion US dollars
Recruitment for the head is clear and accessible and transparent
and should be drawn from global applicants through open global search. And
that it be a woman. Over all, the economically stronger countries have seen
a better progress while the developing countries are still struggling to
make some inroads.
Civil Society Participation: Civil society is recognized for its
role and continues to provide the expertise on the needs of women on
governing body and as well CS advisory body at global and regional and
Overall gains across the globe
When addressing us at the CSW Secretary of State Hilary Clinton
described the 19 century as the time of the struggle for freedom from
slavery. The 20 century as a surge for freedom from totalitarianism, she is
optimistic the 21 century will be the one where we gain major success on
women’s rights. Within this perspective we can say that a lot of gains have
been made in every field of education, economics, politics, health and
community. Women’s rights and human dignity has been advanced in many
On an optimistic note, the presentation of the country reports
clearly showed many advances for women in education, economics and general
conditions. Yet as feminists we realize that our gains are still miniscule
when we considering against the goals that are yet to be reached and further
MDGs and BPFA yet not touched.
Without going into the actual statics and details country by
country and region by region, the following is a brief over view of the
progress and the challenges yet to come. The most impressive factor from all
these Nation State reports is to note the cumulative effort that is being
exercised across the globe at all levels by so many in the march towards
gender parity and the amelioration of women’s condition and environment.
Indeed the efforts of improving women’s issues have never been greater. The
following is a balance sheet in summary.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW) the international human rights treaty that is
exclusively devoted to gender equality. Adopted on 18 December 1979 by the
UN General Assembly, and described as an international bill of rights for
women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, defines discrimination
against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such
Thirty years after its creation CEDAW has reached almost universal
ratification with 186 countries signing the declaration. Exceptions still
include the US. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton clearly stated that CEDAW
was a priority for President Obama and his administration. NGO’s and the
women’s movement in the US have worked long and hard and are gratified to
know that we are getting closer to US ratification. This support was later
confirmed by Ambassador Rice at US Mission briefings. So we look forward to
CEDAW becoming a reality in the US
Economic independence for women lies at the root of female dignity.
Legislation and monetary support has gone a long way to diminish
discrimination and the gender inequality we witnessed 20 years ago. Changes
at governmental level through legislation has improved accessibility and
opportunity for women at all levels across the across globe. Government,
mega corporations and small employers are in general required by law to put
policies in place that recognize gender equality in their employment and
advancement to higher ranks. Models of micro finance have extended options
of economic independence to new aspirants of micro entrepreneur’s models of
economy. Once again there is change in mind set recognizing the role of
women’s economic contribution to the family, community and economy. Perhaps
this could be the result of the increasing need for two income families.
Perhaps it is the result of the better education that we spoke of earlier
that is enabling women to enter the formal economy. Again is this enough?
More of this in upcoming reports .
It is striking to note the vast inroads that women have made in all sorts of
remote places and against all adversity to gain economic independence. This
may seem small by western standards, when in fact the gains made by them are
massive. At the other spectrum, we have many examples of women leading
nation states as the countries first women prime minister or
parliamentarian. The growth of Women CEO s is also another growing trend.
Only since 2006 are we hearing and seeing an invitation to participate for
women from the private sector. For many years I personally was a closet
woman entrepreneur at the UN. Slowly bit by bit I have seen an increasing
recognition of the contribution and worth of women in the private sector
recognized for their valor and contribution in the private sector. This year
there were several venues where this was discussed and applauded. Finally,
there is growing respect at the UN and CSW and at NGO level for Women in
Private sector particularly entrepreneurs for their direct contribution in
creating jobs and raising the dignity of women.
Taken as a general trend, more girls and women are entering into and
receiving education. Statistics across the nations and across the levels of
primary and secondary levels show that. The gains are particularly
significant in many African states and in India and China. These gains are
particularly significant when considered against the back ground of culture
socio economic and political conditions that prevail. The bias is in favor
of the western nations that have better representation of girls at all
levels including the higher levels. At university level in fact we are
seeing that in The Americas and Europe women have in some case surpassed men
in the several fields including Science and technology. In countries such as
India and China we are seeing that more and more women are, are entering non
traditional fields such as engineering. This is also reflected in the
increasing numbers of women entering the workforce particularly at
Aside from the trends there is an impressive effort at all levels to enable
the education of girl. There is a growing shift to a perspective that
recognizes the value of education of girls and women. More time and
resources are being invested in understanding the needs of girls and
providing appropriate education. More girls are reaching higher education
and there is in some countries better participation in higher education by
girls. Particularly as result of the improved availability of disaggregated
date. Is this enough?
Violence against Women.
Never has there been more effort by governments, educational and
world organizations and individuals to increase and prevent violence against
women. This fact was brought our by all the country reports as well as the
high level and NGO level discussions. Despite all these efforts across the
board since B+15 this CSW has demonstrated that Violence against women
continues to be pan endemic.
Trafficking continues to grow, particularly in the light of
global economic recession where women are sold as commodities more than ever
before. The use of the internet has enabled such practices to flourish with
more vigor. In the chilling words of one such perpetrator it is said that
“Drugs and bullets can be used only once but a women can be use
over and over “. Trafficking is still a third largest income producing for
Rape as instrument of war continues in such horrific proportions
and in forms that the use of bayonets and rifles to rape is commonplace.
FGM in certain countries and cultures continues to prevail
causing serious health issues for young girls, often resulting in permanent
health damage and even death.
Widows, displaced women were identified to be a growing
population as we witness war stricken parts of the globe needing special
attention .This is a hidden population that is in a sense lost in the blur
of socio cultural mores and the tragedy of conflict and war. This year we
saw greater attention from NGOs and the CSW to this growing group.
Women in labor takes on a new meaning when viewed within the
context women labor both in the formal and informal markets in the
developing nations. On a visit to one such nation Secretary Clinton was
informed that “women’s labor does not count”. Why? Simply because they are
not visible on the balance sheet’ of the companies or the economy.
Gender implication of climate change was a recurring theme in
this year CSW. It is an eye opener for understanding that women plant the
seed , they water the crops, the harvest the produce, they package the food,
they earn for the family, the cook the food and they raise the population
that will maintain and lead the land yet they are considered to be ‘non
contributory. All of these contributions are increasingly harder as the
ravages of climate take their toll. Members’ with climate change we are
learning how much more women are affected in the daily lives.
UN Assembly Member State Reports
High level panels require a higher level clearing and attendance is possible
only with special tickets. These panels are held at the ECOSOC level and are
a unique opportunity to witness presentations at senior government and
elected officials. Presentations are generally more open and discursive
sharing of current and emerging issues in each county. They are generally
theme related. This year a very relevant theme which is cousin to the issue
of women in high decision making places? Efforts on this commenced in 2006
when the Agreed conclusions were discussed and supported in full
participation by the theme caucuses, also named Women in High Decision
Making. The following is the report on the Women in Parliament.
It was reported that there are more women at high legislative and
decision making positions than ever before particularly as parliamentarians:
enabling a voice in policy making. But what does this look like within the
context of gender equality.
Parliaments have a very significant role in Enforcing Gender
Equality and Women rights particularly as a model platform for women in high
decision making places. The Inter Parliamentary Union met in Europe earlier
this year to discuss the progress and set backs of women in the arena.
Despite the progress made by some Nordic countries over all the critical
mass of women in parliaments is no where near accomplished. Of the 189
parliaments only 18.8 % are Women a very small growth from the 11.8 %.
Sweden has 42 % representation in the Houses with Asia and Middle East
having the fewest. Of the 71 countries polled most countries have less than
10 % women so overall We have very few women heads of State or of
Governments or heads of Parliament .So after 15 year after Beijing and the
goals and target of the Special ECOSOC meeting held at the time , progress
has been slow
A major stumbling block to increased participation is the mindset
that currently prevail the participation women in Parliament. This is the
underwriting belief that other goals of achievement have to be reached
before the gender equality issue I can be addressed i.e. economic
development has to be accom0lisde first before women claim gender parity. In
this respect The High Level Panel on women in Parliaments brought many key
points to the forefront including the resounding statement that women cannot
wait to reach a reach critical mass in parliament before we make difference.
Different methodologies were adopted by different nation states
in achieving gender parity in their own parliaments. These included
Adoption of Quota Systems
Increased Political accessibility:
Availability of Women Candidates.
Change in belief that Male is the natural leader.
Shift in norms having women on the team at high levels is seen as
added stature. in expectation
Where have we not reached the goals?
Despite all these advances we have a very long way to go .Over
all The Millennium Development Goals have not been reached. Over all the
Beijing Platform for Action have not been reached. Further we are not even
close to many of the goals including maternal health education and violence
and poverty. Women in the western nation states have and are already at
higher levels of gender parity yet they too are impatient for a full
participation at all decision making places. Women in the developing nations
have made some major inroads and should be applauded for their advances but
they still have the majority of the work ahead of them. Quite succinctly the
following are the long list that enumerates the goals that have not been
Women are under represented in higher levels of decision making in
corporate structure and governments and education
Violence against women remains pan endemic
Women are not included in peace building discussions
Education of women at all levels needs to exponential improvement
MDG 5 has seen the least progress on improving maternal health
Climate change has caused havoc on women:
Economically women work is still hidden in the :informal economy
Informal economy expanding faster than the formal: in some
.There is still discriminating against women.
Economic crisis has created many disproportionate effects on girls
Conclusion: Where do we go from here?
There are many questions that remain unanswered in the evaluation of the
progress made on the Beijing +15 evaluations. It was universally agreed by
all participating member states that we have not reached the goals either on
the BPFA or on the MDG’s. Yet all member states have recognized the
considerable efforts and attention that the women’s issues are receiving.
Many questions need to be restated and addressed, the primary one is - what
are the factors that have hindered progress of women issues .In response the
following are some of the factors
Factors that hinder progress
Insufficient role of parliamentarians play a key role in
implementing and action for B+15
Woman continue to be under represented in decision making process
Women continue to bear a large burden on unpaid work in the
Pursuit of the Beijing agenda has progressed with little
involvement of men
Lack of substantive legal frameworks
Gender stereotyping: leading to occupation segregation
Lack of Gender equality and strategies to help redress the balance
Lack of changes in recruitment systems
Women underrepresented in peace building
Violence against women a growing problem
What can you do?
Much progress has been made over the years through the determined efforts of
non-governmental organizations in partnership with Member States and the
United Nations. Yet, the implementation of the commitments made to women at
world conferences, through treaty obligations, and at international
gatherings is far from being fully achieved, particularly when these
promises are laid out in national and local settings.
No report is complete without finally asking ourselves what we can do. As
members, as an ECOSOC organization, as members of other NGO’s and as
community and civil advocates we can do a great deal. Each one of us makes
a difference at many levels and we have seen that at the CSW. Some of the
reports below really high light the efforts in other member states. Over all
we can and need to work with a multi prong approach.
We can work at grass root
level to touch people lives.
We can and must work at the
Decision making level.
We can join efforts and work
at thematic level and also at the Issue level.
I urge all of you to join us in our joint mission to raise awareness on
women’s issues locally and globally. We also invite and look forward to your
efforts in a passionate goal of making the world a better place for all our
If you would like further information, please contact me
Shaila Rao Mistry is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Jayco Interface Technology, Inc.
She holds a B.S. in Social Sciences from
London University; a Masters in Social Policy & Administration from
the London School of Economics; a Law & Social Sciences double
Masters from Brunel University, London and a Masters in Clinical
Psychology from London University. She is also a Fellow of
the Public Policy Women's Foundation of California Policy
Institute. She has spoken on a variety of issues at United
Nations Summits in Geneva, London, Ottawa, Perth, Tunisia and New
York. She has also addressed the House of Commons (Parliament)
in London, United Kingdom. Recognitions include the prestigious
Marco Polo Award as Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Asian
Business Association of Orange County. Top 20 Women to Watch
recognition Orange County Metro; South Asian Business woman of the
year award from the South Asian Business Association Network. She
has also been featured in several prominent journals in America and
Europe. Shaila speaks eleven languages; she was born in India,
educated in England and now resides in California in the United