Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cairo Agenda reaffirmed

Hilde Kroes, advocay officer of Rutgers WPF, a member organisation of Wo=Men is in New York at the 44th Session of the Commission on Population and Development.

After a very intense week, the UN delegations in the Commission on Population and Development reached a consensus. Until the very last minute, it was doubtful if they could agree on the package made by the facilitator. The negotiations reflected the polarization among states about sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Holy See, even though they represent the smallest 'country' in the world, was particularly vocal against ANY language in relation to sexuality, reproductive health, reproductive rights, gender, abortion, family planning, reproductive health services. They not only deny that people have sexual and reproductive rights, they also question the concept of sexual health, and deny that condoms prevent hiv transmission. They even disagree that unsafe abortions account for maternal mortality.

The Arab group, consisting of 22 countries, negotiated as a block against comprehensive sexuality education for young people. They successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the guidance of parents when it comes to young people’s sexuality. We are quite unhappy about that, but governments also pushed for strong language about young people’s sexual and reproductive health. The Arab Group also pushed for language on sovereignty of the states, which is very bad for those countries where governments really don’t care about women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

On the other hand, the Commission defended the progress made in advancing women’s rights and access to lifesaving health services, and reaffirms the commitment of an overwhelming majority of governments to reaching a key Millennium Development Goal. The MDG 5b target, universal access to reproductive health, is the most off track of all the MDGs. Especially countries like Zambia, South Africa, Urugay, Dominica, Brazil, the Netherlands and the Nordics were amazingly supporting our issues, countering concerns and deliberate misunderstandings of opposing countries.

We were with over 100 pro-choice people in New York supporting the delegations in their battle. This mobilization and the good relationships with the majority of UN member states shows that there is a strong global commitment towards achieving women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights of all, especially of young people!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The fight for sexual and reproductive rights and women's rights continues...

Hilde Kroes, advocay officer of Rutgers WPF, a member organisation of Wo=Men is in New York at the 44th Session of the Commission on Population and Development.

Little over one month after the CSW, the world leaders gather again in New York to discuss the issue of "Fertility, Reproductive Health and Development", in light of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, that was signed in 1994. This annual meeting - the UN Commission on Population and Development - holds its 44th session this week.

We knew already about a year ago, that this session would be spectacular. Of all issues, the world seems to be most divided when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender equality. Discussions around development and how sexual and reproductive health and rights contribute to that, in terms of human rights, public health and eliminating poverty seems to be narrowed down to heated debates about abortion, sexuality education and reproductive health services. At least, by some states of which among in the Arabic region and the Vatican. They would rather have a world without sex (if it is not to make babies).

Obviously, such a world does not exist. And daily, thousands of women, of which many are young, face great challenges and risks in the sexual and reproductive health. In some areas in Sub Sahara Africa, complications around pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-19. Millions of young people lack access to comprehensive sexuality education and access to commodities and services. Yearly, over 350000 women die needlessly due to these complications, of which are many caused by unsafe abortions.

We know all that. And we are here - again - to remind governments about these facts, and the needs that need to be addressed. More updates, from the UN building, will follow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The final AGREED CONCLUSIONS of the CSW55 are out!!!

For the Agreed Conclusions click here.

This year’s CSW produced setbacks in already agreed upon language from the Beijing Platform for Action. Negotiations between on the one hand: the Holy See, the Organization of Islamic States (Qatar, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria) and Benin (on behalf of the Africa Group), and on the other hand: Switzerland, European Union, Turkey, and Mexico, disagreed primarily on the terms “gender”, “gender mainstreaming”, “gender equality”, “gender based analysis”, “sexuality education”, “sexual and reproductive health”, “maternal health”, and WOMEN’S RIGHTS.

Opposition to these terms was strongly argued by the Holy See and the Africa Group. As a result of their efforts, references to early marriage and early child bearing were completely removed. On top of that, these delegations repeatedly asked for a “redefinition” of the term “gender”, to add “men and women” after this term, or to footnote reference to the definition included in the BPFA. They argued that if not defined as ‘men and women,’ gender would come to mean homosexuality, what these delegations fervently oppose. Gender equality as a term is now only used twice in the entire text!!

Allies for women’s and girls’ rights and choices, gender equality, and justice, tried their best to defend the universality of rights, and to prevent a move to "pre-Beijing ages". A statement by the EU delegation that was written as a response to the final version of the Agreed Conclusions, shows the concern about the developments during the CSW:

[…] we note with disappointment the concerns expressed throughout the negotiations by some delegations with regard to concepts such as “gender” and “gender stereotypes”. This language has been fully agreed in the past, including in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and is entirely consistent with efforts to promote the realization of gender equality. As such we were, and will remain, unwilling to go back to pre-Beijing concepts. Mr President, we hope that in the future, delegations can in fact move forward from agreed language and continue to further the overriding objective of the Commission, which is to accelerate and develop the full enjoyment and unhindered exercise of equal rights for women and girls all over the world. […]

For the full EU statement, click here.

What is to be done with the experience of this year’s CSW? By establishing links and connections between (women’s) organizations, a strong network can be build to advocate for the rights of all girls and women!! Also, keep an eye on the upcoming Commission on Population and Development (11-15 April) that will be on “fertility, reproductive health and development”.

VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to come to the CSW de-briefing at WO=MEN in The Hague on April 4th (3-5 pm)!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

There are Agreed Conclusions!

Last night around midnight we received the news: there are Agreed Conclusions for CSW55!

Through our e-mail list-serve we heard that one of the more progressive delegates described the outcome of the cumbersome negotiations as a relative 'happy end'. The Agreed Conclusions are adopted, even though content wise not ideal. From her point of view there is nothing in it which would fall behind Beijing or open the Beijing Platform for Action and the wording of gender, gender stereotypes etc. could be held. Furthermore, all of the following are in the text: 'life skills and sex education', 'sexual and reproductive health', equal sharing of responsibilities of ‘daily life and care work’ and 'multiple discrimination'.

They said that there is still no "clean text" because it still needs to be re-read with a clearer mind. In their first assessment they estimate that worse could be avoided and that there might even be some useful language in it. Also the atmosphere in the end was definitely better than in the past few days.

We can now say we look forward to the full text, which we will make sure to post when it is available. Though the outcomes of CSW55 are a relief, the tense negotiations that preceded it indicate that vigilance is required. This year's CSW was at first considered a relatively unimportant and predictable one, and then turned out to be a manifestation of seems to be a larger trend: conservative voices that fear progress. They seem to want to limit the rights of the individual, and people's right to make well-informed choices.

On the other hand, the outcome of the negotiations shows that there is a majority of countries that do not accept such a step back from past achievements. These countries did a great job in standing strong during the CSW negotiations. The many organisations and governments that recognize the importance of gender equality, with a broad interpretation of 'gender', should not rest on their laurels. We have to continue working together to give a positive answer to the feelings of fear and discomfort that conservatives are spreading. Because we stand for a world wherein diversity is appreciated and celebrated.

Today we leave New York and fly back to the Netherlands. Thank you for reading our blogs! We'll post the CSW55 outcome document as soon as it's available to us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Latest news on outcome document of CSW55

Read our latest tweets on the 'Not Yet' Agreed Conclusions. Start from the bottom to follow the events in 'historical' order. We are leaving now because no news is coming out anymore....
Delegates are now walking around seeing if they can come to agreements amongst each other to propose to the chair
Progressive delegate:They all thought this would not be important, and now look what is happening...I have never seen this in my life
is officially finished, no agreed conclusions yet. Negotiations are continuing. Seems overcoming gender stereotypes is the issue?
gender equality is agreed in the conclusions, gender-sensitive curricula and overcoming gender stereotypes are still under pressure

Like-Minded Advocates for Gender Equality

At the moment, negotiations about the Agreed Conclusions are continuing and slowly moving towards language that all country delegations can agree upon. In the previous blogpost we wrote about the obstructive attitudes of the Holy See as well as the African Group towards gender equality in the Agreed Conclusions of CSW55. Let us not forget that there are many individuals and organizations around the world, many of which are our partners, who support gender equality, freedom of choice, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights from a Catholic perspective.

Freedom of Choice

Catholics for Choice (CFC) stand for “a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health”. This organization argues from a Catholic perspective that men and women can be trusted to make moral decisions about their lives. Within their programs, they promote condom use and provision of comprehensive sexuality education information. This enables boys, girls, women and men to feel comfortable about their sexuality and live a healthy life.

Priest against HIV/Aids

Irish priest Michael J. Kelly wishes to see structural changes in the status of women. He argues for the urgency for change due to the feminization of HIV/Aids since “without a frontal attack on the injustice of gender inequality – in church, state and every walk of life- the dominance of the epidemic will continue.” According to him, the “Catholic Church must move away from its own discrimination and gender stereotypes towards women and promote their ‘active empowerment’ within it and in society.”

Gender equality as a human right

The “Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India” was written in 2010 during the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India. The document provides a whole chapter with religious argumentation in favor of gender equality. Moreover, they argue that equality between women and men is both a human rights issue and a pre-condition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back to the pre-Beijing ages?!

We can hardly believe it as we hear how the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions are unfolding behind closed doors: there is a big debate on the inclusion of the word ‘gender’ in the document. Whether it is about gender equality, gender mainstreaming or the importance of gender studies: when gender is mentioned, the African Group (unclear which countries) seems to team up with the Holy See (that is not even a member state but only has observer status) to advocate for removing it altogether.

Why would anyone want to take gender out?

These conservative delegates have argued that there is no agreed definition, and that any definition provided they would not agree on anyway.

What then do they propose?

Replacement of ‘gender’ with words like ‘women and men’, ‘children’ and ‘the family’, or the deletion of the word gender altogether.

Why is that not a good development?

This would take us back to a focus on ‘sex’: women and men as biologically different and therefore with fundamentally different characteristics and qualities. What the Holy See has so eloquently called the recognition of the ‘female genius’ (they never gave a definition for that, but one can only assume it refers to something like the qualities that are inherently feminine, such as caretaking roles in the family).

How does one simple word like ‘gender’ make any difference?

That has to do with everything that the word gender stands for. The following definition of gender derived from the Beijing Platform for Action and articulated by the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) now a part of UN-WOMEN, make it very clear:

[Gender] refers to the attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relationships between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a women or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

Beijing Platform and Agreement for Action

To place this whole discussion in a historical perspective: more than 16 years ago, in 1995 (the same year that OJ Simpson was found NOT guilty and just three years after the Holy See finally admitted Galileo was right to state that the Earth rotates around the Sun, THAT’S how long ago!) the Beijing Platform and Agreement for Action was adopted by 197 governments at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The Platform for Action is a broad-based agenda for promoting and protecting women’s human rights worldwide, which establishes the principle of shared power and responsibility between women and men in all arenas. The Beijing Declaration continues to be the global policy framework for gender equality, women’s human rights and the empowerment of women and girls. Most of all, the context of the declaration is very clear: it is about equality between WOMEN and MEN, nothing more and certainly nothing less.

Gender in jeopardy

Instead of focusing on the issues that future generations will face, the Holy See is making words like ‘gender’ (which has been defined by the feminist movement of the last century) sound controversial. This is a strategy being used in relation to other terms, such as ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘maternal mortality’. Instead of finding language that helps us define the new challenges and ideas of the future, we are losing language that we have already developed.

Sinful sweets

But there is reason for optimism. While we are sitting here as young change makers supporting our delegations in the conference room, a supporter from the Holy See comes to offer us pure heart-shaped chocolates. We know that in the 1600s, chocolate was considered sinful and condemned by the Catholic Church. We are pleased to see that attitudes in the church have taken a 180 degree turn. Hopefully it won’t take another 400 years for the Holy See to endorse gender equality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Changed and the Change-makers

Yesterday’s side event The Changed and the Change-makers: Engaging Men and Boys to End Violence against Women and Girls was an example of the increasing consensus that involving men and boys in gender equality issues is essential for change. The session mainly evolved around practical examples for male involvement in ending violence against women.

Even in Finland?!

Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, stated that there is no nation immune to the problem of violence against women. In Finland, an average of 100 women a year loose their life because of domestic violence. The country recently adopted a national action plan to stop violence against women. One of the key strategies is to address attidudes and behaviour models, a key audience of which are young men. Viinanen also expressed that though a lack of resources is a key challenge internationally, we should not overstate their importance. Ending violence against women is essentially about the political will to do so, and about overall equality between women and men in society.

UN Women and men

Michelle Bachelet emphasized that men and boys are key allies for change. Her presence at this event seems to express UN Women’s intention to actively involve men in its agenda. Joni had the honor of briefly talking to her, introducing WO=MEN and handing over our popular = button which expresses the importance of working on gender equality with all stakeholders, including women and girls, men and boys. Bachelet’s speech mainly focussed on the issue of violence against women, which is one of the five focus areas of UN Women, and closely related to the other areas of Peace & Security; Leadership & Participation; and Economic Empowerment.

Though Bachelet mentioned many succesful examples of male involvement worldwide (such as by Instituto Promundo in Brazil) she did not actually speak of any vision for the involvement of men in UN Women itself. Bachelet left after half an hour, rushing to the next event where she would be a key note speaker. We therefore had to pose our question on how UN Women envisions men’s involvement in the organization, to people in the audience. The answers were confusing and varied from a woman saying that it is about increasing political will for gender issues (was she insinuating that political will equals male involvement?!) and a woman from UNIFEM informing us that they have a MOU with MenEngage (a memorandum of understanding that expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action.) As an elderly lady from the audience later entrusted us, UN Women is still developing its strategies and there probably is not clarity yet on how to involve men. In our opinion, ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ UN Women as a sexless organization that works on gender equality for both women and men, would be a good approach to start from.

Every man has a responsibility for change

Jimmy Briggs, an award winning journalist, explained about Man up: a global campaign to activate youth to stop violence against women and girls. Their call to action challenges each of us to “man up” and declare that violence against women and girls must end, through the universal platforms of sport, music, technology and the arts. Briggs: “Most of us see ourselves as good men, because we do not overtly suppress women. But no man can be allowed to be passive about the issues of women and girls, especially violence.” According to Briggs, ending violence against women in an impossible goal without changing the lives of men and boys around the world. For too long their absence has inhibited change and progress. Never before there was such global consensus for male involvement in VAW.

The Most Understanding Husband of Nepal award

Ronni Goldfarb and Jaya Luintel presented the success story of VOICES project and the ‘Most Understanding Husband campaign’ in Nepal of Equal Access International. Through the nation wide radio programme Samajhdari (“mutual understanding”) listeners present their marital dilemmas, on which other listeners can reflect. The idea is not to give answers, but to open a space for discussion and inform listeners on what their rights are. At first mainly women were listening, then the programme became so popular that men started listening too to keep up with their wives. VOICES decided to do a research asking men the question “what is masculinity?” and found out the main answer was: having control over my wife. In repsonse, VOICES launched the Most Understanding Husband campaign. To identify positive male role models, listeners could send a letter giving 10 reasons why they should be nominated most understanding husband of Nepal. Reactions came from all around the country. The nominees won a certificate with a photo of them and their wife together, which is uncommon in Nepal. As one man said: “I used to beat my wife. Nowadays I tell other husbands to listen to Samajhdari, in the hope that I can clear my sin.” VOICES considered the fact that men say they no longer have sex with their wife without her consent, their main achievement. Goldfarb pointed out that the most understanding husband award can be organized anywhere in any context, and they are going to take the idea global.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At the door of the conference room...

In the blog post of Monday the 28th titled ‘Youth Lobbying for amendments to Agreed Conclusions’, we explained how we started to work together with CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, and Youth Coalition to influence the Agreed Conclusions. This was only a drop of the numerous activities and developments that have followed.

A delicate equilibrium

This week is the most exciting week of the CSW, as during this week the delegations sit together to find consensus on the main topic. It is a tiresome process because every word (literally!) has to be discussed. For instance, some conservative countries do not agree with the terms ‘gender’ or ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’. In that way, there is a whole list of terms that are controversial. On the other hand, there are more progressive countries, such as the Nordic countries, that are much more progressive. Since all will have to agree with what will be in the final documents, it depends on the willingness of the delegates to agree with certain words and sentences to get their own wish fulfilled at another place in the document. Basically, it’s an exchange of ‘favours’, a delicate equilibrium.


Exactly here lies the entry point of our lobby activities: we need to get as many countries to prioritize the topics of sexual and reproductive health -and wherever possible ‘rights’ as well- and comprehensive sexuality education. Besides, there are some other amendments we wish to be fulfilled as we consider them crucial to the fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights. An example is the reference to ‘gender stereotypes’, which is unacceptable to many conservative countries.

Linguistic support

Much of the proposed amendments are based on previously agreements –also called ‘agreed language’. Therefore, we look up the relevant agreed language to support what we would like to change and provide these to delegates. In that way, they stand very strong to bring this into the discussion. Armed with a number of copies, we stand at the door of the conference room (since we are not allowed inside) to talk to delegates whenever the go to the bathroom or get something to eat.

A long and tiresome process...

Today, the discussions took very long. It started at 1 pm in the afternoon and continued until late in the evening. Finally, the whole document was discussed and the exhausted delegates could go to their hotels. The moderator now needs to do his homework and include what is discussed in a new document. This document again will be discussed in the next two days… a new opportunity for lobbying!

To be continued…

"Doing Right is Doing Smart"

Joint NGO Statement

Gender Equality and Sustainable Development

New York, March 1, 2011

As Einstein once said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”

You, Me, all of us in this room here today need to realize that we are dependent on each other for a sustainable and just World!!

It is agreed by the World Community, that gender equality is crucial to the achievement of socially, economically and environmentally sustainable forms of development.

We urge member states to partner with civil society and private sector, nationally and internationally. Collaboration between these parties and governments is imperative to protect OUR global public goods.

Global Public Goods include:

- a clean and healthy environment;

- Food stability;

- a Global justice system;

- Economic and financial stability;

- Safety and security

It is a necessity that women equally participate as decision makers at all levels – within governments, civil society and the private sector- to protect these Global Public Goods.

Governments have the potential to create a supportive policy framework to stimulate the private sector to invest in gender equality. This is imperative to a true Green Economy, which is a necessity for us all and generations to come.

We recommend:

  1. equal representation of women and young people at all levels;
  2. governments to partner with businesses and multinationals, and to use policy instruments to commit the private sector to gender equality and sustainable development;
  3. governments to actively engage civil society as an indispensable partner.

As Ban Ki-moon stated at the launch of UN Women: “To invest in women is the right thing to do, it is also a smart thing to do.”

Thank you for your attention,

Rineke van Dam, Junior representative of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform


WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform, E-Quality, WIDE Network, International Alliance of Women, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, AMREF Flying Doctors, Vrouwenbelangen