Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Regional Consultations Post-2015 in Istanbul, 6-8 November 2013

CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality was present at the Regional Consultation on 'Inclusive and Sustainable Development: Perspectives from Europe and Central Asia on the Post-2015 Development Agenda'. Youth Advocates Michiel Andeweg and Timo Bravo Rebolledo provided more information of the event and the presented Youth Statement, made in consultation of a broad range of youth representatives.

The regional consultations are targeted to capture ideas and feelings on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the different global regions. The SDGs are a new set of goals agreed up
on by member states during Rio+20 (the UN conference on Sustainable development). The outcome of the regional consultations will culminate in a report which will be used at the General Assembly of 2014.

As the title of the event suggests, this event was a regional consultation on the perspectives from Europe and Central Asia. However, the structure of the programme had the outline of a seminar and less so of a consultation, i.e. with known panelists and not a lot of room for debate and knowledge transfer. Preceding the event, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had the opportunity to prepare input for the thematic sessions with Member States. On the 7th of November a kick-off session was held in which Civil Society presented the main conclusions and key issues to the Member States.

Some of the key issues from the CSOs involved gender equality regarding the whole spectrum, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in school curricula, decriminalisation of abortion, accessible, affordable and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. But there was also a demand for accountable governments and responsibility for natural environments. During the kick-off sessions there were a lot of delegates present, which should be considered a great advantage!

Because the emphasis on human rights and issues on SRHR, Youth, CSE and abortion are too easily overlooked or downplayed during these kinds of consultations, the present youth representatives made a collaborative effort to state demands coming from our region. Please find the statement here.

CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality is a Dutch youth-led organization that actively promotes and supports the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of young people worldwide. You can read more about CHOICE here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guest Blog: CHOICE @ UNGASE on MDGs

Close WO=MEN partner CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality is attending the UN General Assembly Special Event (UNGASE) on the Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Framework. Youth Advocate Jolien Oosterheerd and General Board Member Michiel Andeweg give you a heads up about the process.

MDGs, SDGs and Post-2015

Let’s start off with the brief basics. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed in 2000 and created a global approach and overall vision in global development. The eight goals include promoting gender equality (3), improving maternal health and achieving universal access to reproductive health (5A&B) and combating HIV/AIDS (6). With the deadline of 2015 drawing near, it is time for Member States, UN agencies and CSOs to evaluate the achievements and challenges of the MDGs and see how to move forward from 2015 onwards. This General Assembly is marked as a start of this process.

And then we have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During Rio+20, the UN conference on sustainable development, Member States agreed on the development of a new set of goals: the SDGs. The Open Working Group (OWG), a 30 seats committee, has been mandated by the Member States to negotiate the SDGs. At first, the seats would have been filled by 30 different countries. Now, 72 countries are involved, so most of the seats are shared. The outcome document is expected to feed into the General Assembly of 2014. The role of civil society in this process is coordinated by the Major Groups and stakeholders (MG&S), which represent nine sectors of global society, such as the Women MG and the Children and Youth MG.


So, in short this is what we know about the processes, and the next steps have not been set in stone. It will be likely that Member States will push for a merge of the SDG and MDG processes into one framework. However, some Latin American countries are expected to strongly protect the SDGs. The African countries seem to see it the other way around; the predominant feeling is that the SDGs undermine the power of the MDG process.

However, this informal consensus is not reflected in the outcome document that is expected to be signed this Wednesday, at the UNGASE on MDGs.

So, to draw the expected picture of the process: the SDGs will be the ‘draft version’ of the Post-2015 process.

This means: every victory that we can make on the SDG process (on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), meaningful youth participation, gender equality, HIV and AIDS and/or education), is more likely to be picked up in the Post-2015 Development Framework. It is all about building a strong foundation towards the GA of 2014.

There seems to be another general consensus: unreached MDGs need to be part of the next agenda. How this will take form, is unclear; perhaps several of the goals will be merged.

It is possible the SDGs will be defined with a more narrow focus and with that, have fewer goals. If so, Member States will have to pick their battles. This could be dangerous for SRHR issues, which are much more specific than for example efforts to increase access to primary education. Countries that we know are ‘SRHR heroes’, might not pick our battles.

A strong focus in our advocacy efforts needs to be on indicator and target level. Rumour has it that it might be possible we will have one overall health goal. If this will happen, it’s essential for us to push for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights and youth friendly services herein.


To conclude: we, the gender equality, SRHR and youth movement need to step up our game in this process. The SDGs will (in direct or indirect ways) feed into the new development framework. Let us coordinate our joint effort towards a progressive and ambitious vision for sustainable development!

CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality is a Dutch youth-led organization that actively promotes and supports the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of young people worldwide.

Monday, September 23, 2013

68th General Assembly: New power paradigm​

Think tanks in various countries have worked double shifts lately: the international power map has thoroughly shifted in the past 6 months. The 68th General Assembly (UNGA) reflects the new reality.
To name a few:

·         Will there be a resolution on Syria and if so, how will it look like?
·         On Tuesday 24th September State Secretary Kerry meets with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to talk about the Iranian nuclear program: the first meeting in many years. Even more surprising: Ashton just announced that Zarif will talk with the 6 members of the Security Council on Wednesday 25th September.
·         Will the G77 agree with the draft statement of Ban Ki-moon?
·         The post-2015 agenda: the follow-up of the MDG's. ​

A heated debate 
These topics create enough elements for a heated debate, certainly from a women's rights & gender perspective. Several challenges arose:

1.       Security debate: the whodunit-debate on chemical weapons in Syria seems to distract the attention from the human suffering and losses, as was rightfully pinpointed by OxfamNovib. And, by the same token, the international community should practice what it preaches on Resolution 1325: Involve Syrian women on all levels of decision making. The UN should strive for human security and transformative justice.
2.       Gender and SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) are being pushed off the post-2015 development agenda. The High-Level Panel stressed in its report the importance of a gender standalone goal and gender mainstreaming. The latest proposal of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is much weaker. Apparently there are some strong forces acting against women's rights.
3.       There seems to be a MDG-fatigue: everybody is waiting for something new. But one cannot turn a blind eye on the lack of results for women's rights and health. Until new and women-friendly goals are set, we will need to face the facts and work to try to improve women's rights and SRHR.
Finally, together with a narrowing of the space for non-state actors, corporations seem to have an increased influence on decision making within the UN. Does this shift reflect the strive for a healthy balance with new partners and 'do no harm'? One of the new ideas at the UN General Assembley was a  "Conflict of Interest Check".

Contributions of the Netherlands

Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans held a warm plea for the rights of Syrian and other Arab women that have been fighting dictatorship during the Equal Futures Partnership meeting. State Secretary Kerry by adding "no team can win with of half of its players on the bench", referred to the importance of political participation of women. Minister Timmermans will meet leading women of the Syrian opposition on Tuesday 24th September. The strong stance on Human Rights is an important element of the Dutch campaign for a seat in the UN Security Council.

Minister Ploumen stressed that gender equality and women's rights are her top priority. Therefore gender-equality should be integrated as a separate goal and mainstreamed in the post-2015 agenda,  including SRHR and economic justice. As an example she mentioned the Memorandum of Understanding signed on Monday 23rd September between the Bangladeshi government, the Bangladeshi  employers association and the International Labor Organization (ILO) on the garment industry. This will also be stressed during the annual meeting of the
Clinton Global Initiative. Finally, Ploumen will pursue her fight against Female Genital Mutilation and Violence against Women in general.

​Elisabeth van der Steenhoven
Director WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform

Friday, April 26, 2013


This is it. The delegates have finally reached consensus, after a long week of confusing and often tedious negotiations. Maybe we should be a little more excited about this, but, to be very frank, we did not have much influence on what went on in the negotiation room. Every progressive statement on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) was subsequently met with much opposition of the Arab group and the African group. Especially the latter was very insistent on not having any references to anything  ‘sexual’, whatever that might mean. The most frustrating part for us was that, even though we know there are progressive African countries, conservative countries like Nigeria did the talking on behalf of the African group, without opposition. Only South Africa stood up to protect SOGI and SRHR, like they have done in the past, and we thank them for that.

But, all disappointment aside, with all the opposition we have been facing here at this CPD on migration we could not have expected a much better outcome. This morning we already knew that the co-chair from Moldova would come up with a chair’s draft. Earlier negotiations had barely resulted in any agreements on paragraphs, so the chair took the fate of this year’s resolution into his own hands and started rewriting the document in a way that all delegations could agree to it. Not the best way to reach consensus, but absolutely vital in light of the antagonism that SRHR and migration inspired. As the chair said it, ”everybody will lose some, and everybody will gain some.” With this trivial remark he expressed what we know is the end of every CPD. Indeed, we lost some:

  •              Strong language on the human rights of young and adolescent migrants … OP18quat
  •       Comprehensive sexuality education for young migrants
  •             Specific mention of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  •        A negative addition was the inclusion of the ‘sovereignty clause’ which states that any implementation of the resolutions should be consistent with national law.

But it’s not all bad, the chair was also able to retain some language that is very important to us:
  • -          It protects a migrants right and access to sexual and reproductive health services
  • -           It specifically mentions emergency contraception, safe abortion in circumstance s where such services are not against the law
  • -          It recognizes that young migrants are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection, gender based and sexual violence, gender inequality and violations, and lack of accurate information on HIV (weak reference to CSE) and other sexually transmitted infections and access to SRHR.
  • -          It calls for services preventing and treating HIV and AIDS and further encourages member states to ‘consider’ reviewing any remaining HIV travel restrictions

It’s been a long, tedious, confusing week here at the CPD. There have been ups and downs.  Moments of joy and despair. In the words of the facilitator: “we have all worked hard to receive an equal, if not painful result.” Now we can take a breath. We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got a lot. Considering the context of the very volatile contentious issue, we can consider this a satisfactory outcome. We can be proud of ourselves, our team, and in the end, even the delegates and facilitator. CPD 46 has come to a close. Seeing the opposition against SRHR, the next years are not going to be easy for our movement. But giving up is the last thing on our mind. We will take this as a friendly warning and continue the work we have been doing to make sure our issues are represented in the broader context of the ICPD process and the post2015 development agenda. CPD, we will be back!

-Vincent & Stefan

Dazed Diplomacy

It’s the final day of the CPD and we’re far behind. To give you sense of exactly how behind we are, the commission traditionally goes through at least three readings of the text before a consensus is reached. As of this morning, the second reading has not even been completed. Furthermore, the ‘operational paragraphs’ which contain the important legislative clauses, have barely been touched. Yesterday night the negotiations lasted until 10:30pm and the delegates left the hall with a tangible sense of frustration.

The problem is two-fold. The facilitator of the negotiations from the Philippines is being incredibly inefficient. The negotiations are moving forward at a snail’s pace and tolerating long irrelevant soliloquies discussing, for instance, the exact definition of internal migration. A Brazilian delegate posed the question if her personal move from downtown to uptown Rio would be considered internal migration. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon to see such personal, or irrelevant discussions dominate the floor. It is evident to many here that the commission does not have the time or capacity to ponder such futile discussion and has resulted in this serious time-crunch. Yet some delegates can’t seem to adopt a diplomatic approach during this CPD.

Another, more drastic predicament, is the inability to find a consensus on SRHR. The commission is visibly divided about the issues. Certain delegations such as Argentina, champions of the sexual health rights, won’t budge on the language. Other delegations are united to remove any language referring to the rights. It seems that conservative delegations are grouping together SRHR, sexual rights, sexual orientation and gender identity rights, sexuality education, and anything health related to sexuality and health all under the same heading. Without these important distinctions, they emulate the important issues that requires specific, precise attention and language.  And, yet other delegations seem to be attempting to persuade the commission that treating language about SRHR is entirely irrelevant to the topic of migration...

Today is judgment day. Because time is running out, we are expecting the chair to propose their own draft to reach a consensus. This would mean we could, unfortunately, expect minimal language on SRHR. However it will be resolved, we are not losing sight of how important our work here is and continue to press on for our sexual and reproductive rights here at the CPD.  

-Vincent & Stefan

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day Four at the CPD

Time is flying here at the Commission of Population and Development. Yesterday was an important day for the host of progressive youth organizations here at the CPD because the speaker’s list opened for NGOs to give oral statements. CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality was given a speaking slot via RutgersWPF and we contributed to writing a strong statement about migration and SRHR from a youth perspective. We invite you to read it at here.

Today (Thursday) will prove to be an extremely important day in the negations room. Including language on sexuality and reproductive health rights is proving to be an uphill battle in the midst of debate largely focused on population dynamics. While a few key countries continue to strongly support this language, as expected, traditional progressive allies have become unpredictable and are positing their own migration issues higher than our fundamental human rights. 

We are currently reviewing the second round of amendments to the zero draft. It is clear that a lot of delegations are still confused about the importance or even the meaning of sexual and reproductive health rights and are in dire need of clarification and education. These issues are intrinsically linked to migration. Migrant women are, for instance, likelier to be pregnant than their non-migrant peers. Young people, because of their migrations status, often cannot access crucial youth services, such as access to contraceptives. Furthermore, the commission has previously decided that access to SRHR is fundamental human rights. We feel that this fundamental human right also covers those of us who are voluntarily or involuntary displaced from our homes. Our job  is to relay this message to the delegates who are cautiously negotiating this contentious issue.

We are currently down to the final 48 hours of the conference. These will, undoubtedly, become two very long days. If you want to follow the debate, we recommend you follow #cpd46 on twitter. We will keep you updated.

-Vincent & Stefan 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Commission on Population & Development (CPD46) – Day 1

Today is day one of the 46th session  of the Commission on Population & Development (CPD) in New York. The CPD is an important conference that has taken place every year since the 1994 International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The ICPD was a milestone in the history of population development, adopting a rights based approach. 179 governments committed to providing universal access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights (SRHR) as well as delivering gender equality. During the past 19 years, the global SRHR alliance has made a series of significant victories. For instance, during last year’s CPD conference themed ‘Youth and Adolescents’ governments agreed to provide “youth-friendly” SRHR services “free of discrimination.” Step by step, governments are broadening their human rights promises and we can expect an exciting review process next year in 2014. This year, however, we have one more challenging hurdle to leap across as this year’s CPD theme is ‘Migration.’

Only one month ago, our colleagues met here at the UN for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The conference delivered promising language on ending all forms of violence against women, young women, and girls after two weeks of high tensions. Today, we find ourselves, once again, sitting in the UN building discussing the most strategic approach to tackling sensitive, yet extremely important issues. The migration theme will present several specific challenges. For example, many countries which have traditionally been strong vocal advocates of progressing SRHR issues may now become unpredictable players in the negotiations due to tense domestic migration policies back home.
Furthermore, migration is an extremely broad theme and brings up a range of implications for women, SRHR, and youth. Young migrants under the age of 29 make up half of all global migrants.  An undocumented young migrant, for example, can face many difficulties accessing crucial information and services regarding their sexual health. Moreover, marginalized migrants are often not in a position to voice their needs and address their human rights.

The Zero Draft, which is the original draft on which the negotiations will be based this week, already contains some promising language to address these issues. For example, it already urges member states to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence, discrimination, trafficking, exploitation and abuse of women and girls. It is going to be an extremely important week for the rights of all young migrants as we will struggle to give them a voice at this important international platform.

Today the plenary is in session and the member states will briefly negotiate the first paragraphs of the text. The atmosphere here outside of the negotiations hall is very mellow and calm. It has been predicted that this conference will try not to attract to much publicity because of the contentious theme and its close proximity to the CSW. How this conference will actually play out remains to be seen. We are extremely excited to get to work and will keep you updated throughout the week!

About the authors: Vincent McLeese and Stefan Hennis are both youth advocates for the Dutch based NGO CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality. CHOICE is a member of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform. You can read more about CHOICE at http://www.choiceforyouth.org/.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

UN Women: what does CSW mean for Post2015

Yesterday the Acting Head of UN Women, Ms. Lakshmi Puri organized an informal discussion in Brussels on the outcome of and follow-up to the 57th session of the CSW and around the post-2015 MDG framework, post-Rio+20.

About CSW, Ms. Lakshmi highlighted the preparation before the event, including the UN System (e.g. working together with UNESCO about Comprehensive Sexuality Education), Member States (e.g. regional meetings with ministerial national machineries before CSW that allowed working not only with the vision of FA ministries but also with Gender ministries) and CSOs (that helped with conceptualizations that were successfully included in the agreed conclusions like Women’s rights defenders and survivors).

About the Conclusions, she highlighted the comprehensive definition of VAW, the inclusion of vulnerable groups and intersectionality, and the emphasis on prevention that includes equal systems and empowerment, and SRHR. UN Women wanted to include CSE and awareness raising and Human Rights of LGTB, but finally could only include the Rio and Beijing formulations of sexuality. The difficulties were around the concept of services and also the term multisectorial, but specially about cultural and national sovereignty that was solved with the language from Beijing and Viena.

What UN Women ask to CSOs is work on advocacy and knowledge including data, because opposition to women’s rights are questioning its veracity.

About Post 2015, even when some women’s organizations are questioning if we should have any goal at all because we should better look for a radical change of paradigm, UN Women thinks that we must work towards a gender goal and gender mainstream in the whole post 2015 framework, but they agree that we have to look for structural and transformative targets and indicators.

The G77 has already shown their support for a gender goal and gender mainstreaming, and UN Women has been also actively influencing the members of the HLP but they asks CSOs to intensify their advocacy efforts to gain more support.

UN Women has agreed three points:

1)      MDGs (MDG3) were a basis but not enough to be transformative, as stated in Rio;

2)      High level of ambition;

3)      Connect development, peace and security and human rights, address social protection, access to essential services, governance and accountability.

Under this, they have agreed three vectors for the goal:


2) CHOICE (economical and social empowerment, including SRHR)

3) VOICE (political participation)

UN Women will share their initial narrative on this with CSOs in the coming weeks to receive our feedback and comments.

= Joni van de Sand = 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Resolution on 'Protection of the Family' withdrawn...for now

The resolution on ‘Protection of the Family’ was NOT adopted at the Human Rights Council on Monday. It was withdrawn by the sponsors. The sponsors framed their withdrawal as postponing consideration to a later stage.

It is telling that the fear of introduction of language on the existence of “various forms of the family” into the text during action on the resolution caused this withdrawal/postponment. The language that would have formed the introduced amendment is agreed consensus UN language which has been used again and again. The EU and GRULAC groups and a number of States including Switzerland, the US, Australia and New Zealand stood firm in insisting that this language be included in the text. A number of other States from different regions stood ready to support the introduction previously mentioned.

Egypt took the floor to introduce the resolution and announce its withdrawal on behalf of the core group, comprising of Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, UAE, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The resolution had 72 co-sponsors including the Arab and OIC groups, Angola, Kenya, Botswana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka and many others.

They began by framing the subject in terms of Art 16 of the UDHR and said that there is a lack of definition of the family, that there are differences between societies. That the focus on individual rights has resulted in neglect of the family and group and collective rights. That there is no resolution or treaty which deals with the protection of the family in human rights law in comprehensive manner. His statement failed to define what the family needed protection from.

They spoke of the need to openly discuss the issue so as to address state obligations to protect the family under relevant provisions of international human rights law.  A discussion that would allow for the exchange of views and lessons learned and allow the Council to identify implementation gaps and possibly shed some light on how to tackle them. Hence this procedural resolution.

Their statement was very hard-lined and combative. They claimed to have approached consultations with an open mind and accused other States of holding pre-conceived notions and pushing divisive substantive issues. They also said that it seems that the Council has not yet reached the level of maturity that would enable it to engage in delicate issues in a cooperative matter, and announced that they were postponing consideration of the text. Despite what you might hear to the contrary, the Egyptian representative did not stamp his feet, burst into tears or storm out.

While we should see this withdrawal/postponement as a victory, it may be one we should celebrate quickly, as it is likely to be short lived. It is not unlikely that they will seek to reintroduce the resolution in June, in what is already being viewed as a highly contentious session with resolutions expected on sexual orientation and gender identity, and violence against women, to name but two.

= Source: CSW57 Women's Rights Caucus = 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ending Violence Against Women - Now the Real Work Starts

Last Friday, governments at the UN adopted an outcome document at the conclusion of the 2 weeks session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 57). Following last year's collapse of the meeting and the huge pressure from conservative forces who tried to derail the process, the adoption of an outcome text condemning violence against women in strong terms is celebrated as a success. 

But is it?
The concerted attempt at rolling back women's rights, by bringing national level strife on the position of women and abortion, religion, culture and custom into the global arena, is not a new development.
The pressure on the CSW meetings and its role in upholding basic rights for women has gradually increased each year since 2009. And this trend has long spilled over to other UN forums such as the Human Rights Council, Rio+20 and the development of new sustainable development goals or the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations. But finally, this year many leading governments and civil society came together to make a concerted push back at the attempts to discredit the CSW.

At the same time, an even greater challenge to the elimination of violence against women than these reactive forces taking the CSW hostage is the huge gap between text and implementation - between rhetoric and concrete action on the ground.

I would argue this is the gender equality challenge of the 21st century. At CSW many women's rights activist made the case that violence is increasing- a fact supported by daily news reports of maiming, raping, shooting, killing women and an Oxfam country level survey from 2010. In a 2005 multi-country study by the World Health Organization (WHO) up to 70% of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced some form of violence throughout their life.

Of the 3,5 billion women worldwide, up to 2,5 billion will have experienced violence at some point in their life (Credit: Oxfam)
These are known facts about the elimination of violence against women. Yet at this CSW meeting, governments again did nothing about the lack of implementation. So while its good news we have a text coming out of CSW, a fact hailed as "historic", we must not fool ourselves thinking that an adopted text is going to make gender equality happen on the ground. It doesn't serve women to discredit the achievements of the international community at CSW. Nevertheless, we must do more to eliminate violence. We really must.

The power plays at the UN has left no time for governments and all of us to answer this question: HOW can we ensure all the positive rules and policies aimed at eliminating VAW are being put into practice at country level? By when will governments, for example, repeal laws that discriminate against women? By when will each country allocate resources in their national budget or poverty reduction strategy to eliminate VAW? How fast and by when will governments set up hotlines for victims and survivors of VAW or end user fees for health services? When will teachers in class have before them text books through which they can teach children about human rights and issues around sexuality?

Oxfam wants a plan that details concrete steps towards making any of these policy recommendations coming out of CSW 57 reality. We need a plan to see where we are going, what our priorities are from the 50+ actions that governments have promised at CSW. Oxfam has therefore been calling on governments to use CSW 57 as an opportunity to commit to the development of an international action plan which sets concrete targets, timetables and other measures to fast track implementation of existing norms to end violence and provide an accountability tool.

I am a big fan of laws and policies and I am glad the good guys could not be defeated at CSW. But when it comes to ending violence against women, I get very impatient that we are asked to be satisfied with another UN outcome text. As civil society and international community it is our job to want more, and to recognize that we need more than text to realize women's rights and end VAW.
We all say, violence is the biggest human rights atrocity of the 21st century. If this is so, then we need to do all we can to make sure we put an end to it... not only on paper.

Find out more about Oxfam's work on Gender Issues

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Final draft agreed conclusions

Click here for the final version of the agreed conclusions.
It still includes the references to those paragraphs that were previously agreed, and the ones that were redrafted by the chair and then agreed to in the final round of statements.

= Joni van de Sand =

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Women’s Rights Activists Welcome UN Agreements on Ending Violence Against Women

Press release by the CSW57 Women's Rights Caucus, in which WO=MEN has actively taken part.

On Friday March 15 2013, the UN Member States resoundingly committed to ending violence against women and girls, including strong agreements on promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, and ensuring reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The Agreed Conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women represent another important step forward, building on the global momentum of the past twenty years, which has created a strong framework by which to end all forms of violence against women, young women, and girls.

Women’s health and rights organizations congratulated the governments who have defended the human right of women and girls to live free from all forms of violence. We have seen two weeks of intense negotiations, in which culture, tradition, and religion have been used to try to deny women their rights.

In this context an important outcome of the Agreed Conclusions is the recognition accorded to women human rights defenders, who often come under attack when they defend universal human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Agreed Conclusions explicitly call for accessible and affordable health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services such as emergency contraception and safe abortion, for victims of violence. For the first time the CSW Agreed Conclusions have urged governments to procure and supply female condoms. The CSW reaffirmed previous commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development and the key actions for its further implementation.

Governments have also recommitted to important strategies such as comprehensive sexuality education, the need to end harmful practices perpetuated in the context of negative culture and traditions, and the need to focus services based on the diverse experiences of women and girls, including indigenous women, older women, migrant women workers, women with disabilities, women living with HIV, and women who are held in state custody. The links between HIV and violence against women was noted throughout the Agreed Conclusions. The Agreed Conclusions condemned and called for action to prevent violence against women in health care settings, including forced sterilisation.

Violence against girls is also a major theme throughout the document. The Commission calls for an end to child, early and forced marriage, which is an increasing problem in many countries. Worldwide, 67 million girls are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Countries also committed to improving safety of girls on their way to and from school, at school, and in playgrounds; ensuring educational opportunities for girls who already married and/or pregnant; and preventing, investigating, and punishing acts of violence against women and girls that are perpetrated by people in positions of authority, such as teachers and religious leaders.

The Agreed Conclusions emphasize the role of men and boys in ending violence against women, and call for national policies to counteract gender stereotypes that present women and girls as subordinate to men and boys. The CSW calls on governments to engage, educate, encourage, and support men and boys to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour and become strategic partners and allies in the prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.

The Agreed Conclusions emphasize the need to abolish legislation, policies, and programs that discriminate against women or have a discriminatory impact on women. The CSW also calls for women and girls’ unimpeded access to justice and to effective legal assistance. The Agreed Conclusions also recognize that small arms and light weapons aggravate violence against women and girls.

Importantly, the Agreed Conclusions recognize new issues in the campaign to end violence against women, including the need for strategies to address the role of new media; the impact of climate change on women; the need for measures to encourage businesses to act on workplace violence, but also their responsibility to support workers experiencing violence in the home; and the need for multisectoral responses to end violence against women.

In addition, discussions at this CSW showed high levels of support for governments to address violence against women and girls based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. There was also widespread support for addressing the problem of intimate partner violence. Although Member States at this year’s CSW failed to agree on specific language about these issues, human rights groups are confident that consensus that has been achieved on these matters throughout the UN system and will soon be reflected in Agreed Conclusions of the CSW.

However, civil society groups expressed deep concern over attempts by conservative members to derail negotiations during the CSW. Thankfully, many governments held firm on commitments to women’s rights. A statement signed of concern signed by feminist organizations during CSW is available online at http://cwgl.rutgers.edu/program-areas/gender-based-violence/csw57/statement-on-outcome-document.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women meets annually in New York and in 2013 has focused on the elimination of violence against women. Comprised of 45 Member States the CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women with the sole aim of promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. Its mandate is to ensure the full implementation of existing international agreements on women’s human rights and gender equality.

Friday, March 15, 2013

There are agreed conclusions!

Right before 8 ‘o clock this evening New York time, the CSW57 adopted agreed conclusions!

Around 6 everyone was still awaiting what the next step would be. The delegations were still negotiating text in the room, and the information coming out was often contradictory. Suddenly a 6th draft of the text was distributed. The chair had prepared this text, including all the agreed paragraphs, amendments to those that were kept in and not yet agreed upon, and with some paragraphs removed altogether. 

Dozens of civil society representatives lined up along the windows of the conference room, to show the delegations our support and send out a message: do not let go of progress made for women’s rights!

After about half an hour to read the text, during which everyone quickly scanned through to see what happened to their most crucial issues, the chair decided to ask delegation by delegation whether they could endorse the text or not. We still did not know what would happen. But it was a smart move, as this meant that no-one could hide behind diplomatic moves, but really had to “show color”.

Many delegations then showed their support for the text, with short statements why. Holy See, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Nigeria expressed concerns and some reservations to the text. As it became clear that no countries would completely object, there was relief. The chair opened the negotiations to the plenary, and we could all go in… Just at that very moment it was finalized: there were agreed conclusions! 

I will upload the text as soon as a digital version is available. 
The overall assessment is that gains have been made in some areas, and in others the ambitious was set higher. It will require a deeper reading to provide a good overview...

Some of the reactions from members of the Women Human Rights caucus:

I share your disappointment at the process and outcome, but I think we should also claim what gains we have made, however small...

Great to hear ngo,s being recognized by states. I am sure text and process is not perfect. But progress is a long hard road of small steps and you all are on the right side of history. And the unholy alliance has been outed also in the press. 

= Joni van de Sand = 

It's official closing time - and we know it'll be a long night

At 9 this morning there was an ambassadors meeting where a select group of countries came together to discuss the agreements. Though it is encouraging to see such high-level involvement in the CSW, problem with this procedure was that countries as varied as The Netherlands, South Africa and Iran, and the Holy See  (note the subtle difference of comma's placing in this sentence ;) had to come together to discuss strategy. Unfortunately no real solution came out.

The fifth version of the agreed conclusions was released. It does not really include anything new, just a better overview than the version of the day before. There was a small victory today, when a paragraph to "support and protect those who are committed to eliminating violence against women, including women's human rights defenders" was agreed. We cheered loudly.

However, still none of the contested issues has really been discussed, thus they remain open. And it has been confusing to hear how each time a controversial issue has been on the table, the text was debated and adapted a little, only to then move forward to the next without coming to an agreement.

So it's time to get straight: what is really still on the table?

There is sexual an reproductive health and rights, currently in 4 different paragraphs for different and crucial reasons. There is sexual and reproductive health services (which have been completely skipped so far) and there's the issue of qualifying (limiting) agreements on reproductive rights to the ICPD from 1994, thereby excluding all crucial agreements that have been made since then!

There is sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Not having this included in agreements about violence against women, would make us loose out on the opportunity to call serious attention for the horrible crimes committed to lesbian, bisexual and transsexual women, for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Think for example about corrective rape - we are still miles away from ever getting that in the text, but come on, it can not be denied that crimes take place specifically because of people's SOGI.

The inclusion of comprehensive sexuality education has been one of the central additional values of agreements made, for example at the UN General Assembly Third Committee only a couple of months ago. 

Intimate partner violence, which includes but is brader than domestic violence.

So this is what “we” want. And what do “they” want? Well they want all this out. And in adittion, they want to add a paragraph that on “the sovereign right of each country to implement recommendations in the present document, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and conformity with universally recognized international human rights.” Which, as I have stressed several times before, would undermine the universality of women’s rights as human rights – and with that indeed the human rights framework as a whole.  

= Joni van de Sand =  

CSW workshop: Holding your government accountable for stopping Domestic Violence

By Loeky Droesen

During the CSW this year, the member states of the UN are negotiating to reach Agreed Conclusions on what states/governments should do to end Violence Against Women. And today we find out if they are even able to reach agreement. But unfortunately even if promises and commitments are made at the UN, they are often are not translated in action at the national level.

On Thursday the 7th of March between 14.30 and 16.00, about 60 people squeezed into the Drew room (official capacity 35 seats) at the church center to participate in the workshop: “Making our Domestic Violence laws work in practice. A short survey of the participants showed all the continents of the globe were represented, with the exception of the Pacific, and more than half the participants worked in practice providing services to victims/survivors of Domestic Violence[i]. Most of the participants also did lobby and advocacy at the national level and a slightly lower number at the international level.

In many of our countries, often as a result of a strong lobby by women’s rights groups, governments have adopted Domestic Violence legislation and often also developed action plans. But as many participants in the workshop confirmed, the implementation of these laws and policies is weak in practice. It is very frustrating to see that despite a legal framework, in practice Domestic Violence continues and women continue to suffer. But as civil society we cannot get disheartened and have to explore new and innovative ways to make our government’s live up to their legal obligations under national law and Human Rights treaties and to the commitments they made in policy agreements, such as CSW Agreed Conclusions.

The hosts of the workshop: Rights for Change, the Netherlands; WOREC, Women's Rehabilitation Centre, Nepal and Masimanyane, South Africa[ii], shared our experiences as co-developers of The Human Rights assessment instrument on Domestic Violence, DOVA (download your own copy from http://www.humanrightsimpact.org/themes/womens-human-rights/domestic-violence/project-overview/). We developed this step by step guide to make it easier for Civil society carry out action and rights based research on Domestic Violence[iii].

Lesley Anne Forster of Masimanyane shared that a team of South African NGO´s[iv] had used DOVA’s step by step questions, to help them prepare their recently submitted request for an Inquiry to the committee of the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW. In the request, they make the case that women in South Africa are experiencing grave and systematic violations of their Human Rights because of the extremely high levels of Domestic Violence. The research shows that although the South African state has put mechanisms in place to address Violence Against Women, including Domestic Violence, little has changed in practice.  Their evidence strongly indicates,  that the South African state actors fail to adhere to due diligence standards, so do not live up to their Human Rights obligations. By submitting the Inquiry request, the CEDAW committee is invited to come to South Africa to see what is happening and to guide and assist South Africa in finding approaches that do help to stop the violence and to make South Africa live up to the commitments they made.

Preparing a request for an Inquiry is not an easy task to undertake and only a few organizations worldwide have had the courage to undertake the work. It was great to hear that DOVA provided help in structuring the research and excellent news that South African Ngo’s had the courage to take on this momentous job. A copy of the inquiry request can be found at http://www.dgmt.co.za/files/2013/02/OP-CEDAW-INQUIRY-FINAL-DRAFT-Recovered.pdf
The next presenter was Renu Rajbhandari who is the founder of Worec Nepal and currently active in Alliance of Women Human rights defenders. She explained that as a medical doctor, she became concerned and involved in the suffering of women in Nepal. One of the serious medical problems women face in Nepal, is that they go back to work too soon after giving birth. One of the side effects can be a prolapsed uterus. This medical condition can be reversed but poor women cannot afford to pay for the treatment. Renu realized that solving the problem would require government intervention and that women had the Right to health, but she was not sure as a medical doctor who to use Human Rights standards. With the help of HeRWAI, the Health rights of women assessment instrument (a copy can be downloaded from 

http://www.humanrightsimpact.org/fileadmin/hria_resources/HeRWAI_Training/HeRWAI_engels_2010.pdf), Worec undertook as study, and by using the results of the research, successfully lobbied the Nepali government for a change in policy and to give Nepali women access to restorative surgery.

Renu has since become a fan of using fact-based and rights-based research as a basis of strong lobby and advocacy and Worec joined the DOVA development team. In 2013, a coalition of Nepali organizations will undertake an in depth research on the how and if the Nepali Domestic Violence law works in practice. Looking at the impact of the law through the eyes of e.g. people living with disabilities, homeless women or women working in the entertainment sector, they will find out about the specific challenges faced by women facing multiple discrimination and Domestic Violence. Uncovering these challenges will help Nepali civil society in asking for targeted improvements in legislation and practical implementation. The Nepali team is already hard at work to translate DOVA in Nepali.

The participants in the workshop were impressed with the work done by the presenting organizations In our discussion many speakers reminded us of the fact, that working to end violence against women is a long hard road. Many activist get tired of finding obstacles on the road to improvement. But we were also reminded that every women who survives violence and builds up a new life is a success story. And woman and man living in harmony and making their own choices in life, is the world we want to achieve.

Loeky Droesen is freelance consultant at Rights for Change, the writer of DOVA, board member of the Women Peacemakers Program and policy advisor at RutgersWPF

[i] Perhaps it would better to use the term intimate partner violence in this blog. The more conservative forces at the CSW do not like that term at all. They feel using the term would somehow recognize the existence of same sex couples, something they want to avoid at all cost.
[ii] With the support of Ausaid
[iii] The other co-developing organizations include Center for Legal Civic Initiatives, Albania; Mosaic, Training, Service and Healing Centre for Women, South Africa; WILDAF, Women in Law and Development, Ghana; ZWLA, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, Zimbabwe; Centro de la Mujer Peruana Flora Tristan, Peru; Independent consultant Anara Moldasheva, Kyrgyzstan and The Network/Research Center for Combating Domestic Violence (CDVN),  China
[iv] Which also included Mosaic