Yesterday morning we gathered together as a group of women peace activists from all around the world (Cameroon, Colombia, DRC, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Liberia, Nepal, Netherlands, Liberia, Pakistan, Philippines, Uganda, and the USA) in the office of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) to get prepared for the busy CSW days ahead.
As I stood in line for registration on Friday - luckily still a rather short line! - I was told the number of people coming to New York this year would be bigger than ever: more than 6,000 people have registered, and more than 300 NGO side events alone are planned to take place. Meaning a lot of energy will be going around in this part of Manhattan during the upcoming two weeks.
However, not all of this energy is directed at serving women's interests and rights. As we all know - there were no Agreed Conclusions last year. There are counter forces at work that are organizing rapidly and steadily to increase their influence on the outcome documents, and setting back the women’s agenda.
As we sit around the table to get our CSW orientation, it becomes clear that it is not the easiest task to find your way among the many channels and moments of influence. This not only applies to those attending the CSW for the first time, also some of the CSW veterans are clearly still struggling to figure out the way things work. As we talk, there is frustration in the room: Political and physical space for civil society engagement at the CSW is shrinking every year; many women’s activist groups are already so overwhelmed with work at home that they do not have the time, energy nor capacity to dive into unraveling the labyrinth called CSW in New York City.
Against this rather sobering reality, it becomes tempting to spend the CSW days attending the many side events that are being organized. Though undoubtedly very inspiring and re-energizing, this also carries the risk that we are not spending our activist energy there where it really matters: influencing and monitoring the processes around the CSW’s Agreed Conclusions.
First, we will need to do better what activists are usually good at in terms of creating change: Standing together, organizing and mobilizing early on, drawing on each other’s CSW expertise and inside connections, as well as formulating the solutions and recommendations where we observe the problems. We end our morning compiling a list of solutions to insure a stronger and more meaningful civil society inclusion during the CSW process:
- For the UN: Increase space for civil society at the CSW in terms of providing all access ground passes to each representative of an ECOSOC accredited organization (instead of a maximum of two passes per accredited organization as currently in use);
- For ECOSOC: The current ECOSOC accreditation process is too cumbersome and requires simplification to support NGO access to and participation in the CSW and all UN policy discussion and policy-making spaces;
- For the Chair and Bureau of the CSW: Meet with civil society in an open and easily accessible location, at least twice during the two weeks to inform civil society of the latest status of the deliberations;
- For the NGO Committee: Invest in the re-constitution of a Coordinating Caucus in order to bring together civil society input to the Agreed Conclusions in a systematic and effective manner.
- For the Chair and Bureau of the CSW or anyone responsible for the CSW agenda: Include more speaking slots for NGO representatives during the official sessions;
- For the Member States: Make sure to send representatives to the CSW with gender expertise and expertise on the theme of the CSW session;
- For the Member States: meet with your countries’ NGO delegations well ahead of the CSW; and make sure to be accessible for your national civil society during the CSW sessions; and
- For the Member States: Increase the number of CSO delegates in the official government delegations who are nominated by CSO networks or coalitions in the country.
These points are currently being captured in an NGO Statement, which will be circulated soon for signing onto.
Isabelle Geuskens, WPP Executive Director