Friday, November 7, 2014

Conclusions at the Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting

The second and last day of the Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting at UNECE started with the panel-discussion on preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls. This proved to be the most popular item on the 2-day agenda, with lively responses from civil society in the room and a large number of member states waiting to make their statement. The Istanbul Convention was repeatedly brought up by member states as an important way of showing their commitment to elimination of violence against women and domestic violence. Besides progress on this issue there was a generally shared disappointed that this is still an issue that needs to be addressed, 20 years after the Beijing Platform for Action. Also, there was a general note that the increase in legislation in the different member states still lack behind on implementation.

The Istanbul Convention is a convention of the Council of Europe establishing a legally binding definition that violence against women is a violation of human rights. Three years after its opening for signature in Istanbul it was entered into force on 1 August 2014. To date, 14 member states of the Council of Europe have ratified this new human rights treaty and another 22 states have signed it. (As signatory, the Dutch government is currently in the process of ratifying the Istanbul Convention).

During the final discussion of the day about the way forward, ‘hot items’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) were raised. Abortion is the known controversial topic between the ECE member states. The statements of the more progressive members (a.o. Belgium, UK, EU, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries) called for ‘inclusive’ or ‘real’ SRHR, as part of Human Rights. Less-progressive members called upon the ‘Right to life’ as part of Human Rights and as argument against abortion (Malta) and how implementation of SRHR should not be an obligation for inclusion of abortion in national constitutions (Hungary). Sascha Gabizon of Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) took seat on the last panel, discussing the way forward. She made a strong call for action and emphasized the inclusion of LGBT, migrant, and diaspora women.

Co-chair’s conclusions and next step

At the end of the day the co-chairs presented their conclusions of the Regional Review Meeting. The conclusions cover the nine items that were discussed during the 2-day meeting. All items have lists of specific recommendations. The most important recommendations that were presented for the way forward:

  • States are encouraged to implement commitments undertaken by Beijing in 1995.
  • Governments should lead change (also in gender equality in the labour-force and economy) in cooperation with civil society and business sector.
  • Implementation of CEDAW, Israel Convention and UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is crucial.
  • The Post-2015 agenda should show a Human Rights Based approach and have a stand-alone gender goal.
  • Involve men and boys in gender issues.
  • SRHR remains an area of critical need for action.

The inclusion of ‘SRHR’ in the draft-text of the co-chair’s conclusions was read out loud in the room, meaning that it will most probably survive to the final version. LGBT is currently mentioned in the draft conclusions (which is for most part the accomplishment of the Netherlands), but it is doubtful if this will make it to the final conclusions.

The text of the co-chairs’ conclusions will be made public on the Regional Review Meeting Beijing+20 website in the second half of next week (around 13th of November). From then on remarks can be send to the secretariat for a period of two weeks. As there are no agreed conclusions, but co-chairs’ conclusions the co-chairs (the Netherlands and Azerbaijan) will be the ones considering the remarks and draw up their final conclusions. These will be send to the UN in New York, as input for CSW59.

= Sanne Holtslag, on behalf of WO=MEN =

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Vigilance at the Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting in Geneva

This week marks two important events in the process towards the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59). The CSW59 will be held in New York from 9th to 20th of March 2015, and this week the regional review meeting for the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe (ECE) region takes place. This means that all member states in the ECE region (EU countries, Caucasus & Central Asia and US & Canada amongst others) come together at the UN in Geneva to review their achievements and challenges during 20 years of policy development and implementation for gender equality: Beijing+20 Declaration and Platform for Action.
This week provides the opportunity to align agendas for both civil society and member states, and to get a feeling of reactionary and progressive forces as we enter the negotiations for CSW59. In preparation, the Commision has asked all member states to provide a national review. This review addresses 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). 53 of the 56 member states of the ECE region have handed in a national review (Liechtenstein, San Marino and the USA are the three remaining member states). All national reviews together have been synthesized into one report for the ECE region.


Event number one took place from 3rd to 5th of November: the NGO-CSW. More than 700 participants from around 350 NGOs, groups, networks, and institutions from the ECE region gathered to identify emerging women’s issues and to contribute to the Beijing+20 review and Post-2015 process by drawing up a joint declaration and (draft) recommendations. The declaration, called ‘Every Woman, Every Right, Every Minute’ emphasizes how gender insensitive measures to tackle the economic crises have reversed some of the progress made on gender equality; pushing women back into traditional gender roles. The recommendations (which are still open for comments) address the 12 critical areas of the BPfA, collated in 10 clusters.

During the conference there were repeated remarks about what has been gained since BPfA in gender equality is under stress of the regressive trend in world politics and increase in reactionary forces as seen during the last sessions of the CSW. A call for vigilance was made as there was a shared fear that the proposed stand-alone goal on gender equality in the proposed international development agenda might not survive in the current political climate. This is goal number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are in draft sent to the General Assembly as framework for the Post-2015 agenda.

Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting UNECE

The urgency of the call for vigilance became even more apparent at one of the opening speeches of event number two, on 6th and 7th of November: the official Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting. The meeting is co-hosted by ECE and UN Women. Ms. Phumlize Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women asked explicitly for specific commitment of member states to secure goals number 5 of the SDGs.

Call for stand alone goal for gender equality on central screen at Regional Review Meeting

Remarkable was that one of the known reactionary forces, Russia, made an intervention already during the first item on the agenda, closing their statement with the remark that each member state must work on their own approach when it comes to gender equality. Thereby drawing the ‘national sovereignty’ card early on in the negotiation-process, marking its stance. Turkey took an equally powerful, but opposing stance a few minutes later with the statement that their approach for CSW59 is to not only reinforce agreed language on gender equality, but to improve this language. With their final sentence ‘no concessions will be made’, indirectly referring to the Russian statement.

Despite the intense start, the rest of day one of the Regional Review Meeting progressed smoothly and as expected. The ECE region has three focus areas: violence against women, women in the economy, and women in power and decision-making. Recurring remarks were made by the vast majority of countries and experts present that regulations towards gender equality have improved, but implementation is lacking behind.

Missing in the discussion was the role of men and boys, considering the general agreement that gender equality is not a ‘women’s problem’. Unfortunately when the role of men was mentioned it was only as upholders of patriarchal submissive structures. Just as myself and my (female) neighbors were starting to feel sorry for the few men scattered around the room, the Dutch delegation made an intervention, stressing that gender equality is about mutual respect. And that the role of men as agents of change is essential. The statement was received positively around the room, judging by the spontaneous applause.

Tomorrow at the final day of the Regional Review Meeting, agreed conclusions will be presented, and we will see how much of the recommendations of the NGO-CSW has been included.

= Sanne Holtslag, on behalf of WO=MEN =

Many thanks to Antia Wiersma of Atria and Tonny Filedt-Kok of the Nederlandse Vrouwenraad (NVR) for their report on the NGO-SCW.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WO=MEN network at UN: Women, Peace & Security week. Our message:

In the week from October 27th until October 31st various WO=MEN representatives are in New York for the Women Peace & Security week around the Open Debate on Women Peace & Security UN Security Council debate. Here you will find our joint message as Dutch Civil Society working on Gender, Peace & Security:


Key points
Civil Society The Netherlands

= Walk the Talk!
As the report of the Secretary General stated: “The challenge lies at the implementation level and in sustaining progress.” (p2) Commitments to address women’s needs, ensure their protection and participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding are currently being tested in settings such as the Central African Republic, Nigeria,  Iraq, Syria and South Sudan. With the unanimous adoption of UNSCR1325 and the six successive resolutions, countries are bound by the provisions/principles in the comprehensive Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Agenda. This WPS Agenda should firmly be reaffirmed and applied effectively by all Member States, both to prevent conflicts and in all current conflict situations.

= Not business as usual, need for a transformative approach
Only a transformative approach to the Women, Peace & Security will lead to effective implementation of the resolutions, conflict prevention and to sustainable change in (post) conflict settings. A transformative approach to 1325 requires:
· Gender to be part and parcel of the overall peace & security agenda, instead of a parallel pillar. Amongst others, a thorough gender analysis needs to be done before any international intervention takes place. This is not the same as the “adding women and stir” approach of the contemporary peace and security paradigm;
· Increased attention for underlying gender power relations in fragile states and (post) conflict settings that hampers women and girls from being safe and being involved in decision-making processes. More focus should be directed to the aspect of dominant masculinities and the role men need to play in promoting the WPS agenda;
· Increased attention for the following underdeveloped peace and security elements: conflict prevention, disarmament, non-violence and human security;
· The WPS agenda should move beyond ‘being the most advocated but the least implemented’ Security Council agenda towards structural and concrete implementation and actions – varying per country and context – in fragile and (post) conflict settings ensuring a substantial change in power relations.

= Create the right conditions for women leadership
Women’s leadership and their active participation are pivotal to bottom-up sustainable implementation of the WPS agenda. But their effective participation is not guaranteed if underlying barriers, such as: unequal power relations resulting in persisting conservative and discriminatory mindsets; financial resources; support networks, are not addressed. But in many cases also the physical security of women human rights defenders and activists is in danger and leads to extreme forms of repression, violence or even assassination. Specific interventions should ensure the safety of women leaders and activists in order for them to continue their work.
= Ensure enabling and independent space for civil society
Due to budget cuts as well as restricting cyber/counterterrorism financing regulations, the space for civil society organizations, both in Western countries and worldwide, is shrinking. This has a major impact on women’s peace activism (see the Capetown publication by WPP)1. Ensuring an enabling space for civil society is critical for any form of WPS implementation as civil society organizations are the engine behind grassroots actions worldwide and ensuring accountability of international or national government interventions.

= Inclusive and transparent Global Study
15 years after the adoption, through the Global Review and Study there is a tremendous opportunity to identify how far we have come in implementing the WPS Agenda and identifying remaining gaps and obstacles. Furthermore, this is the moment to investigate whether this Agenda analyses and addresses the underlying causes and structural inequalities sufficiently. To this effect, we encourage that the Global Study is done in an inclusive, transparent manner and the active participation of civil society organizations worldwide is ensured.

= WPS at the core of Post 2015 framework
No sustainable, stable and inclusive development can take place without ensuring the safety and participation of half of the population. Therefore WPS should be at the core of any separate goal on Gender Equality in the Post 2015 framework, as well as be incorporated substantially in any peace & security objectives.

= No WPS implementation without hard cash
Sufficient, structural and appropriate funding seriously hampers effective WPS implementation around the world, see Costing and Financing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 study by GNWP & Cordaid. Security and Defense expenditures require gender-responsive budgeting. Furthermore, a Global Acceleration Fund (GAF) would urgently in a time-bound manner address the gap in financing for WPS implementation. A Global Acceleration Fund on WPS would cover a lot of ground in assisting Member States to overcome barriers to national financing.

Contact: Anne Sophie Kesselaar, Gender Peace & Security coordinator WO=MEN  /+31 6 14 05 05 65

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Outcome of the 47th CPD: a struggle for Sexual Rights

As the advocates and delegates are recovering from a very intense CPD that ended on Saturday morning 7.00 am, I finally find the energy to report about the final developments and outcome of the conference that took an interesting turn in Saturday’s early hours. 

Throughout the week, many governments expressed strong support for advancing the human rights of all to control all aspects of their own sexuality, collectively known as “sexual rights.” In addition, 59 governments explicitly called for action to end discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The calls came from countries as diverse as the Philippines, South Africa, the Pacific Islands, Viet Nam, Nepal, Mongolia, Suriname, the United States, Australia, Norway, the European Union, and most Latin American countries. These calls build on similar agreements made during regional reviews of ICPD in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific in 2013.  

However, a striking lack of transparency and due process during the negotiations allowed a small group of conservative countries (African and Arab Group) and the Holy See to block language on sexual rights in the final agreement. These same governments also made several vitriolic attacks on the role of civil society in a clear attempt to silence progressive voices. The 11th hour move to block sexual rights elicited strong rebukes from many government delegations during the closing plenary: “Our governments will not be pushed backward for fear of accepting reality,” said the Philippines, while South Africa called for more “inclusive societies” and Norway stated that “discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should not be tolerated in any society.”

Despite the fact that African governments affirmed sexual rights in a regional Ministerial agreement on ICPD Beyond 2014 in October 2013, many African delegations refused to accept inclusion of the term in the global agreement. Nevertheless, the support for sexual rights expressed in the room was unprecedented, and marked an historical moment in the ongoing struggle for universal human rights.  

While some delegates spent the night sleeping on their desk, others worked hard behind closed doors to keep strong language in the final outcome document. The end result was a clear trade-off whereby reference to sexual rights was removed from PP16, a sovereignty clause was included (OP2), and recognition of the regional reviews was weakened (OP17). The document was finally accepted at about 6 am on Saturday morning.

Although the document could be perceived as a disappointment in some eyes, my reflection after some good nights of sleep is that we have won a great deal in the whole ICPD Review Process and during the 47th CPD itself. The massive support from such an incredibly diverse group of countries for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and all the topics that it includes (comprehensive sexuality education, safe and legal abortion, access to contraceptives, eliminating gender based violence, sexual orientation and gender identity) is unprecedented. It’s now time to fully focus on the new development framework that is to come after 2015. No time to sit on our laurels. 

by Rineke van Dam, Public Affairs Officer SRHR from Simavi

Saturday, April 12, 2014

3:40 am and still no 47th CPD outcome, reflections from a Malawi NGO

As a large group of delegates and advocates from all areas in the world are waiting for the outcome of the 47th CPD (at 3:40 am in the night!), Charles Banda from YONECO decides to write down his analysis of the situation, as related to his home country Malawi.

Civil Society Organizations from Malawi have commended Malawi Ambassador and Permanent Representative to United Nations in New York His Excellency Charles Msosa for his personal commitment in promoting the aspirations of Malawians. The Ambassador has been tirelessly representing Malawi in CPD day and night while attending to other side meetings as well. Earlier in the week a team of five officers from three organizations met the Malawi Ambassador on the Commission on Population and Development. These include Mac Bain Mkandawire and Charles Banda from Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), Lucky Mbewe and Chisomo Dindi from Youth Empowerment for Civic Education (YECE) and IPAS Malawi. During the meeting that lasted for over two hours, the Ambassador responded to critical issues that the African group felt must be addressed in the CPD. His Excellency Msosa emphasized to CSOs that his office is always open for discussions on issues that affect and benefit Malawians.

Progress in Malawi
The CSOs shared the progress Malawi has made in the promotion of Gender Equality and Sexual Reproductive Health.  On the ground Malawi has done a lot and is considered to be very progressive in addressing issues of sexual reproductive health, population and development. In 2013 Malawi President went ahead and signed a comprehensive law on Gender Equality despite calls from religious leaders who felts it had sensitive sections. The president opted to look at the welfare of millions of Malawian women and girls than to please a few hypocrite and selfish individuals. Malawi has serious challenges on reproductive health. These include increases rates for maternal mortality, fistula cases among victims of forced child marriages and lack of access to sexual reproductive health services among the youth. The Gender Equality Act (2012) is expected to address the challenges as it has provisions against harmful cultural practices and promotion of sexual reproductive health and rights.

African Group deadlock
At the 2014 at the 47th CPD, Malawi CSOs noted that the African group is strongly opposing provisions that they feel may give room to sexual minority rights and comprehensive sexuality education. However this fear is baseless as the legal provision within the respective member state is still superior to international resolutions and laws. The CSOs wants Malawi to share the progress it is making on the ground while maintaining its subscription to African group.

Legal context
The agreement on the 47th CPD is expected to be made in the early hours of Saturday 12th April following African group’s reservations on article 16 (PP16) and other provision that made adjournments throughout Friday. The article 16 state “Recognizing that health is a precondition for economic and social development and aware that sexual and reproductive  health and rights, in accordance with national laws, are central to the realization of social justice and to the achievement of global, regional, and national commitments for sustainable development”. The African group wants the text to change to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in line with the 2013 Addis Declaration of Ministers (African Regional Review Meeting). Advocates have been arguing that the inclusion of “in accordance with national laws” still give sovereignty to state parties. Charles Banda from YONECO said “it is unfortunate that the African group is not accepting the article when there is a sovereignty clause”. He explains that in Africa it is only South Africa and Namibia that when they sign international agreements it automatically becomes part of their national law. While majority have supremacy and sovereignty sections in their respective constitutions. Banda said in the case of Malawi any law or agreement we sign at international level cannot become part of Malawi law as they have supremacy and domestication sections in the Malawi Constitution. He said section 5 of Malawi Constitution state that “Any act of Government or any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be invalid”.  Banda added that section 211 of the same constitution demands an act of parliament for the domestication of international laws Malawi signs.

What next?
The outcome of the 47th CPD is yet to come as the meeting that started in the morning of Friday 11 April went over to Saturday morning of 12 April, reaching 3:40 am due to deadlock and continuous adjournments. Up to this point it is not yet clear whether and on what the countries will agree after negotiating for an agreed position that will fit all.

Chalres Banda, Media, Networking and Advocacy Offcer at YONECO Malawi, in collaboration with Simavi

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Silence before the storm

It’s Thursday 5 pm, and the international SRHR NGO community is flocking the entrance of the negotiation room. Actually, negotiations will only reconvene at 6 pm so I use my time to look back with you to the past day and half:

After skipping Monday due to a small negotiation room, the discussions went full force on Tuesday and Wednesday. The whole text was discussed, paragraph for paragraph, with particularly the African countries adding a lot of new text. Their intention was to delay the process to such an extent, that we can actually not reach agreed conclusions on Friday. While some countries within the African continent have very progressive national policies and laws concerning young people’s SRHR, safe and legal abortion, sexuality education amongst others, there has been a culture of domination by a few conservative African countries. Particularly amongst them Cameroon (who speaks for the continent), Egypt and Nigeria.

Charles Banda, from YONECO –Simavi’s partner- in Malawi: “Our country has a very progressive Gender Equality Act adopted in 2013, which contains references to safe and legal abortion, banning harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, and it strongly recognizes Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. It is frustrating to see my delegates align with the regressive African stance”. Unfortunately, countries such as Malawi do not speak up during the CPD. Ghana, who on Tuesday did speak out and introduced progressive paragraphs was forced back into the African Group position and had to withdraw their progressive paragraphs on Wednesday. A culture of domination seems to keep the African continent in a grappling deadlock.

On Thursday morning, the delegates received a ‘compilation text’ with all the suggestions made up to Wednesday evening. A 28-page document!! As this is impossible to negotiate (we would need a year), the chair was asked to make a streamlined text. At 2 pm this text was finally shared. Negotiations will reconvene at 6 pm… which we are waiting for now.

The streamlined text contains a lot of good references including SRHR and specifically for young people, comprehensive sexuality education, human rights, link with post-2015, gender equality and abortion (where not against the law). This document will now be on the table tonight and tomorrow, probably heavily attacked by amongst others the Holy See, Arab Group, African Group and Russia. While we and a great number of progressive countries from all over the world push for further advancements, including reference to ‘safe and legal abortion’.

It promises to be become a long day… we are ready for it, awaiting the delegates just outside the room.

by Rineke van Dam, Public Affairs Officer SRHR at Simavi