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.