Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Negotiating our voice and space at CSW: The Netherlands as champion

 ‘Why are you here? Why are you still at the CSW when the end document is already been adopted!?’ The journalist asking me this sounds sincerely surprised. I could tell her this is because of the numerous interesting side and parallel events that are still scheduled for the next 9 days. Or because of the opportunity to exchange thoughts and strategies with civil society colleagues from around the world. Or to recharge my ‘activist-battery’ with the moving and inspiring individuals and their stories from grass-root level. For those moments when I need to be reminded what it is we are all working so hard for.

All those would be very true reasons. Very honest reasons as well. But there is ONE main reason why I am still here, and with me so many other Women’s Human Rights activists and civil society representatives….: because we are negotiating the future of our voice, our space, here at the CSW.

So far at CSW59 there has been one Resolution tabled, which is the Resolution on Working Methods. With each lustrum of a Beijing review, the Working Methods are being tabled to be discussed and signed off. This resolution is the agreement of governments and the United Nations on how the CSW should operate, which stakeholders to include and to what extent, what methods for inclusion should be used, but also the position of the CSW in reference to other intergovernmental processes. Specifically Post-2015.

The international civil society advocates for a firmly-rooted participative role and recognition of our expertise as women’s and feminist organizations and groups. We have played a critical role in the run up and in creating the Beijing agenda that was developed 20 years. The regional and global review reports of Beijng+20 amongst others show that progress on gender quality and empowerment of women and girls that has been achieved since 1995 would have been impossible without us. There is invaluable knowledge drawing from our closeness to the ground. We are able to identify trends that negatively affect women or undermine gender equality before governments do. Governments can use our expertise in ensuring that the work of the Commission remains relevant and impactful.

Unfortunately, inclusion of our role is not obvious. Several member states or groups of member states at the CSW, with Russia as the most focal force, are opposing the inclusion of civil society to be incorporated into the Working Methods.

We are lucky. ‘We’ being the Netherlands’ civil society. Historically we have a good relationship with our government representatives. We can share our concerns and enter into dialogue with our head of delegation and delegation representatives. Which is exactly what we did yesterday, during a meeting of Netherlands’ civil society at the Dutch embassy to the United Nations. Where we met not only with the Dutch Minister, but also the Ministers of Aruba and St Maarten. Several member organizations of WO=MEN flagged up critical issues: decent work and women’s workers rights; implementation of a financing framework for UNSCR1325; increasing violent extremisms; shrinking political space for civil society in general and particularly for LBTI and other groups; and also the shrinking financial space for civil society organizations working on gender equality. Critical issues that were acknowledged by Minister Bussemaker, Netherlands’ Ministry for Education, Culture and Science. The Netherlands has took to heart the shrinking space for civil society. It was therefore a confirmation of our partnership when the Minister closed her official statement later that afternoon at the General Assembly with a commitment on continuous collaboration with civil society.

Hopefully the Netherlands’ openness of the delegation and government to work with civil society will be held as an example for those governments where civil society inclusion is not guaranteed. This is why I am still here, at the CSW. Why we are still here. To make sure that the CSW Working Methods guarantee that Women’s Human Rights activists all around the world are able to let their voice be heard at the CSW. Now and in the years to come.

= Posted by Sanne Holtslag on behalf of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform =