CSW63: from social infrastructure, period positivity to feminist movement building

CSW, or the Commission on the Status of Women, as it is short for, is the Mecca for women’s rights activists from across the world.

In other words, it’s a great space for feminist networking and knowledge sharing. It is also a space where delegates from around the world gather to discuss women’s rights, with a new focus each year. This year the international community came together in New York 11-22 March, to look at how we can achieve women’s rights within social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. We were there together with three of our partners: Ida Bakhturdize (Georgia), Anara Choitonbaeva (Kyrgyz Alliance for Water and Sanitation, Kyrgysztan) and Fwilane Banda (Project Luangwa, Zambia).

Changing mindsets

Photo credit: WECF/ Joel Sheakoski
Photo credit: WECF/ Joel Sheakoski
From the left: Emma Letellier, Dr. Karla Henning, Caren Marks, Dr. Julia Lehmann, Anara Choitonbaeva and Fwilane Banda (Photo credit: WECF/ Joel Sheakoski)

We hosted, together with GIZ, BMZ and KFW the official side event “Meeting needs and changing minds – the precondition for gender-transformative water and wastewater projects” within the headquarters of the United Nations.

In many parts of the world, access to safe water and sanitation services remains insufficient for women and girls. On the other hand, experience shows that when women and girls become active drivers of infrastructure planning, construction and maintenance, these services improve and have a gender transformative impact. Moreover, the involvement of women and girls in the delivery of water and sanitation services can become a stepping stone for their active participation in other political processes. Anara shared experiences about her work on community based drinking water user unions. Fwilane was sharing stories on menstrual hygiene and stakeholder engagement.

Other speakers included Caren Marks (Parliamentary Secretary of State, Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany) and Dr. Karla Henning (Economist, KfW Development Bank, Competence Center Social Development & Crisis). The session was moderated by Dr. Julia Lehmann (Head of Division, Human Rights, Gender and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany) and responding did Emma Letellier, French National Gender & Climate Focal Point, G7 G.R.E.A.T. French coalition. Read the live tweets from the session here.

Bloody good sanitation

Photo credit: WECF/ Joel Sheakoski

We asked our partner Fwilane Banda, a menstrual health activist working for Project Luangwa in Zambia, about her experiences attending the CSW for the first time.  She joined us in New York, to share her story on how to involve different type of stakeholders in communities to overcome period stigma:

“Being the first time to attend this year’s session; I had quite a number of expectations and among them being networking with other organisations, gain and share knowledge, unlearn certain theories and learn new ones. Like for example, I got to learn a lot about how our organisation contribute in attaining the 17 SDGs. I was on the panel of the WECF side event and my presentation focused on menstrual health and men. As the title of the event states ‘changing mindsets’ I took the opportunity to share our experiences as a project in the community we work. The challenges girls and women face in terms of Menstrual Hygiene Management and the role boys and men have undertaken. I feel that the strength of women is to work together. Overall, involving women, men, girls and boys in all decision making processes on gender equality is key to achieve all the sustainable development goals.” says Fwilane.

Feminists unite!


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CSW, being the biggest international conference on women’s rights, is the best time to do a check-in with our Women’s Major Group members, seen as many of them are in town for the negotiations. This year we really sat down and thought about, is the High Level Political Forum (where the reporting on Agenda 2030 takes place) an effective space for civil society, and how do we make it more effective? We are currently following up with our members who could not attend in person and will launch a report on the way forward within short.

During our Women’s Major Group side event “Challenges & successes – using Agenda 2030 to realize women’s rights“, members from the global south and our partner Ida Bakhturdize shared personal stories and social barriers to achieving women’s rights in terms sustainable infrastructure. Agenda 2030 is a very powerful tool if implemented in a gender just way which recognises the different needs of different stakeholder groups.

Solidarity striking for the climate


The global youth climate movement, Fridays for Future, held a massive climate march in the middle of CSW. We joined forces with our Women & Gender Constituency colleagues, WEDO, and coordinated a solidarity strike with the youth. About 1,4 million people, in 125 countries marched for climate justice, and we took to the streets of New York with our CSW allies.

Is there hope for a structural change?


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Our trustee Gabriele Köhler, a Development Economist, former UN official, and Human Rights advocate, was interviewed by Traces Dreams.


The delegates negotiated on how to achieve “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.  The agreed conclusions can be found here: [ Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish ]. It was confirmed during the negotiations that next year we will focus on the Beijing Platform for Action, given that next year it has been 25 years since it was adopted.