Disappointment at CSW64: lack of inclusive, transparent decisions in New York

The Beijing Platform for Action was one of the most ambitious action agendas for women’s rights in history. 2020 was supposed to be a year of celebrating this progressive agenda’s 25th anniversary. Instead it has turned out to show the weaknesses in the current system. Above all, it has highlighted the enormous challenges that still remain in order to achieve gender equality.

In March 2020, the global celebrations of 25 years of ‘Beijing’ were supposed to start with the 64th gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. This annual United Nations meeting of government delegates, civil society representatives, and other stakeholders, assesses the progress (or regress) made in terms of achieving gender equality. Every year the meeting focuses on a new theme. This year’s focus is the Beijing Platform for Action’s 25th anniversary. In Spring and Summer of 2020, two civil-society driven Generation Equality Forums were planned to take the celebrations to the next level. These forums are aimed at bringing all kinds of stakeholders together: from governments to civil society to the private sector.

Unfortunately the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the curtailing of the CSW in New York City and cancellation of the Generation Equality Forums. The international feminist movement called for postponement of the CSW, allowing the meeting to take place later on in the year with full participation of civil society. Instead government leaders decided to go ahead with a one-day scaled down version of the meeting on March 9th. Official side and civil society’s parallel events were cancelled, general debates were left out, with only New York based delegations taking part. How can political decisions taken without the meaningful participation of civil society be regarded as legitimate?

The process was already less transparent this year. The Political Declaration would be negotiated by government delegates before the start of the official gathering, limiting the opportunities for civil society to give input. The CSW needs to become more transparent and allow for more civil society participation in the future. NGOs should be given a more dedicated official space within the process, for example by having one of the plenary sessions be co-led by civil society.

We had hoped for more ambition

We had hoped that government leaders would take courageous action and silence the regressive groups trying to undermine the commitments of Beijing. Unfortunately the Political Declaration presented on March 9 lacked ambition.

Firstly, the fight against climate change and environmental degradation is becoming more urgent. Climate is one of Beijing Platform for Action’s 12 areas, but truly transformative action is lacking. Any outcomes of the Beijing+25 processes, including the multi-stakeholder Action Coalitions, have to recognize existing international agreements like the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan. These agreement provide clear measures to be taken.

Secondly, we have to recognize that the current economic system is unjust. While governments called for women’s equal participation in economic markets, we call for a transformation in the current economic system. To truly achieve economic justice, women should be able to exercise real power over their own economic rights. The interests of people and the planet need to be put before the interests of powerful corporations.

In a Feminist Declaration, we wrote our version of the declaration with over 200 feminist groups, women’s rights organizations and trade unions. Check it out here.