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Should We Care About the 57th Commission on the Status of Women?

Liberian Ambassador Marjon Kamara (left) speaks with United States Ambassador Susan Rice (right) at the event. Photo credit: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina
Liberian Ambassador Marjon Kamara (left) speaks with United States Ambassador Susan Rice (right) at the event. Photo credit: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

Keshet Bachan (you may know her as one of the authors of the annual Because I am a Girl Report) thinks it is a waste of time.

Different people will have different opinions on the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). As it enters the second week, it appears that the CSW suffers from some serious problems. Namely the sticky issue of reproductive rights prevents may prevent the outcome document from having real teeth or even meaningful language about reproductive health as a right.

Bachan stresses that now is the time to find ways to end the violence, abuse and discrimination faced by girls around the world. However, the CSW may not be the best way to do it, in her opinion.

The best example of CSW impotence is the fact that in my many travels to ‘the field’, no one has ever heard of this meeting. sorry, but its true. the only interested folks, are those who are attending, have attended, or might attend one of the meetings in future. (sic)

Liz Ford reported from the CSW last week for the Guardian Global Development channel. Her reports showed an event that tried to push against the restriction of women’s rights, but had to balance against the many participating nations.

That challenge was evidenced in remarks by the head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, at the opening day of CSW.

“In any area of the UN we … have to agree on certain language that can represent the same spirit, but that can be accepted by everyone,” Bachelet said. But she insisted that there must be “no setback on the hard won gains for women and girls”, and agreements made at previous conferences, in Cairo and Beijing, must be upheld. “Any language that can reflect the spirit and doesn’t set [us]back is welcome. Language is important but not enough. You can have the best language document but what we need is action. We don’t need another document to put on the shelf; we need commitments,” she said according to Ford.

The outcome document will need the support of all the member states, so it must reflect a broad-based agreement between nations with very different attitudes on issues like reproductive rights.

That is why UNDP head Helen Clark stressed the importance of sexual and reproductive rights in women’s empowerment. Ford spoke with Clark who told her, “The thing is not to go backwards on the language reached at Cairo,” Clark told the Guardian. “The thing is for women to be able to have choices over their lives. They need what is specifically in millennium goal 5b: access to reproductive health [services]… Without that we won’t see women enjoying equal status.”

In both articles, Ford points out how the language in the Rio+20 outcome document had to be changed from reading ‘reproductive rights’ to ‘reproductive health.’ According to Ford, Russia, Malta and the Vatican are all trying to remove reproductive rights mentions from the CSW outcome document.

While there is optimism that an agreement on eliminating violence will be reached at this CSW, some are worried that a watered down document will have little traction. Activists maintain that unless women have rights over their own body, zero tolerance on violence will never be achieved.

The CSW will wrap up at the end of this week and the outcome document will show to what extent the pessimism from Bachan proves to be true. However, it does seem to matter to the extent that it has the power to set forward a strong agenda regarding the rights of women and girls.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]