This will be a brief, springtime report about the recent activities of our YWCA World Service Council and the remarkable two-week session of CSW, The Commission of the Status of Women, that has just ended at the United Nations. We trust that our report will bring cheer, unlike the wintry weather that continued to hang on, at least for March, at the Affinia Hotel in New York City, where many “Y” delegates stayed again this year. They joined another 5000 delegates who stayed in every hotel and boarding space on the East side of Manhattan and in Queens for this 24th event of the institution known as CSW that was created as part of the UN in 1995 to work for women’s rights.
As for this account of our activities, we had a total of about 100 YWCA delegates who joined WSC leaders for the first event, a gala joint reception organized by the YWCA USA at the hotel. Many had also joined hundreds of others for a “Consultation Day” that was held downtown that first Sunday, and each registered attendee was given an impressive handbook and schedule of over 500 workshops to attend during the next two weeks at the UN and six very accessible nearby locations. As in former years, those who were registered as official delegates attended many of the sessions held in the UN buildings, and all attended as many of the well-crafted daily workshops there and nearby as possible. Then the conference ended with fond farewells to old and new friends who shared our active commitment for women’s rights and applauded what was another splendid 63rd Session of CSW.
What is CSW?
For all who attended and also for those across the country who didn’t, a brief bit of history about CSW might be helpful. As some of our very senior members will remember, the United Nations was created in 1945, along with several commissions, as the major structure to work for world peace in the years ahead. There were great efforts to improve on the former world organization for peace called the League of Nations, which was created after World War I, but disbanded in 1946 after 25 years of what were seen as weak efforts. So CSW was created as one of several powerful UN commissions with the sweeping purpose of improving the lives of the world’s women and securing their rights.
But history had other ideas. While other commissions were able to raise needed funds, and one in particular, UNICEF, became famous for its activities and the extensive money raised for its work with children, the Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW, had great difficulty in getting funds for women’s work from most of the 180 UN members. Finally, it took women leaders to bring the issues of women’s rights to the attention of the UN and its active members. Several women, including some YWCA ones well known to us, organized a first Woman’s World Conference in Mexico City in 1975, and all were delighted when over 5,000 attended, demanding work on women’s rights. Mildred Persinger from the USA who died recently, was one of these longtime leaders, along with Elizabeth Palmer and Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados, who both went on to head two major conferences in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985 respectively. Dame Nita also organized and ran a major Forum in 1985 where Betty Friedan and Maureen Reagan attended.
However, there was a lengthy period of planning and follow-up so that even after the second and third conferences in Copenhagen and Nairobi, when all thought that the UN and CSW would do more, there was a lack of concrete actions to help women and girls. It took a Fourth World Conference in 1995, in China this time, with 50,000 attending – to really get the world’s attention – and some UN action! Fortunately, the YWCA has been strong in China for many years and after this amazing session with its chanted slogan of “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” the UN decided to have annual sessions of the Commission at the UN every March with more than 5000 registering most years and some 8000 registering in this current year!
In the meantime, there have also been some major efforts on behalf of women and the work of the Commission or CSW, so it may be helpful to look at these as a list of UN Acts or Actions on Behalf of Women:
The Beijing Platform for Action was the stated program agreed to by UN members attending the 4th World Conference in 1995, referred to above. The program document calls for “Twelve Critical Areas of Concern,” and has been’ called the “gold standard for policies to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
“Beijing Plus 25” will be a celebration of the above platform with a one-day gala event in the planning stage for the General Assembly session in New York this coming September, 2019.
CEDAW:The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. It has been described as an international bill of rights for women and was instituted on September 3, 1981, and has been ratified by 189 countries, excluding the United States.
Cities for CEDAW: Partly because the USA has not joined other countries in actively endorsing CEDAW, some cities in the USA have adopted its provisions into their own city laws. So far, these provisions protecting women have been incorporated into the laws of nine cities, with San Francisco being the leader, while 25 other cities are negotiating their own decisions concerning incorporation. All member cities include the enactment of women’s rights, and the most recent city is Pittsburgh, Pa., as of March 10th. 2019.
UNSCR 1325: refers to a resolution adopted on October 31, 2000, by the United Nations Security Council that is known as a landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security. It refers to the increasing need for the protection of women and includes what are known as the three p’s: the Participation of women at all levels; the Protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the Prevention of violence against women, including by those who are in charge of enacting international and local laws.
Staff and speakers at CSW often referred to these UN acts on behalf of women and girls, and so we hope that this listing and explanation will be helpful.
As stated, the conference had a high attendance and over 500 workshops on an extensive array of topics, all having to do with women’s rights and needs. We trust that UN actions in the future will address many of these needs and will keep giving member countries the help they need, to join together and find solutions in this challenging time for women and girls.
Every year in recent years the CSW Conference has opened with an all-day Consultation Day where major speakers and themes are introduced, giving a vivid preview of some of the workshops or ideas that will be featured in the next two weeks. For further examples of ideas expressed in the workshops, please see the following list of some challenging topics or speakers that were presented at Consultation Day and during the next two weeks.
- This year, one of the major features was an award given to Ms. Ibnul Ameen for being the 2019 Woman of Distinction. Ms. Ibnul Ameen was chosen from among many candidates and at age 22 is the youngest recipient so selected. She is a major leader in Afghanistan as the Co-Founder of the Afghan Girls Sustainable Education Project and other Youth programs, including one where she has worked with the Government and the Afghan President to bring in more than 5000 youth to work as women on policies for peace, education, and an end to poverty.
- Mary Fatiya, a young woman champion from the YWCA of South Sudan, was invited to address the commission at the Opening Session and share her story of women surviving conditions in that country despite the ongoing state of war and violence in her country.
Together with the Government of Finland, the YWCA of Finland held the 14th International Helvi Sipilä Seminar on How Free Contraception is linked to Empowerment and Education. Young women were urged to lead and drive action towards realizing their full SRHR or Sexual Reproductive Health Rights.
- The list of topics presented by UN member countries was impressive, lengthy, totally varied, and inspiring. Countries in Africa offered programs with solutions for refugees and those facing violence. Several were presented on trafficking; still others on economic advancement and the reclaiming of African heritage – in countries like Nigeria and Zambia (with the YWCA!). Countries like Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Canada and Japan all had varied workshops on women’s role in achieving gender equality, work balance, and protection of minorities such as widows, refugees and the youth or elderly.
- Then in the overall listing of the Handbook, there were also probably an equal number of about 300 programs presented by social agencies. These were also very graphic and interesting on subjects with an expected social appeal such as the need to involve family or children in building a woman’s role; or how to take care of the poor, the migrants or the victims in any society.
- So, in closing, the Commission or CSW63 can now be considered a success, and all of us can look forward to CSW64 and the celebrations noted above. Those wanting to play a role can also be informed by a link to NGO CSW/NY, where they can enroll to actively help in extending women’s rights for the future.
Connie Tate, Co-Chair, WSC, April 3, 2019
P.S. More information about CSW63 and this year’s sessions can also be found by addressing the following links: