Non-Governmental Organisations

Report to INGO Conference
on
UN Commission on Status of Women - New York 26 February-9 March 2012
by
Renée Gérard and Anje Wiersinga.

It was decided by the INGO Conference in January 2012 that Renée Gérard and Anje Wiersinga should represent the interests of the INGO Conference and promote the Council of Europe values during the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56th).

The themes of the 56th CSW session were

    - Priority Theme: The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges
    - Emerging Issue: Engaging women and men, girls and boys to advance gender equality
    - Review Theme: Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women

Delegations of Member States regrouped for discussions and negotiations, which were not accessible to NGOs. NGOs with Consultative Status complained that in this situation they could not function properly.

More than 2000 NGOs coming from all parts of the world participated in a Forum parallel to the Main Session. Amongst those were a large number of rural women from developing countries, who expected to meet their governments delegates and to lobby them. This was made impossible.

With special passes – one per accredited NGO, distributed every day – some women could enter the restricted area, only to attend parallel events organized by Member States, UN agencies, Council of Europe and the World Bank.

Due to the remodelling of UN buildings NGOs had to organize their own events, workshops and discussion groups in buildings scattered around New York City. In spite of the problems a lot of innovative workshops and caucuses took place. However, NGOs could not attend the negotiation sessions and could hardly communicate with government representatives, which marginalised their contribution. Many expressed their indignation particularly when the negotiations were blocked, leading to the failure of the Session.

Anje Wiersinga attended the NGO forum Consultation day, prior to the official Session, which was useful for briefing and networking. She participated actively in the NGO European/North American Caucus and facilitated the statement presented by the Caucus to the official governmental UN CSW Session. As the Caucus delegate she participated in the Consultation Meeting organised by Michelle Bachelet, UN First Under Secretary General and Executive Director UN-Women. NGOs were consulted on UN-Women’s plan to set up Regional and National Advisory Committees. The Caucus presented a list of important issues for UN-Women to take up.

Renée Gérard attended the official CSW Session, being included in the governmental French delegation. During the second week she even had to act as a substitute for government members and took part in the negotiations and meetings with the European Union and groups of Member States. She also participated in the meeting of the Interparliamentary Union where Mr Mignon presented the Council of Europe (CoE) Istanbul Convention on Violence against women as an example to inspire other countries. She met Mrs Quintinilla–Barba, who represented the CoE Parliamentary Commission on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

The shocking outcome of the session is that no agreed conclusions could be reached in spite of night working sessions. It was the second time this happened in the 60 years’ history of CSW’s yearly sessions. Conservative governments whose numbers are increasing year after year opposed women’s rights in the name of “traditions” They even contested the universality of human rights as opposed to traditional values and to religious law.

Norway delivered a statement naming as “moral hazards “ that dangerous approach. It concluded that
Norway fully respects and protects religious freedom and cultural diversity. But we cannot accept that religious, cultural and so-called moral arguments are being used to block decisions and avoid obligations we all know would give millions of women freedom and save hundreds of lives every year. All countries and cultures have their traditions and hold them dear. But in 2012, with the knowledge we now have with regard to women’s rights, opportunities and health, we also know that certain perspectives and practices are harmful - and dangerous - to women. This means we have to compromise.

The EU also made a statement along the same lines “rejecting strongly the attempts to dilute the international agreements to protect gender equality and women’s rights”.

The NGOs’ recent statement reminds Governments of International Agreements, particularly CEDAW and the 1993 Vienna Declaration: that women’s rights are human rights, are universal and inalienable.
An International NGO network has been set up to combat this dangerous development eroding women’s universal rights.

On International Women’s Day – 8 March – UN SG Ban Ki Moon announced that he intended to propose to the UN GA a 5th World Women Conference in 2015.