By Jennifer Rodriguez Bruno, global advocacy coordinator, MenEngage Alliance
MenEngage Alliance members and partners from across the world took part in the 63rd session of the UN Commision on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York from 11th – 22nd March. Each year, thousands of representatives of government, civil society and UN agencies convene at CSW to shape global efforts to promote gender equality and advance standards for the empowerment of women. (Click here to read more about CSW from the UN).
The coordinated engagement of MenEngage Alliance in international policy advocacy spaces becomes more accountable, interconnected and strategic with each passing year. This year, 40 MenEngage Alliance members attended in various capacities* aiming to have a meaningful positive impact within broader activism of the gender justice field. With all these members of the Alliance in one place, CSW provided an opportunity to connect, share and collaborate in joint activities and advocacy as a network.
As an Alliance, we strive to practice accountable advocacy in spaces like CSW, as part of meaningful support of broader feminist women’s rights activism. As part of these efforts, the Alliance participated in the strategy meeting of the Women’s Rights Caucus, a coalition of more than 250 feminist and women’s rights organizations from across the globe working to advocate for a progressive feminist agenda at CSW.
Many members who were not able to attend still contributed from afar, such as through contributions to our processes for collectively advocating for feminist-informed, human rights-based, and gender-transformative language in official UN documents. Others helped to amplify the outcomes of the session over social media and other communications channels, while many followed along just to stay informed of these influential discussions.
Below is a summary of the key activities and outcomes of our collective participation in CSW63.
In numbers: MenEngage Alliance at CSW63
16 – The number of different parallel sessions and side-events which the Alliance co-organized and/or took part in.
3 members participated as their respective country’s official civil society representative (MÄN, as a member of the Swedish delegation, Sonke Gender Justice as a member of the South Africa delegation, and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) as a member of the Rwanda delegation).
12 members provided technical inputs towards the collective agenda of MenEngage Alliance, informing advocacy in the negotiations of the Agreed Conclusions – the official CSW outcome document agreed by UN Member States.
6 members took part in an advocacy working group meeting to inform our collective advocacy efforts over the course of the year leading up to CSW64 in 2020, which is set to be a landmark year 25 years on from the Beijing Platform For Action (Beijing+25). This meeting was part of the broader MenEngage Alliance Global Advocacy Working Group.
4 meetings were held with UN agencies, including UN Women, UNFPA, and UNDP. MenEngage Alliance Global Secretariat and various members participated in advancing these important strategic partnerships.
3 MenEngage Alliance Caucus meetings, providing a dedicated space for representatives from the Alliance to strategize on strengthening the network and advocacy efforts. Read more about the session on Youth Leadership here.
1 first-time Capacity Building session on the importance of CSW as a forum, and how to best engage with it. This session was hosted by the MenEngage Alliance Global Secretariat, and with support from the regional networks and expert members, for members of the Alliance.
Advocating for clear, unequivocal language in UN agreements
CSW is a key space for the formation of international priorities and frameworks that inform women’s rights and gender equality around the world. The official UN outcomes – known as the Agreed Conclusions – provide “concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, regional, national, regional and local level” (UN Women).
Since the Agreed Conclusions have a lot of influence over the international framework and direction around the work to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, getting the wording right is important. MenEngage Alliance stood by women’s rights organizations in calling for language that clearly and unambiguously supports the rights of all women and girls and advances universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.
12 MenEngage Alliance members provided technical inputs, which were compiled together by the Global Secretariat for collective language advocacy into the CSW output documents. Through four rounds of language negotiations, these advocacy efforts supported other civil society voices in contributing to advancing clear and unequivocal language around a number of key issues, including:
1.Violence against all women and girls is “rooted in historical and structural inequality and unequal power relations between men and women”.
Firstly – despite several governments opposing language that articulated the gendered nature of violence against women and girls – the final document is clear that gender is often the underlying factor (Agreed Conclusions, Paragraph 13)
2. Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive right
Secondly, language around sexual harassment and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was included – again, after opposition from various governments.
3. The “full engagement of men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change”
When it comes to engaging men and boys, the UN conclusions includes several impactful statements around transforming masculinities and dismantling patriarchal power inequalities. Encouragingly, these had strong support from most governments and drew on language from Resolution 35/10, which calls for men and boys to be engaged in preventing and responding to violence against all women and girls.
Specifically, the Agreed Conclusions recognize the “importance of the full engagement of men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the promotion of women’s and girls’ access to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure and in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls” (CSW63 Agreed Conclusions, Paragraph 46).
4. Supporting women human rights defender
The Alliance, together with women’s rights organizations, called for language supporting civil society and women human rights defenders (paragraph 47). This was another significant gain amid continued pressure from several governments, until the end of the negotiation, to have this language removed.
5. Being vigilant against the use of regressive language around harmful gender stereotypes
MenEngage Alliance’s contribution on lobbying within the broader collective efforts to avoid the inclusion of regressive language around the stereotypical role of the men and boys as the sole provider in the family in various places in the Agreed Conclusions. Such framings serve to reinforce an imbalance in gendered power relations and the Alliance will continue to advocate for gender-transformative language.
6. Supporting feminist-informed language at government level
Through CSW63, the Alliance coordinated the submission of technical inputs to the governments of Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands. Through four rounds of language negotiations, these efforts helped avoid non-transformative and apolitical language around the men and boys agenda, in addition to supporting the inclusion of key language around gender-based violence, SRHR, women human rights defenders and civil society space.
Exclusion of activists through visa denials
CSW63 continued to experience strong activism in response to ongoing issues surrounding the denial of entry to the US for numerous activists. Despite its obligations under a 70-year-old treaty not to restrict the participation of any person to a conference at the United Nations headquarters, the US government continued its pattern of denying visas to more than 50 participants (by civil society estimation). Those denied access included rural women and girls, and women and girls from the many geo-politically sensitive regions of the world.
MenEngage Alliance signed onto this statement put forward by NGOs at CSW in response to visa application denials to attend CSW63. As a delegation, we also disseminated a joint mapping in order to make note of all our members who were also excluded from joining the session because of visa denials.
Increased opposition and backlash
This year saw a marked increase targetted action by anti-abortion and anti-feminist agendas at CSW. As session unfolded, the facilitator of the Agreed Conclusions process, H.E. Koki Muli Grignon from Kenya, was targeted by opposition groups. In a coordinated malicious effort, Ms Muli’s email inbox and personal cell phone was flooded with anti-abortion and ‘anti-gender’ messages. Civil society mobilized to unequivocally condemn this effort to intimidate Ms. Muli, noting that women human rights defenders, including those who work within the UN system, are harassed in all regions of the world. Ms. Muli acknowledged and thanked for all the support from civil society organizations and networks in her response to women’s major group.
MenEngage Alliance collectively signed on to this statement put forward by the Women’s Rights Caucasus in support of Ms. Muli. The statement notes that she had been targeted in order to stifle efforts to advance women’s sexual and reproductive rights during CSW. This is occurring in the context of other tactics meant to intimidate participants, including the presence of an ‘anti abortion’ bus that was circling the UN headquarters area in New York during the session.
The Role of the Holy See as a UN Permanent Observer
This CSW session saw an advocacy effort arise seeking revoke the Holy See’s Permanent Observer status at the UN. Through the Holy See’s problematic engagement in this year’s session, the sign-on was in support of an official complaint filed with the Secretary General. The complaint notes several critical considerations including:
- Three failures of the Holy See to comply with treaty obligations
- Inconsistent and worrisome levels of support for women’s and girls’ rights
- The ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal
These three issues bring into serious question the alignment of the Holy See to advance women’s human rights and gender justice. In addition, and perhaps most worryingly from a governance and accountability perspective, the Holy See is not a ‘State’ in any normal sense of the term.
MenEngage Alliance collectively signed onto the complaint and Change.com petition relating to this issue.
Looking ahead to CSW64 and Beijing+25
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark global agreement on women’s rights and gender equality. This pivotal year also marks the 5-year point of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and 10 years since the creation of UN Women.
Over the next year, all Member States must undertake comprehensive national-level reviews of the progress made and challenges encountered in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. There will also be a regional level review and intergovernmental review in each region. These process will feed into the sixty-fourth session of the Commission next year (CSW64) in which governments will review progress towards gender equality over the last twenty-five years.
With 2020 set to be a crucial year of reflection, renewed commitment and call for urgency at CSW, MenEngage Alliance will be supporting members to join other civil society voices in holding governments to account for the commitments made in Beijing 25 years ago.
*MenEngage Alliance members and Global Secretariat team continued to deepen its collective engagement in CSW this year, coordinating participation of 40 members in the session – joining from 17 countries (Africa [Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa], Caribbean [Grenada], Europe [Austria, Sweden, United Kingdom], Middle East [Lebanon], Latin America [Nicaragua, Colombia], North America [USA, Canada], and South Asia [Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India]) and 7 regions.