After two weeks of negotiations and stalemate, the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) has ended without adopting the Agreed Conclusions. While the theme of Rural Women was of great importance to women around the world, divergent views on gender and religious and cultural rights appear to have been a major stumbling block.
Rural areas have the greatest unmet needs in terms of education, security, mitigation of climate change, reproductive health rights and services, land ownership and rights, economic stability and inclusion in post conflict resolution. Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Women, has expressed her deep regret in UNCSW’s inability to reach agreement over these important issues. The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) shares her disappointment. CFUW was particularly upset by the withdrawl of the HIV/AIDS resolution due to lack of consensus. This was a very important resolution because it was intended to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS and re-affirm commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.
The UN Economic and Social Council issued the following press release today from the 19th meeting of the 56th session of the UNCSW:
HEAD OF UN GENDER ENTITY EXPRESSES ‘DEEP REGRET’ AS COMMISSION ON STATUS
OF WOMEN CONCLUDES WITHOUT ADOPTING AGREED CONCLUSIONS
‘I Will Not Hide My Great Disappointment’, Says Chair,
As Delegations Question Each Other’s Good Faith over Collapsed Negotiations
Expressing “deep regret” that the Commission on the Status of Women had failed to adopt the agreed conclusions that traditionally mark the conclusion of its annual sessions, the head of UN-Women today urged delegations to move past that setback and press ahead with efforts to ensure that rural women — the focus of the current session – would be fully empowered to reach their potential.
“I sincerely hope that this does not mean Member States are not ready to do what still needs to be done,” said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for General Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). She added that, irrespective of its disappointing conclusion, the Commission’s fifty-sixth session had “witnessed passionate and dynamic discussions” on the empowerment of rural women and strengthening their role in achieving sustainable development for all.
The session, which opened at Headquarters on 27 February, was scheduled to have concluded on 9 March, but protracted negotiations on the agreed conclusions forced the Commission to extend its work by one week. Delegations were unable to overcome “a disappointing inability to reach consensus”, in Ms. Bachelet’s words, and the session closed today without a final document (see Press Release WOM/1904 for more information). However, the Commission did adopt its draft final report.
While underscoring the disappointment that rural women around the world certainly felt due to the Commission’s inability to come up with solid recommendations, she said the fifty-sixth session had nonetheless been impressive. The high level of participation in the session’s formal meetings and side events by Government representatives and civil society actors had rekindled the hope that stakeholders were ready to pay due attention — and provide the necessary resources — to advancing the situation of rural women and girls, and to broader gender equality, including on issues of sexual and reproductive health and technology.
Many good practices had been shared, and fresh and creative ideas had been presented on how national policies, legal reforms and services could change the lives of rural women and girls, she said. Looking ahead to next year, when the Commission would focus on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Ms. Bachelet said there could be no lasting or sustainable development unless such violence was eradicated. Hopefully, all delegations would take full advantage of the months ahead to pave the way for a productive, ground-breaking and successful 2013 session.
Echoing Ms. Bachelet’s sentiments, Commission Chair Marjon V. Kamara ( Liberia ) said: “I will not hide my great disappointment that we have found ourselves in this position. If we really want to tell the truth about it, I’m not sure that we all came with a spirit of compromise.” Since the negotiations among Member States had failed to generate a consensus outcome, she said she would prepare a “Chair’s Summary” reflecting the important discussions and themes that had emerged during the just-concluded session. That summary would be posted on the Commission’s website and reflected in its final report.
She thanked all participants in the session, especially the rural women, “who had hoped we would do something concrete for them”. The session’s priority theme had been crucial for rural women, who made up one quarter of the world, she said, adding that they were vital economic agents who, if empowered, could unleash improvements to reduce poverty and boost food security. Rural women and girls played a vital social role, and their contributions, while often overlooked, were essential to broader socio-economic development. As such, they must be able to participate actively and effectively in decisions that affected them, especially regarding land use and ownership. Indeed, their voices must be heard “from the village, to the national and global levels”, she emphasized.
Ms. Kamara said that, because of the important leadership and decision-making roles that rural women played, she was “especially disappointed” that divergent views on the Commission had not been bridged. There had been sufficient agreement on a critical mass of issues so that Governments could have taken action in some areas, she noted, adding that she counted on UN-Women to take forward the Organization’s work on behalf of rural women and girls.
Before those remarks, nearly 20 delegations took the floor to express their regret that the Commission had been forced to end its work without adopting agreed conclusions. Jamaica ’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that regrettable failure would send a “resounding negative message” to the world’s rural women and girls, even though that message did not reflect the commitment of the majority of Commission members.
Iran’s representative said the “tender bridge” that was being built to draw delegations closer had collapsed at around 1 a.m. today, not because of the Commission’s Bureau, and not because of diverging opinion, but because of the “hardball” played “by one side of the room” over issues that were not even germane to the final text. Indeed, a few members had participated in the negotiations with the notion that they would get “all they wanted and nothing less”, he said. That had been very disappointing since negotiations were, by definition, “a two-way street”.
Also lamenting the collapse of the negotiations, Zimbabwe ’s representative said on behalf of the African Group that her delegation had even agreed to the deletion of some key paragraphs — including on technology transfer — for the sake of consensus. Yet, regardless of good-faith discussions, one delegation’s opposition had caused the process to falter, she said. Emphasizing that the United Nations Charter affirmed the sovereignty of States and their right to maintain their own systems of governance, she said it was the African Group’s understanding that the term “gender” referred to “male” and female”, as outlined in the Beijing Declaration. The African Group also reaffirmed that sex education should be age-appropriate and provided under the guidance of adults or other appropriate authorities.
Norway’s representative explained that the term “moral hazard” was used to describe a situation whereby one party took a risky decision in the knowledge that it could hurt another party if, for some reason, things went wrong. That term was appropriate to describe the Committee’s work during the final hours of the session, she said. While Norway respected the traditions of all States, it could not accept the use of religious, cultural and moral concerns to block negotiations on documents that would protect women’s rights and, in some cases, save thousands of lives every year. “With all we know in 2012, with all the information we have at our disposal, [it is clear] that certain perspectives and practices are harmful to women,” he stressed. “This means that we have to make compromises.”
Also speaking were representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union), Peru , United States , Pakistan , Cuba , Nicaragua , Iceland , Switzerland , Mexico , Russian Federation , Canada , Turkey , Japan and Australia .
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.