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Setting global standards of promoting gender equality

By Dr. Jumai Ahmadu

In 1946, days after the United Nation (UN) General Assembly’s inaugural meeting, former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who led part of the country’s delegation, read an open letter addressed to “the women of the world”.

Mrs. Roosevelt had called “on the governments of the world to encourage women everywhere to take a more active part in national and international affairs, and on women who are conscious of their opportunities to come forward and share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in war and resistance”.

Thus founded in 1946, the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), is the biggest global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to promoting gender quality and empowerment of women.

The biggest gathering of gender quality advocates in the world, the annual session of the CSW convenes ministers, high-level government officials and civil society representatives at the UN in New York for two weeks in March to discuss progress, identify challenges, set policies and also set global standards on gender equality and the rights of women and girls.

The gathering is dedicated to feminists and women rights activists and advocates, to move the needle on gender quality and bring to the fore the power and potential of women and girls everywhere.

The CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and Helpline Foundation for the Needy Abuja is also in consolidation status with Ecosoc Arm of the United Nations. 

The theme of this year’s parallel event is focusing on the priority theme of the Africa Women Conference 7th Edition in Addis Ababa titled “Reviewing the Economic, Social and Political Inclusion of Women and Girls in Africa’s Development Agenda.” to deliberate on ways to achieve several resolutions made.

The NGO CSW Forum however, which runs parallel to and complements the UN CSW, and is a separate process with separate organizers, is organized by and for global civil society, non-governmental organizations, and feminists to connect them with the official UN CSW process.

Since 1996, the CSW has also played a role in monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the United Nations in 1995, which to date forms the most progressive international agenda for advancing women’s rights and gender equality.

The CSW notably focuses on the protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Each year, the CSW meets in New York to discuss a priority theme, take stock of progress made, identify challenges ahead, stimulate public policy and set global standards to promote gender equality and the rights of women and girls. Discussions culminate in “agreed conclusions”, negotiated and adopted by all member states.

In 2014, during its 58th session, the Commission affirmed “to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights, recognizing that human rights include the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence”.

These rights include, among others, access to safe and modern methods of contraception, emergency contraception and safe abortion.

Each year, civil society organizations mobilized to promote women’s rights take an active part in the CSW, both by mobilizing their expertise during the Commission’s formal discussions and by enabling the creation of an open debate outside the official sessions. Focus 2030, which is represented on this 68th CSW occasion, has identified several initiatives.

One of such is the collaboration among NGOs like Helpline Social Support Initiative, Silver Lining for the Needy Initiative which led to the discussion in New York on the topic ” Adult Education’s Role in Rural Development and Transforming Households”.

These game-changing issues are being addressed at the 2024 CSW session, where its 45 members and thousands of participants from around the world will be focusing on the theme “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”.

The provisional agenda and Zero Draft conclusions of the 68th CSW call on governments to integrate a gender perspective into all development financing, notably through the adoption of gender-sensitive budgets and the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes. The expansion of national fiscal space to favour investments aimed at eliminating poverty among girls and women is also encouraged.

Since 2018, CSW has addressed such challenges as climate change, gender-based violence, and ensuring women’s full participating in decision-making and in sustainable development strategies.

With a view to reaching all women and leaving no one behind, the Commission also contributes to the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Solutions to end women’s poverty are widely recognized. From investing in policies and programmes that address gender inequalities and boosting women’s agency and leadership to closing gender gaps in employment. Doing so would lift more than 100 million women and girls out of poverty, create 300 million jobs and boost the per capita GDP by 20 per cent across all regions.
Countries must endeavour to review their electoral laws and ensure the voices of women and girls are heard. 

Dr. (Mrs.) Jumai, an Acting Director, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), is Founder of Helpline Social Support Initiative, Abuja

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