A report on the 47th session: UN Commission on the Status of Women.
From 3-14 March 2003, the 47th session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at the UN Headquarters in New York. Since its early beginnings, Commissions have tried to set women's issues on the agenda. Given a world that is characterized by patriarchy and men dominating the decision-making, the process of the CSW was not easy and the outcome not as successful as expected every time. But through its ongoing and consistent work, the Commission itself has received an important status in the UN Family and can be named as one of the major functional Commissions assisting the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
In Preparation for the 2003 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Ecumenical Women 2000+ held an Orientation beginning with a wonderful worship in the Church Center Chapel, giving an opportunity for all sisters to greet one another for the first time and to share peace. A short Introduction invited participants to speak about three main issues: Where are you from? Why you are here? What do you expect to take with you from the CSW?
Many were worried about the possibility of a war in Iraq at that time and articulated their hope to bring some faith into the CSW in order to build up a spirit of peace. Those who had already been involved in the CSW process since Beijing 1995 or Beijing+5 expressed their hope to get a step further with regard to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (PFA). Women who had been accredited for the first time and especially the youth mentioned their expectations both to learn more about the UN procedure and to fulfill their knowledge of the issues of the PFA and in particular about the two main thematic issues from the PFA that should be reviewed at the 47th Session of the CSW
* Women and media: Before the background of the wide and fast spread of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the changes of industrial and agricultural societies into information based ones, this topic focused attention on the participation of and access of women to the traditional and the new media and ICTs as well as their impact on the lives of women and girls. It was also in order to report to the Preparation Committee of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) that will take place in Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005, about the risks, challenges and opportunities of the use of ICTs especially for women.
* Human rights for women: Setting a special view on trafficking of women and girls, these issue deals with the need of the implementation and respect for the universal human rights for women and therefore asks about a framework to eliminate all forms of violence against them.
Finally a session to teach methods of useful thinking in the CSW process took place. Going into basic facts, the context, policies and systems as well as new policy initiatives dealt with the questions:
* Whose rights are violated by misusing ICTs or through violence?
* What rights are violated?
* What intersections can be identified?
* Which specific violations against women can be named?
* What are the root causes of the intersectional oppression?
* Which persons, institutions or policies are the violators?
* What are the different impacts on women of different identities?
* Is there a hierarchy of privilege?
* Which new strategies to break the connection between identity and oppression can we create and think could be useful?
A panel discussion dealing with equality, education and empowerment took place. Focusing on education, Dr. Dafna Lemish of Israel mentioned the media as the major socializer of our days and therefore pointed out the fact that media both shapes the world and reflects it. This raises three main issues:
1. Representation of women in the media
2. Women as consumers
3. Women as producers
As she pointed out, one of the most important issues that we have to face today are the impact of different kinds of media which present women in a stereotypical way. Given two pools, women are usually shown as mothers and life givers or as sex-objects and bodies. While media often reduces women to being victims or being needy, we are not used to seeing women as powerful, intelligent, able and strong.
Anne Walker of the International Women's Tribune Center (IWTC) the second speaker of the session gave participants some impressions of the WSIS process, especially regarding the Preparatory Committee that had taken place in Geneva 17-28 February 2003. While explaining the structure of the WSIS, she articulated the strong need to include women's issues in every part of the process. With regard to the UN Millennium Declaration she made clear that the Summit has to address all aspects of gender in order to create a framework that helps women to fully benefit from the opportunities ICTs offer.
The third panelist, Elena di Paolo told participants about her experiences as a victim of trafficking. Trying to offer her two daughters a better future, she moved from Russia to the US to marry a man she met in the Internet. As a victim of domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking, Elena underlined that women never choose violence and do not choose to be trafficked. Faced with economic problems and poverty that makes them vulnerable, many women decide to leave their homes without having any impression of what could happen to them.
To understand the process of the CSW means identifying the different stakeholders who participate. In general, four actors can be named: the governments, the specific U.N. bodies, intergovernmental organizations and the NGOs'. In order to gather wrap up overlapping or similar issues of concern, the NGOs' organize themselves in so called caucuses. These caucuses can be defined by region or by theme. In the 47th session of the CSW, the caucuses defined by region were:
* the European Caucus (which was organized by the European Women's Lobby [EWL])
* the Arab Women's Caucus
* the Asia-Pacific Women's Caucus
* the African Women's Caucus
* the Latin America / Caribbean Women's Caucus
Apart from these there were several thematic caucuses, namely:
* the Caucus Against Trafficking of Women and Girls
* the Human Rights Caucus
* the Youth Caucus
* the ICT / Media Caucus
* the Mental Health Caucus
* the Peace Caucus
* the Linkage Caucus
Although almost all of these caucuses had been important for the strengthening of women's issues, the Linkage Caucus had a specific role in the whole procedure providing a platform for all of the other caucuses to come together at the end of a day in order to exchange special issues or concerns, to give a brief summary about the work of the different caucuses and to report about or co-ordinate lobbying.
Daily NGO Briefing
Briefings held every morning were organized in order to give all participants a short report regarding meetings, work and outcomes of the several caucuses. Given that one can not attend all the different events, these briefings are extremely useful to get information about the whole NGO action at the Commission. Wide discussions and the opportunity for further questions to all panelists and reporters help participants understand more of the ongoing process. The briefing helped to clarify the rules of procedure, the framework in which the Commission works and relationships between NGO, governments, the CSW Bureau and ECOSOC for those NGO delegates who are new to the CSW process. Leslie Wright, the Chairperson of the NGO Committee of the CSW, regularly kept the information flow between NGO sector and the bureau of the Commission. Additionally, Carolyn Hannan, the Secretary of the CSW Bureau came once a week to brief the NGO delegates about what was going on in the CSW process, and especially in the Bureau itself. The briefings were also used as a forum for announcements including additions to the agenda or changes in the timetable.
Panel Discussions and High-Level Roundtables
The Commission held its panel discussion on the two thematic issues during the first few days. While the first panel discussion referred to the topic of participation and access of women and girls to the media, the second panel brought up the subject of women's human rights, in particular, basic considerations for the elimination of the various forms of violence which women and girls face in their daily lives. The roundtable included about 27 participants who talked about national frameworks and policies that individual states had formed to support gender equality, in light of the Commission's two thematic subjects for this session. Some of the central topics that were mentioned include: strategies to forbid female genital mutilation, good practices to promote socioeconomic development of woman and tactics which make sure that existing international conventions and instruments encourage gender mainstreaming. In addition to the high-level roundtable, a new forum for governments to discuss the main issues of a CSW before the start of the general debates was added.
Several informal consultations were used by the governments to discuss the draft agreed upon conclusions that were submitted by the Bureau of the CSW. After the first drafts came out on Thursday 6th March, the governments set up the first reading of both drafts during Thursday, Friday and Monday. Although most of the NGOs had started their lobbying months before, these three days seemed most important for a intense lobbying by the caucuses.
During this first reading, every country or union had the opportunity to articulate concerns about the paper, to ask for clarification of specific phrases or to discuss proposals for changes in language as well as in content. In the next step, the Bureau of the Commission added all the changes and a second reading followed. Given that a paper can only be agreed by full consensus of all countries, these reading processes can be very time-intensive and difficult. In order to speed up the process, the governments have to show flexibility. Nevertheless it occurs several times that an issue had to be left open to give the delegates the chance for further consultations. As some governments only agree to some paragraphs when those include specific issues, there is the strong need to work out solutions that are acceptable for all.
In the third reading on the last but one day, of the Commission, the informal consultations began to run out of time. Therefore the chairperson asked for any news on outstanding proposals and urged all delegates to show flexibility. By giving a couple of language suggestions for these outstanding paragraphs, the delegates tried to make them more comprehensible. The changed paragraph was re-read and since there were no objections, were accepted.
Women and the Information Society
By stressing this subject in the general debate, a delegate of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) pointed out that the governments could not eliminate poverty or build democratic societies of economical gender equality unless women will get the inclusive right to use ICTs and draw to benefit from the information society. Other highlights included:
A. An issue paper from IWTC that addressed the question of what information society actually means, presented some of the statements which had been given during the WSIS preparatory process.
B. A report of the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference for WSIS, defining the Information Society as "one in which highly-developed ICT networks, equitable and ubiquitous access to information, appropriate content in accessible formats and effective communication can help people to achieve their potential, promote sustainable economic and social development, improve quality of life for all, alleviate poverty and hunger, and facilitate partieipatory decision-making process."
C. Discussions between NGOs on potential strategies to strengthen women's voices and gender issues in the WSIS process in the light of the recent Preparatory Committee 2 of the World Summit on the Information Society (Prep Com-2).
Pushed by the enormous speed of technological development and an ongoing spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs), there are profound changes in the social, economic and cultural life of all nations. This includes widespread influences on all spheres of human being, including health, politics, education and science, the labor and business sector as well as media, entertainment or different ways of civic participation. Finding ways to promote a necessary framework to build up such a society means addressing primary issues and inequalities we know today: But how can we talk about an Information society based on ICTs when half of the world population has no access to telephone lines or traditional mass media like newspapers or radio and television? Can ICTs be used to empower women world wide and especially in less developed countries and rural areas? What has to be done to keep crime out of the Internet in order to protect women and girls from violence, including pornography, trafficking or racism? How can we make sure that there will not only be the opportunity for women to get trained in ICT skills, but also that there will be a change in men's view on the role of women so that they can profit out of their knowledge? Last but not least, what role can 1CT and the Information society play in promoting a world wide climate of trust and understanding to push a culture of peace and therefore bring more quality in the life of women in armed conflicts?
Most of these questions are neither new nor specific for the Internet technologies but never before the risk to fail once again and the possibility to solve some of them had been closer together than today. Because of this background, the World Summit on Information Society that is going to take place in 2004 provides a hopeful framework for successful partnerships and a step forward in reducing disparities of human beings and the CSW can be seen as the connecting link between the Beijing PFA and the WSIS. The NGO Gender Strategies Working Group (GSWG)is a leading gender advocate and have organized many workshops and panels with their delegates that had been at the WS1S PrepCom2 itself and always tried to summarize. Having observed their work and read their papers, I have the impression that GSWG always tries to push forward gender issues in a male dominated information society and therefore is a strong partner for the WSIS process.
Adoption of the Reports
On its last day, the Commission worked on the a draft of agreed conclusions regarding the two thematic subjects. The several prepared resolutions relating to women and girls in Palestine and Afghanistan, the resolution referring to women and girls facing HIV/AIDS, and the resolution connected to the Mainstreaming of gender perspectives in the UN system were also on the agenda. Unfortunately time constraints only allowed the adoption of these papers except the one concerning the agreed conclusion on violence against women.
Impression and Experiences
Attending this CSW has been a great opportunity for me. Following an international meeting, seeing how people at this level work and learning about how documents that can potentially change our world are produced has been a valuable experience. Furthermore, this meeting gave me the opportunity to meet numerous wonderful women from all over the world: women that are full of energy and really enthusiastic in their aims, even if it often seems gender issues are falling two steps behind with every step forward. During the discussions and talks, I could get an impression of the rich and diverse cultural identities these women have as well as hearing about the serious problems they have to face in their different countries.