The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is holding its 59th session from March 9 to 20 in New York. During this session, representatives of United Nations Member States, civil society organizations, and United Nations bodies will gather to discuss issues affecting women and the measures necessary to empower them. In this vein, they will be assessing the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA), which was adopted 20 years ago and “is considered the most progressive plan for achieving gender equality.” [OHCHR] There are 8,600 representatives and 1,100 non-governmental organizations registered to participate in this year’s session, and 166 States have submitted national reviews evaluating the progress they have made toward achieving gender equality. [UN Women]
The CSW will also present its future organization and working methods, and adopt a political declaration commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, where the BDPfA was adopted.
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: 20 Years Later
The BDPfA identifies 12 areas that require urgent action to achieve gender equality: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment, and the girl child. It was intended to set the global agenda for realizing the human rights of women and girls, with a particular focus on eliminating gender-based disparities in individuals’ treatment, social and legal status, and lived experiences. See UN-Women, Beijing Platform for Action: inspiration then and now.
Progress towards implementing this agenda has been uneven and, in many aspects, underwhelming. For example, an Expert Group Meeting organized in November 2014 identified challenges to achieving gender equality and priorities for advancing the human rights of women and girls, and also developed “action-oriented recommendations to accelerate progress” toward gender equality and the realization of females’ human rights. See UN Women, Expert Group meeting: Envisioning women’s rights in the post-2015 context. In a subsequent report, the expert group’s findings were summarized in part as follows:
Progress in implementing the BPfA has not been as expected. Over the past 20 years, gains have been made for gender equality, but there are persistent struggles, as well as new challenges that have emerged.
Despite some welcome achievements, participants at the Expert Group Meeting expressed their grave concern with the lack of progress towards implementing the BPfA, and the persistent obstacles, and sometimes outright resistance, to delivering on these commitments. While the normative framework for women’s rights and gender equality has been well established in the BPfA and other agreements, progress has not been made towards achieving the commitments to many areas of this framework. The vast majority of States have failed to honor the commitments made in Beijing, and there has even been regression in some areas.
Beijing +20 is therefore a time for renewed commitment for gender equality; a time to reflect on the limited progress that has been made in implementing this framework, while strengthening and reinvigorating this agenda. The BPfA crystallized normative human rights standards, which are inherent, inalienable, and universal, prioritizing an end to inequality and to discrimination. The Beijing conference proposed joint global action for equality between women and men. The original vision, centered on equality, development and peace, remains deeply relevant today.
UN Women, Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Envisioning Women’s Rights in the post-2015 Context (2014), 3-4.
During the first week of CSW59, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, also expressed concern that older women “remain invisible despite of the fact that the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action recognizes the impact of age discrimination and include[s] recommendations for actions on specific areas affecting older women.” [OHCHR] She has called on States and the CSW to adopt an approach that is both gender- and age-sensitive in ensuring that laws and policies address the needs of older women, stressing that, in implementing and reviewing the BDPfA, the concerns of older women must be reflected if women are to be empowered. [OHCHR]
Topics of Discussion
The CSW session began with a review of national implementation of the BDPfA, including a general discussion on challenges to implementation. The session was scheduled to feature a review and discussion of the 23rd special session of the United Nations General Assembly, which served as a five-year review for the Beijing Platform for Action. The report of the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, assessing the implementation of the BDPfA and the outcomes of the 23rd special session, was to be presented during the first week of CSW 59.
The agenda for the first week of the session also included roundtable discussions on:
- making the economy work for women and girls;
- investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women;
- transforming politics and public life to achieve gender equality; and,
- accountability for realizing de facto equality for women and girls.
The second week will commence with panel discussions about males’ responsibility in achieving gender equality, the reshaping of social norms regarding expectations and opportunities for females, the use of statistics to inform the understanding of gender inequality, effectuating the rights of marginalized and disadvantaged females, and gender mainstreaming. See Commission on the Status of Women, Proposed organization of work, UN Doc. E/CN.6/2015/1/Add.1, 17 December 2014.
The agenda also includes the adoption of a political declaration reaffirming States’ commitment to implementing the BDPfA. See Commission on the Status of Women, Draft Resolution, Political declaration on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, UN Doc. E/CN.6/2015/L.1, 5 March 2015.
National and Regional Reviews
In advance of CSW 59, States prepared national reviews that identified progress and obstacles in their implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as next steps for achieving gender equality. See, e.g., United States of America, United States Report on the Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (2015). See also ECOSOC, Resolution 2013/18, Future organization and methods of work of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN Doc. E/RES/2013/18, 24 July 2013, paras. 4-5. UN Women urged States to include civil society and other stakeholders in their review processes and to provide specific evidence of their actions and results, including both qualitative and quantitative analyses. See UN Women, Guidance note for the preparation of national reviews (undated). The 20-year reviews were intended to build upon previous reviews conducted in the years 2000, 2005, and 2010. See id.
Regional commissions conducted intergovernmental meetings, and used the national reviews to compile regional reports to present at the session. The regional review process was undertaken by the following UN regional commissions: Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
To read additional reports and statements that UN bodies and non-governmental organizations have submitted to the session, visit the official documents webpage for CSW 59.
The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established the Commission on the Status of Women to focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
To learn more about women’s human rights, see IJRC’s Thematic Research Guide.