World leaders accused of backtracking on gender equality commitments
Claims that world leaders are backtracking on their commitment to end gender inequality have emerged on the final day of negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women.
Several countries are reportedly trying to water down the progressive language on financing for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health rights contained in the draft text of the outcome document.
Governments are understood to be unwilling to agree commitments on targeted funding for gender equality, getting corporations to pay their fair share of tax, and creating a better environment for women’s rights organisations to operate, which would include more funding.
The work of local women’s groups is regarded as the most likely to bring long-term change in their communities and nationally.
This year’s CSW was seen as the first major barometer of leaders’ appetite to implement the sustainable development goals, adopted by the UN general assembly in September. The SDGs are regarded as the roadmap for ending poverty and inequality, and conserving the environment over the next 15 years.
Goal five commits governments to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, with specific targets to end violence and harmful practices, recognise the unpaid care work that falls disproportionately on women, get more women into leadership positions, and ensure women can uphold their reproductive rights.
Campaigners went into the two-week annual meeting, which began on 14 March, demanding that governments demonstrate their commitment to the new 2030 agenda by agreeing an outcome document that showed how they plan to implement and finance the goals.
But Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, and a partner of the Women’s Major Group, which represents the views of women in UN processes, said governments “seem to be having second thoughts” on the 17 goals and 169 targets they signed up to last year.
The language surrounding sexual and reproductive health and rights – always a contentious area, particularly for more conservative governments and the Holy See – is being unpicked, with Russia and the African bloc of countries purportedly leading the push back.
Kowalski said the EU, negotiating as a group this year, has been “paralysed by internal politics” as Poland and Hungary seek to water down language on these issues. In the past, the EU has opted not to negotiate as a group because of the diverse nature of its member governments.
“We are extremely disappointed. Countries coming to these negotiations are not even willing to negotiate,” added Kowalski.
“There are a huge number of issues the Africa group and Russia are saying they are not going go discuss here. It makes it almost impossible to make progress.”
On Wednesday, the Coalition of African Lesbians, a pan-African feminist organisation, said it was “deeply disturbed” by the positions being taken by the Africa group in regard to sexual and reproductive rights.
It said: “States are seeking to weaken or delete references to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Twenty years’ worth of agreements are at risk because of the Africa Group’s refusal to accept the word ‘sexuality’ in the agreed conclusions.”
The coalition called on South Africa to break ranks with the Africa group if its members continued to take this stance. The coalition said the text was inconsistent with South Africa’s constitution.
The CSW is due to end on Thursday, but negotiations are expected to continue into the early hours of Friday.
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