The Commission on the Status of Women

If you don’t know what “CSW “stands for, you can join 95% of the world’s women. I first learned of the UN CSW in 1980 when I worked with the UN Secretariat for the second UN World Conference on Women. I was a novice in the Secretariat and had to catch up on endless UN acronyms. What was this “CSW?” To the outside world, it could stand for almost anything—“Combat Submission Wrestling” and “Certified Specialist of Wine” came to mind.

I soon learned that “CSW” stood for the Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW was founded in 1946 (the oldest of six UN Commissions), only one year after the UN’s creation, to “promote the principle of equal rights for men and women.” Specifically, it oversees the progress of legally binding treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and works with UN Women, the main UN body responsible for implementing programmes for gender equality and women’s empowerment. From a big-picture perspective, the CSW is meant to be a catalyst to ensure that the UN and world governments live up to their promises to women for equality, development and peace. That means it has to do a review and assessment of progress in implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, including the all-important albeit unglamorous provision on “Institutional mechanism for the advancement of women,” which includes all of the ministries of gender and women’s affairs.

UN in New York during CSW 58
UN in New York during CSW 58

That’s a tall order. But the Commission has never shied away from challenges, of responding to the international women’s movement’s demands for change while upholding inter-governmental and UN rules. The legacy of the CSW goes back to the international women’s movement and human rights movements in the l930s that eventually led to the UN’s founding in 1945. The Commission steered the process for the UN world women’s conferences in Mexico (19975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1990) and Beijing (1995).

What can the CSW contribute to the United Nations? Innovation has to come from somewhere within the UN. I believe the CSW is a shining example of how to build a strong international organization, making sure that the trio of political forces —governments, social movements and the UN—come together to defend women’s human rights.  But the CSW will simply rehash old ideas if we don’t take the responsibility to set it on the right course. The CSW in 2015 will be an excellent time to make sure that creative ideas flourish.  NGOs gathered at that event will have a chance to speak out on how the UN’s post-2015 agenda on sustainable development, peace and security, climate change, and science and technology can support gender equality and women’s empowerment.

What can you contribute to the CSW session next year?