The U.N. health agency and its partners have found in a new study released Tuesday, March 9, 2021 that nearly one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, calling the results a “horrifying picture” that requires action by government and communities alike. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

The U.N. health agency and its partners have found in a new study released Tuesday, March 9, 2021 that nearly one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, calling the results a “horrifying picture” that requires action by government and communities alike. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

UN commission urges equality for women in decision-making

Despite some progress women have a long road to reach equality with men in elections or appointments to decision-making bodies

The U.N.’s premiere global body fighting for gender equality called for a sharp increase of women in global decision-making in a hotly debated final document adopted Friday night that saw continuing pushback against women’s rights and a refusal to address issues of gender identity.

The Commission on the Status of Women reaffirmed the blueprint to achieve gender equality adopted 25 years ago at the Beijing women’s conference and shone a spotlight on several major issues today, including the imbalance of power between men and women in public life and the growing impact of violence against women and girls in the digital world.

Diplomats were negotiating until almost the last minute over language on women human rights defenders, gender-based violence, and earlier on reproductive and sexual health and rights. Some Western nations sought unsuccessfully to get the commission to recognize gender non-conforming and transgender women. The closest they got was a reference to women and girls “who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination” and face “diverse situations and conditions.”

The European Union said it would have liked to see “more ambitious language” in the 23-page document, stressing that “the systematic attempts by some delegations to derail the process and question international commitments and obligations on gender equality show that the pushback against women’s rights continue.”

Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy for The International Women’s Health Coalition, said at a briefing earlier Friday that this year “Russia has been very vocal and on the front lines” in pushing “for language that is often regressing and that seeks to deny women and girls … their rights.” The Holy See often joined their positions, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Cuba were also vocal opponents on many issues, she said, while China opposed any reference to women human rights defenders.

“Russia played an exceptionally disruptive role in the negotiations,” an EU diplomat said. “Today’s low common denominator result demonstrates that a pushback against women’s rights continues at the U.N., and that Russia is doing all it can to undermine progress on the issue.” The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of private discussions.

The “Agreed Conclusions” were negotiated by the 193 U.N. member nations and adopted by consensus by the commission’s 45 members at the end of a two-week meeting. The U.N. women’s agency said more than 25,000 members of civil society registered to participate in the partly in-person but mainly virtual meeting that saw 200 side events led by member states and more than 700 events by civil society representatives.

After Ambassador Mher Margaryan, the commission chair, banged the gavel signifying consensus, about two dozen countries spoke.

Saudi Arabia stressed that any reference to gender “means women and men” and to marriage as “between women and men.” China said it would not join consensus on the role of women human rights defenders.

In the document, the commission supports the important role of civil society in promoting and protecting the human rights and freedoms of all women, “including women human rights defenders.”

U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said areas in the outcome document “do not please everybody,” and the conclusions could have been “more ambitious” and the recommendations “even bolder and decisive.”

She urged member states to use the recommendations “as a building block and to outperform what is contained in these Agreed Conclusions.” She said next week’s mainly virtual Gender Equality Forum in Mexico City, another follow-up to the 1995 Beijing conference, “will take forward what we have learned from the discussions of this commission and look at how we take concrete actions.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the conclusions “contribute to important advances” on women’s participation in public life, the main focus of the meeting along with tackling violence against women which increased during last year’s COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission recognized that despite some progress women have a long road to reach equality with men in elections or appointments to decision-making bodies and administrative posts, she said. And it recognized that temporary special measures, including quotas, substantially contribute to increasing women’s representation in national and local legislatures, and called on all governments to set specific targets and timelines to achieve the goal of 50/50 gender balance in elected positions.

On violence against women in the digital world, Mlambo-Ngcuka said the commission noted the lack of preventive measures and remedies. She said member states should take action to encourage women’s digital participation and protect them, including from cyberstalking and cyberbullying.

The Beijing declaration and platform approved by 189 countries in 1995 called for bold action in 12 areas to achieve gender equality, including combating poverty and gender-based violence, ensuring all girls get an education and putting women at top levels of business and government, as well as at peacemaking tables.

It also said, for the first time in a U.N. document, that women’s human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

In Friday’s outcome document, the commission urges governments at all levels to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.”

It also urges governments to provide information on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention, gender equality and women’s empowerment” to adolescent girls and boys and young women and men, “with appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians.”

On a positive note, the International Women’s Health Coalition’s Kowalski said the commission’s meeting saw “very strong leadership” from a number of Latin American and Pacific island countries and the “really strong and vital return of the United States as a leader and defender of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and women’s rights more broadly.”

A highlight of the meeting was the virtual appearance by U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, who told the commission “the status of women is the status of democracy” and President Joe Biden’s administration will work to improve both.

United Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The East Kootenay Network of People Who Use Drugs is organizing a march to city hall on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, starting at 11 a.m. from the ANKORS office. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
Advocates to march for overdose awareness, calls for action

B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency five years ago

Deer will often eat fruit that has fallen from fruit trees. The City’s bylaw states that residents must keep their yards free from fallen fruit. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
Time to manage wildlife attractants, says City of Cranbrook

City reminds residents to keep yards free of fruit, pet food, food waste

Zeth Kindrachuk is pictured in action against the Trail Smoke Eaters in the Penticton pod, Saturday, April 10. Jack Murray photo
Bucks drop two to pod rivals

Cranbrook getting to know Penticton Vees, Trail Smoke Eaters, very well indeed.

TC Energy donated $2,000 to Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services to be used towards the purchase of footwear for wildland firefighting situations. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
TC Energy donates $2,000 towards specialized fire department gear

Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services is the recipient of a $2,000 grant… Continue reading

The KEYSA  Mr. Mike's Junior Players of the Week were Molly Cain and Avery Swain (pictured with Coach Rob Niedermayer).
KEYSA Players of the Week and team standings

League finals set for next week

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Interior Health improves access to mental health supports amid COVID-19 pandemic. (Stock)
Interior Health connects people to mental health resources amid COVID

310-MHSU line receives positive feedback in early months of rollout

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

South Surrey farmland, March 2020. The province’s crackdown on secondary residences sparked protests that have the NDP government engaged in a lengthy rewrite of its legislation. (Tracy Holmes/Peace Arch News)
B.C. NDP now wants to keep even ‘non-farmers’ on the land

‘Grandfathering’ of second residences extended again

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Vancouver Canucks say 25 players and coaches have tested positive during a COVID-19 outbreak that involves a variant of the virus. It is now the biggest reported outbreak in the NHL this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks’ return to practice pushed back as player added to COVID protocol list

COVID outbreak has led to eight games being cancelled

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read