In New York, the Commission on the Status of Women has recently concluded. The CSW is the United Nations body that dedicates itself to women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality worldwide. Each year, around 10,000 representatives meet up at U.N. headquarters to take stock of the progress and gaps of the implementation of the most progressive global policy on gender equality agreed in 1995, the so-called Beijing Platform for Action.
From my experience both as a government and civil society participant in CSW, I know a lot about the efforts of women in fragile states and difficult environments. The power and relentless energy of the women I meet here in New York continues to inspire and amaze me.
At Cordaid, we support countless such women, their initiatives and civil society organizations. On the ground, the progress they make is evident. Women from Syria are now participating in the negotiations in Geneva because of the pressure that civil society has exerted from below.
Women’s groups in Afghanistan, Colombia and South Sudan consistently work to contribute to the peace process in their respective countries. Women’s groups also contributed heavily to improving the Sustainable Development Goals, giving gender equality a much greater bearing as compared with the Millennium Development Goals. They have made great strides forward in growing their network and influence.
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Yet these women (and men) — my friends and colleagues — are fighting for the implementation of rights and policies that have long been confirmed at high levels. Despite U.N. Security Council resolutions, human rights treaties and national action plans, we still need to constantly reaffirm that women’s equality and political participation are essential to peace and security, sustainable development and global stability. “Prove it” is the continuous demand, mostly from male politicians. Despite the abundance of empirical evidence, they continue to ask for it as an excuse for doing nothing.
This discussion is not advancing. There is growing concern about the relevance of the CSW and whether it is achieving its objectives. Every year, the meeting in New York is the scene of a political wrestling match between powerful women and even more powerful conservative hardliners; a match that never reaches a conclusion. And each year, we call for a next round and do it all over again. We cannot lower the bar from the Beijing Platform for Action.
We need to move forward: to leave the rhetoric behind and focus on implementation. Because on the ground, that’s where the battle for women’s rights is being fought and where real progress is and needs to be made.
It’s also where funding is needed most. Although U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for states to invest at least 15 percent of their budget in gender equality, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the actual figure is closer to 2 percent. The women’s agenda remains one of the most underfunded agendas worldwide. That is why Cordaid, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and U.N. Women initiated the Global Acceleration Instrument on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action. The project launched recently with an initial pledge of $7 million from Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Ireland. This is a great start, of course. But if you compare that amount to military spending, for example, $7 million would hardly buy you a tank. And between a tank and long-lasting peace, I know which I would choose.
Therefore, I have a proposal to make: Instead of annually pooling funds for the official CSW meeting and organizing 650 side events, let’s reallocate those resources to concrete implementation of the commitments made and fund women organizing community mediation, economic enterprises, dialogue on gender-based violence, and many more initiatives that have direct impact on the ground.
Of course we can keep the CSW meeting, but we have to limit the space for negotiations of promises long since made. A full-scale meeting just once every three years would be quite enough. Between the meetings, the number of side events should be reduced, and we should instead focus on deepening our critical analysis and becoming more innovative, more inclusive, less self-centered, and better at working with multiple stakeholders. Monitoring and accountability — “walking the talk” — should come above all else, because what do signatures of leaders mean if they are never enforced?
As my Afghan colleagues say, it’s not enough to just have sympathy for the “women’s cause.” As we learned from the MDGs, mere promises don’t hold when it comes to making real improvements in conflict areas and fragile states. CSOs, including women’s rights movements, have so much potential to change societies for the better. But that means we need funding, capacity building, and concrete actions against those who repress people helping their countries and communities blossom.
It’s time to realize that real commitment to inclusive peace and development goes far beyond sympathy and paperwork. My patience is expiring: I want to see results!
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