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

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Cloverdale this weekend, April 24-25 (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Here are the food trucks coming to Cloverdale for a drive-thru festival this weekend

Nine trucks will be parked Saturday, nine Sunday during event at fairgrounds

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Parts of Surrey, North Delta to get AstraZeneca vaccines for people ages 40+

A total of seven communities in Surrey and Delta will be targeted

The Braidwood Band performs for the seniors at Zion Park Manor in Surrey, as part of a music program planned by Rick’s Heart Foundation. (submitted photo)
VIDEO: Surrey charity brings distanced concerts to care homes, with prop pink firetruck

Familiar tunes performed for seniors during pandemic-era ‘Heart for Music’ program

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused, Horgan says

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

A defeat Sunday in Kamloops tied up the Giants and Blazers for the most wins this season. Each team has notched seven victories in the B.C. division play unfolding this season on ice in Kamloops and Kelowna. (Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Giants record fifth shutout of the season

Vancouver G-Men take down Kamloops Blazers on home ice Sunday, 4-0

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Most Read