The Coronavirus Crisis and Decision on Commission on the Status of Women Exposes Structural Inequalities

For the last 63 years, the United Nations has hosted a commission on the status of women (CSW) established as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by ECOSOC resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946. The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 1996, ECOSOC in resolution 1996/6 expanded the Commission’s mandate to take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities. 

The two weeks event usually attracts women and women’s rights advocates from all over the world who convene to discuss, put a spotlight on the successes, roll-backs and challenges that remain in the fight to end unequal gendered power across the globe. The event is held usually in March at the UN headquarters in New York, USA.

This year’s CSW64 will now be held for one day, today 9th of March – on what is now called ‘procedural meeting’.  The corridor talk suggests there will be another session to close CSW64 on Friday 13th  March. This will mean, the CSW64 session will be held and concluded in two days attended by governments representatives based in New York accompanied by New York-based International Non -Government Organisation otherwise known as (INGOs). 

This state of play did not only make me think and reflect on the women rights politics in the world, it made me accept, for once, the tough truth that we, feminists, and women’s rights organizations especially from the Global South, have always been a token to the process, we are not needed, it can be done without us, to put it mildly. 

Let me put the records straight, I understand the recommendation of the UN Secretary General, we are witnessing a global health crisis caused by COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Taking into consideration the weak health systems in most African countries, I will not wish to see any women exposed to these health risks. Health is feminist but the decision of member states to reduce CSW64 to a day session for only New York-based delegates leaves a lot to be desired.  I mean, why wouldn’t they postpone it until the world out of this health crisis and the unprecedented travel restrictions it has brought about? Why is the rush? Why are they so keen to meet, deliberate and close the session? What are they hiding? Why are they comfortable to exclude others? Why now, as we celebrate +25 years of Beijing platform of Action? I have so many whys I can go on and on. 

I should say, I have not been a devotee of UN processes because of its elitist nature and minimalist approach, but this decision, particularly incensed me, Why can’t the UN and UN Women, in particular, uphold even few of those minimalist principles? Did they really reflect on what this decision would mean to women around the world? Are women of the world that replaceable and dismissible? 

With all the flaws and imperfections, CSW has been and will continue to be the space where women of the world in their diversity meet to debate, monitor, and agree on ambitious commitment to advance women’s rights in the world. The current methods of work were established by ECOSOC resolution 2015/6 and at each session the Commission:  

“Convenes a ministerial segment to reaffirm and strengthen political commitment to the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as well as their human rights, engages in general discussion on the status of gender equality, identifying goals attained, achievements made, and efforts under way to close gaps and meet challenges, 

The session  also evaluates progress in implementing agreed conclusions from previous sessions; discusses emerging issues, trends, focus areas, and new approaches to questions affecting the situation of women, including equality between women and men, that require timely consideration”

So CSW in many ways bridges the work of the Economic and Social Council and that of many women’s rights advocates on the ground.

At the time when the world is facing unprecedented increase of sexism, bigotry, autocracy, populism, conservatism and all forms of exploitations of women’s bodies, mind and soul, it is disturbing that the UN would host an event to lock out the very lives and voices that pay the price of pushing against violence against women.

“Akufaae kwa dhiki ndio rafiki” is a famous Swahili saying which simply means, your true friend will be there for you at times of crisis, the opposite also true. At times like these, is when UN and UN Women should stand and protect the right of ‘participation’ of feminists and women’s rights organizations from across the world. This is the time when they should uphold their value and call for solidarity among actors so that we can all focus in defeating coronavirus which is affecting everyone, our sisters in Asia, Europe who are the most impacted by this health crisis; they too have the rights to participate in CSW64.  But NO, they had to have the session and divide our attention and focus, how unfair? 

This decision meant two things to me, we are just an ‘add on’ on the process and to most, women’s rights remain just another day job where they wouldn’t hesitate to do it anyhow to tick the box and move on with the next task. 

Even CSW in its current form is still restrictive to diverse women’s voices in terms of access, to cut it back like this limits any chance of meaningful engagement. The UN’s dead politics which nature and embrace capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy are still here. This crisis exposes the limited imagination of what inclusive organising around women’s rights looks like

So you know, for some of us,  women’s rights are our life. Our reality is the battle we fight every day.  


Feature photo from Akilah Workshop via Flickr creative commons.

Mwanahamisi Singano

Mwanahamisi Salimu Singano is seasoned development expert with extensive experience in the socio-economic programming, policy advocacy and development campaigns


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.