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20 March 2019
Highlights from the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women
By Kimberly Weichel, Chair, UNA-NCA Advisory Council

I’ve just returned from participating in the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN, an extraordinary gathering of Gender Ministers as well as NGO leaders and policy makers from virtually every country. CSW is dedicated to promoting gender equality and the advancement of women, and each year shapes the global agenda for gender equality. Established by ECOSOC, the Commission is the UN’s principal policy-making body for women that monitors, reviews and appraises progress made at the national, sub-regional, regional and global levels.

The Commission meets annually for 10 working days in March, typically the second and third weeks, which coincides with International Women’s Day and Women’s history month. Representatives of Member States gather at the UN to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide. Simultaneously, thousands of NGO leaders (this year around 8,000) meet in sessions throughout the 10 days to explore challenges, case studies, best practices, and solutions to many of the key issues facing women. This year’s theme focused on social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure, all of which greatly impact women.

This was my ninth year at CSW, and I’m always inspired by the courage and commitment of so many women who work in challenging situations with few funds against enormous odds, yet their spirits remain strong. We shared, discussed, laughed and sometimes cried together as we explored a wide range of issues that continue to face us.  Some of my highlights:

  • Secretary General Antonio Guterres led an interactive town hall describing the strides made on gender equality at the UN, championing women in peacebuilding delegations, and sharing specific programs to reduce the global pandemic of sex and labor trafficking.

  • A riveting panel by Women’s Rights Without Frontiers on their work to combat infanticide and forced abortions of baby girls and abuse of elderly widows in China. 

  • Women from the DRC talked about the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse there, and shared programs to provide education for men and jobs and support for women.

  • Voices from South Sudan, Peru, Nepal, and North Korea shared moving stories of children stolen for sex trafficking and steps they are taking to combat it.

  • A program on ways of combating the global problem of child marriage highlighted a successful program in Bangladesh using public service commercials to leverage social pressure.

  • A panel of clergy members discussed the church’s role in dealing with domestic and sexual violence, including when church leaders are the actual perpetrators.

  • Two North Korean women shared their harrowing journeys to escape the hardships in their country via China and eventually arriving in the US after many challenges.

  • A screening and panel from the Women, War and Peace films, led by Abigail Disney, highlighting an all-female cast of directors who presented four stories about women who risked their lives for peace in Northern Ireland, Gaza, Bangladesh and Egypt, changing history in the process. These films will be broadcast on PBS March 25/26 at 9pm.

CSW concludes with a set of agreed conclusions that contain concrete recommendations for Governments, intergovernmental bodies, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level. The final report of the Commission is submitted to ECOSOC for adoption.

The good news is that around the world, women’s voices are rising to end silence and oppression, run for public office, lead community efforts, and take action. I felt inspired by all the courageous women I met at CSW who work tirelessly to make a difference, daunted by the work ahead of us, and hopeful that women’s voices and leadership continue to expand.