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We need to be a force for change today, not tomorrow! A review of the 65th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Published: 14.04.2021
Louisa Syrett Global Advocacy Advisor
The Fred Hollows Foundation

Like everything in the past year since COVID hit, the 65th United Nations Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) was largely virtual this year – some Members attended in person, but for Civil Society participants it was all from home.  I’d not attended a CSW before, so I was unsure what to expect.  I was delighted to see the energy everyone had put into making it as interactive as possible.

The Commission was established and entrusted with ensuring that women’s lives improve, and that progress moves forward.  It was noted that one of the biggest risks of COVID-19 is that gains made to date are reversed.

This year, there were more than 25,000 registered civil society participants, and more than 700 civil society-led parallel events in addition to the 200 Member State-led side events and wow, did it feel busy!  Where to even start?  Well… I saw there was a virtual “Vienna Café” which felt like a great place to spend some time while I planned my two weeks of webinars.  Note to self for next CSW, don’t try and do your day-job, while also trying to attend the Commission and virtual side-events! However, I also think being forced to hold this as a hybrid event allows greater access and inclusion.  No more flight and accommodation costs preventing attendance… anyone linked to the official channels could be there and have their voice heard.

At the end of the CSW, the headlines from the Agreed Conclusions included:

  • Strengthen normative, legal and regulatory frameworks
  • Prevent and eliminate violence against women in public life
  • Strengthen gender-responsive institutional reforms
  • Increase the availability of high-quality financing in support of women’s participation in public life
  • Strengthen women’s voices and leave no one behind in public life
  • Address root causes of gender inequality and eliminate barriers to women’s full and equal participation.

The CSW noted that many reading the Agreed Conclusions will believe they did not go far enough and that they could have been more ambitious; and that these agreements could have enabled even bolder and more decisive recommendations. However, the CSW has urged Member States to use the recommendations as a building block, or a baseline for success and to strive to outperform them.

To say there were a lot of side-events, both official and unofficial – is an understatement. I was spoilt for choice, and as a first-time attendee it was difficult to know which events to prioritise.  At events like this, I find it is a balance of work priorities, general interest and areas to challenge your own thinking.

One of the most relevant events was the run by the Gender Health Hub (GHH).  Coordinated by the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, the GHH is a unique global platform established to consolidate the best, policy-relevant evidence on gender integration in health policy and programmes, generated through research and practice at the global, regional and country levels.  At the moment, eye health isn’t included, so I think a challenge for the eye health sector and an opportunity for the IAPB Gender Equity Work Group is to ensure we are included by the end of 2021.

What comes next?

In Mexico City in April, a mostly virtual event, the Generation Equality Forum will take forward what has been learnt from the discussions of the 65th CSW and devise concrete actions. There will also be a further Generation Equality Forum in Paris from 30 June to 2 July – registrations will open soon.

Over the next five years, the Commission will work with others to implement what has been identified as gaps that continue to hinder gender equity: from Asia, where Bangladesh is confronting a refugee crisis; in Africa, where the school dropout of girls must be stopped to avoid a ‘lost generation’ of uneducated girls; in Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe where jobs have been lost; and everywhere in the world where women experience violence. The Commission is dedicated to change this trajectory.

For me, whilst 2021 ensures I spend more time virtually engaging in previously in-person events, I look forward to the adoption of the first United Nations General Assembly Resolution which will explicitly recognise the need to achieve gender equity in eye health in order to ensure progress on Global Goal 5.

As the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “We know that we need to build back better, greener, in a gender-responsive manner, and in an equitable manner. We therefore need more advocates, resources, influencers, leaders, and young people who can be a force for change today, not tomorrow.”