Women clad in different outfits, they rush through in and out of UN corridors from one session to another, speeches and presentations are delivered with passion and power, one is torn for choice as different events happen at the same, women and men caucus in small and big groups, while others posture for selfies; this is just but a glimpse of what you ostensibly encounter when you are at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Reflecting on the just concluded 61st CSW one wonders why thousands of women continue annually flock the UN during the Month of March. The CSW held under different priority and review themes, seeks to review progress undertaken by different member states in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including subsequent reviews (Beijing +5 +10+15 +20), as well as emerging issues. And most importantly is the commitment to undertake actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social spheres.
There is more to this flurry, for two weeks (13th -25th March 2017) different interest groups braved the cold and blizzard to influence the outcome document of the 61st CSW held under the Priority theme “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work” and review theme “Challenges and Achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls”
Working to influence the outcome document the NGOCSW/Africa an umbrella body led by a Committee to which Akina Mama wa Afrika serves as Communications Secretary mobilized African women to lobby governments on key priorities. The policy recommendations strongly called for the regulation of the private sector, recognition of the link between sexual and reproductive health and rights to women’s economic empowerment, support for the ratification and implementation of ILO conventions specifically the ILO Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Domestic workers Convention, 2011 (No 189), recognition, redistribution and reduction of the burden of unpaid care work, curbing of illicit financial flows were among the list of our priorities as African women. As the two weeks drew to a close, the negotiations kept getting tougher by the day with some governments falling back on some of their very own commitments and positions while others stuck their “guns”, pushing forward issues that are critical for women’s economic empowerment.
While we may not have secured all our asks to the letter, we had some gains that deserved tremendous applause at the adoption of the Agreed Conclusions on the 24th of March 2017. The Commission recognized the need to secure the rights of indigenous women, called for the promotion of a socially responsible and accountable private sector, elimination of all forms of violence and harassment against women of all ages in the world of work in public and private spheres. The outcome further emphasized the need for safe working conditions and equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, a call to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action were among the gains made during this year’s CSW.
Certainly we could have done better with stronger recommendations to address climate change, global economic fiscal and trade architecture, including the establishment of a global tax body, regulation and enforcement of gender just trade agreements. As if that was not bad enough the adoption of the conclusions with reservations from some member states and bodies (United States, Guyana, Yemen and the Holy See) further reinforced the greater challenges ahead in our struggle to liberate women and girls throughout the world.
“It is unfortunate that our governments come to the CSW each year with an agreed position from Addis Ababa, but when they reach in New York there is always a diversion on already agreed priorities…a true demonstration of the divide between capital and the New York Missions,” Ms. Eunice Musiime, Executive Director, Akina Mama wa Afrika
As we celebrate these gains we are reminded of a more uphill task; a call to ensure that we localize the agreed conclusions, and as women’s rights organizations we have a critical role play in ensuring that we hold our governments accountable to these commitments. The 61st Agreed Conclusions should not be shelved away lest we perpetuate gender inequalities and fail our aspirations to save the many Alems of this world that Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director vehemently referred to in her call for us to go out and be our best at the official closure of the CSW.
Communications & Advocacy Officer,
Akina Mama wa Afrika
On behalf of the entire Akina Mama wa Afrika Team, we would like to express our deepest sorrow and condolence to Dr. Margaret Mungherera’s family and the Ugandan government upon her demise Uganda has indeed lost a Shero, the first African woman President of the World Medical Association, a founding mother, strong advocate, and visionary leader in the World of Health.
We shall always treasure Doctor’s tremendous contribution to securing the rights of women and children in Uganda and beyond. Her foot prints of Hope after rape remain a testament to the power in providing support to survivors of sexual abuse and other forms of gender based violence. Just as she told the world, “We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.” We too are challenged to carry forth her legacy as we work to secure a safe world for all.
“We are never so Lost that Angles Cannot Find Us”
A parallel Session at the East Africa Law Society Annual General Meeting
Held on 26th November, 2016, JNICC, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Akina Mama wa Afrika in partnership with the Uganda Women Lawyers Association –FIDA Uganda and East Africa Law Society with support from Frederick Ebert Stiftung held a parallel event on the sidelines of the East Africa Law Society Annual General Meeting and Conference on Saturday 26th November, 2016 on the theme “Economic Justice for Women in the 21st Century”. The meeting was attended by over 60 lawyers (14 men and 46 women) drawn from across East Africa.
The objectives of the session included:
• Building understanding and consensus among the legal fraternity and decision makers in law firms on the structural nature of women’s economic inequality
• Promoting alternatives, in the context of current legal and development policies
• Providing a forum for the legal fraternity and other like-minded organizations to build alliances for women’s economic rights and justice
B) Welcome and Opening Remarks
The meeting begun with opening statements from the President of East Africa Law Society, FIDA Uganda, FIDA Kenya and FIDA Tanzania that emphasized the need to address the structural and practical needs that hinder women from enjoying economic opportunities. Policy strategies geared toward economic growth or increasing general education levels, although necessary, are generally insufficient to close gender gaps. The statements encouraged the participants to explore critical questions such as: why do these gaps persist? Are there examples at the policy or country levels that stand out as outliers having made greater progress, and what can we learn from them to encourage broader change?
C) Highlights of the Moderated Panel on Women’s Economic Justice in the 21st Century
Two of the panelists highlighted the persistent gender disparities in the work place that cut across multiple dimensions. Women remain heavily concentrated into lower-paying jobs, including less-productive and less-profitable than men. Women’s rights violations remain prevalent such as sexual harassment and respect for reproductive rights such as maternity leave which have been guaranteed by the employment acts in all East Africa countries. The top positions of CEOs, Company Secretaries, and Partners in the law firms remain dominated by men.
The third panelist discussed the gendered impact and implications of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFS) which takes away the much needed resources to invest in crucial public services such as education, health, social protection and in advancing gender equality and women’s human rights across board. Africa is suffering different types of Illicit Financial Flows including commercial activities, lack of resources, tax evasion, tax avoidance, criminal activities, human trafficking, forced labor and corruption.
FIDA Kenya shared highlights of their experiences on women’s underrepresentation and their quest for inclusion drawing on Article 27(8), also known as the “two-thirds gender rule” of the new Kenyan Constitution. It directs that the state should take legislative and other measures to ensure no more than two-thirds of all elective or appointive positions are held by the same gender. The two-thirds gender rule has stirred active public debate and litigation right from inception, including the Gender Representation Supreme Court Advisory opinion on whether the article was immediately realizable and FIDA Kenya and others V Attorney General and another challenging the gender composition of the Supreme Court.
D) Plenary Discussions and Way Forward
The plenary discussion interrogated the issues raised by the panelists and brought to the fore the following summary of recommendations;
• The need to promote women- friendly work place policies including zero tolerance for sexual harassment; providing flexi time for breastfeeding mothers, and crèches for the children among others;
• Investment in mentorship and coaching for the young women that are joining the sector;
• Adoption of multi-sectoral strategies to promote women and girls to advance women’s economic empowerment;
• Profiling of women to increase their visibility and opportunities to break the glass ceiling;
• Collective efforts needed to address structural barriers that hinder gender equality and women’s economic empowerment;
• Male engagement and identification of male champions in the fight for gender equality and women empowerment;
• Multi-sectoral approach is needed as legal strategies are inadequate to advance women’s economic empowerment
E) Key Outcomes
The key outcomes of the meeting were:
• A deeper appreciation of the structural barriers that hinder women’s economic advancement and decent work for women
• Concrete strategies and recommendations to advance women’s economic opportunities
• Strengthened network of women lawyers associations and other stakeholders to champion and promote women’s economic justice
Global economic integration, driven by the economic engines of liberalization, privatization and de(re)regulation, sometimes called neo-liberalization, is presenting a host of new challenges to seeking economic and social justice for women. Many of the advances women made during the 1970s and 1980s have been stalled or reversed. It is no longer adequate to simple critique the negative impact on neo-liberalism on women and advocate that they be better integrated into the economy. The very model of economic integration needs to be challenged and appropriate alternatives developed.