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CSW62: Did it deliver for adolescent girls?

In March this year, GAGE researchers and staff attended the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. CSW is the main global intergovernmental body that focuses exclusively on the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

  • For two weeks every year, gender activists, policy makers from both the UN and from national governments, programme implementers and evaluators, as well as researchers and members of civil society congregate in the UN headquarters in New York to discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women.

During CSW, national governments agree on further actions that will contribute to progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. The outcomes and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up – and the recommendations are believed to be key to informing national policies on gender.

This year’s GAGE delegation included our Director, Nicola Jones; Alex Vaughan, our Programme Officer and Workneh Yadete, our Ethiopian Research Uptake and Impact Coordinator – as well as myself – Muriel Kahane, the GAGE Strategic Learning Manager.

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It was a busy time for the GAGE team – we had 6 events in 5 days – as well as numerous bilateral meetings with key stakeholders, not to mention we were also kept busy attending other official and side events relevant to our research.

The highlights were the two large events we coordinated. On March 13th, the GAGE Consortium partners, including Care, Girls Not Brides, ICRW, IRC, Pathfinder, Plan UK, Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision, as well as ODI, came together in UNHQ Conference Room 4 – the room where CSW negotiations take place – to discuss From Girls to Women: Gender-Based Violence Across the Life Course. The event was webcast and Facebook-lived – and we estimate that over 400 people attended. You can watch it here.

Two days later, on March 15th, GAGE organised a side-event with DfID on Emerging Evidence on ‘Invisible’ Adolescent Girls: Tackling Exploitation and Promoting Resilience so as to Leave No One Behind. It took place at the UK Mission to the UN, with the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, giving the opening speech and remarks from H.E. Mrs. Demitu Hambisa, at the time the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ethiopia. You can find the policy note on adolescent exploitation that was launched here.

And finally, we led the GAGE consortium INGO group in the agreement of a Joint Oral Statement which was presented to the Commission on Wednesday 21st of March. It is important to note that this is the first time that this number of INGOs leading on work with adolescents have come together and made a call, using shared and agreed language, for better evidence, data, improved policies and programmes and increased investment on adolescents.

CSW was a great opportunity to ensure GAGE was present on the global policy stage, contributing to discussions on the opportunities and challenges adolescent girls face. Given that this was GAGE’s first engagement with CSW we thought it would be interesting to hear our different impressions. Over the past seven years I have attended 5 different sessions of CSW – for Workneh it was the first time.

Workneh, this was your first time at CSW. What were your first impressions?

I was very impressed by the number of participants that attended from government organisations and NGOs from all over the world. I was also surprised by how eager to attend the side events participants were – many events were oversubscribed and not all who wanted to attend were able to get in!

That is interesting. I was personally pleasantly surprised to see that there were many more youth participants – including adolescent participants at CSW than previous years I attended. I was also surprised to see the surge in the number of men who attended – it seems there is increasing recognition that gender equality is something that affects all of us.

Tell me more about the events you attended. What focus areas appeared to be key this year?

I attended quite a lot of events. Many of them were related to violence against women and adolescent girls in developing countries. Important themes which came up this year included early marriage and other harmful traditional practices; women’s economic empowerment and income generating activities, in particular for rural women; participation; and discriminatory social norms.

Some of the events we attended and participated in were focused on research – such as your presentation at ALIGN’s event on “Shifting norms for gender justice: evidence on what works” on Friday the 16th. Other events appeared to be more focused on advocacy. What do you think is the role of research at CSW?

It seems that many of the participants understand well the importance of having research on gender equality – and data on all spheres of women’s lives. Some of the presentations I attended highlighted the interconnection between different capability areas – how empowering women economically will help them to make important decisions in other areas of their lives, for instance. Other research presentations highlighted the impact that educating girls can have on gender equality – reducing the impact of discriminatory social norms, including early marriage, gender based violence, and labour and exploitation.

What did you think worked well? This could be in terms of topics of focus, organisation, participation, quality of evidence and data, or anything else you can think of.

Key actors from government institutions and non-governmental organizations actively participated, organising their own events and attending others. Findings showed that there has been marked improvements on gender equality and women empowerment’s worldwide across the world. I was also glad to see that governments recognized the importance of research in shaping policy and programmes targeted at women and girls. Civil society and humanitarian organisations also play key roles in contributing to reducing gender inequality and empowering women and girls.

What do you think was lacking at CSW, that ought to be improved on in future years?

Despite the crucial role of that private sector organizations play in women’s lives in many countries, their participation at CSW was very limited.

Thanks, Workneh. I very much agree that the private sector was conspicuously absent from CSW. But that again, it is understandable given the backlash that their presence can sometimes generate.

I personally was glad to see that agreed conclusions were reached this year, given that the last time CSW did not manage to adopt agreed conclusions was in CSW56 (2012), which also focused on the empowerment of rural women and girls. It is particularly good given the changing geopolitical situation in the CSW host country, the United States.

I was also glad to see adolescent girls were specifically mentioned twice in the text – but I am concerned that for the past four years specific mentions to adolescent girls and young women have been omitted or taken out – in 2014 agreed conclusions mentioned adolescent girls 7 times, and not only with reference to adolescent pregnancies (as is the case in this year).

We are pleased to see specific mention of the challenges posed by disability, as well as recommendations that disability be taken into account in the design of policies and programmes.

We are also delighted to see a continued commitment to strengthening the capacity of national statistical offices in the collection, analysis and dissemination of disaggregated data, and to the monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes. However, as GAGE we would recommend that this information and research be also used to improve existing, and future, policies and programmes, ensuring they are evidence based and responsive to realities on the ground. We would have also liked to see a wider commitment to strengthening the data collection, monitoring and evaluation capacities of not only national statistical offices but also of all those bodies that are implementing programmes – CSOs and others.

Finally, we echo the concern expressed by other CSOs and NGOs over the difficulties in obtaining visas for a large number of participants, limiting the participation of rural adolescents from a number of countries. The US’s restrictions on who is able to obtain a visa have again made more difficult the participation of those who most certainly needed to be represented.

And finally, we also have some concerns about the role of civil society in CSW proceedings – we experienced some difficulties when presenting our joint statement to the Commission, as did a great number of other INGOs. This experience echoes that of others who have also found it challenging to bear witness, let alone influence proceedings, from outside the national bodies allowed to partake in negotiations. It is fundamental that not only national government delegations be able to contribute to the negotiations – given that national delegations are not always willing to disclose the latest data on progress in particular areas. Civil society organisations, including research organisations, have an important role to play in assessing what progress has been made on particular issues – and the difficulties in addressing the commission highlight the fact that evidence-based policy is not always at the forefront of the agenda.