Dispatch from CSW 61

Focus on women’s economic empowerment but little on sexual and reproductive health and rights

Friday, March 24, 2017

From the 13th-24th of March, world leaders, country delegations and human rights advocates attended the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. This year’s CSW focused on women’s economic empowerment.

Similar to years past, Ipas representatives attended to ensure women’s and girls’ reproductive rights are included in the outcome document, and to protect previous accomplishments. While many governments sent delegations determined to address women’s rights, this session was also marked by a perceived lack of support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly around safe abortion.

As Ipas senior policy advisor Cecilia Espinoza noted in an interview last year. “In the 60 years that CSW has convened annually, we’ve seen incredible progress on governments’ attitudes toward women’s rights and their commitment to addressing issues like sexual and gender-based violence, maternal mortality, and lack of access to education and political participation.”

But this year, says Espinoza, who was one of several Ipas representatives at CSW, “There has been little connection between women’s economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Ipas’s delegation included: Liza Muringo Kimbo, Africa Alliance country director; Hauwa Shekarau, Nigeria country director; Chrispine Sibande, Malawi country director; Lucy Lugalia, Africa Alliance senior policy advisor; Edosa Oviawe, Nigeria policy advisor; and Gillian Kane, senior policy advisor. Ms. Kimbo, Ms. Lugalia, Ms. Shekarau and Mr. Sibande were all part of their countries' respective delegations.

Many organizations, including Ipas, says Kane, are concerned that the Trump Administration is abnegating its commitments to protect women and girls. “U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley promised in her confirmation hearing that on the matter of human rights she would be a strong voice for American principles and American interests. By this measure, Haley is already failing to fulfill her promises,” she says. “Haley included two members of civil society in the official U.S. delegation who are not supportive of the UN, nor experienced or supportive of women’s human rights. Indeed, one of the organizations is a hate group that has advocated for violence and dismantling human rights protections.”  

Espinoza adds, “Civil society representatives have previously been welcomed at CSW but many of us feel a dramatic change this year. There are more barriers to our participation but we are determined to make our presence felt and to keep fighting for safe abortion access and rights. We expect the UN to continue to provide a secure environment for global civil society to participate and inform multilateral meetings that affect the lives of women and girls throughout the world.”