Education International
Education International

Equality progresses at the UN: Outcomes of the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

published 18 March 2009 updated 18 March 2009

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has a long track record of civil society participation in its meetings. The advocacy work of the civil society, including trade unions, played an important role again this year in giving coherence to the work of the commission.

However, when it comes to decision-making it is up to the country representatives to negotiate conclusions and resolutions. Despite this restriction, the civil society makes its opinions known by having observers from the balcony above react to positive final comments through cheers and applause.

EI attended a full week of debates at the CSW with a very diverse trade union delegation. With the financial assistance of some member organisations [the National Educators' Association(USA), Lärarforbundet(Sweden), the Canadian Teachers' Federation(Canada) and Utdanningsforbundet(Norway)], delegates from India, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil were able to contribute their perspectives to the CSW. The full delegation was formed by EI, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Public Services International (PSI).

A bitter-sweet outcome

The Agreed Conclusions highlight the actions that member states must take, both normatively and legislatively, in terms of research, data collection, monitoring and evaluation, in order to:

  1. value unpaid work
  2. provide for public services and infrastructure
  3. provide for care for HIV/AIDS affected
  4. eliminate gender stereotypes, and
  5. foster international cooperation.

"It is a bitter-sweet outcome for trade unions," said Gemma Adaba, ITUC representative at the UN who was leading the delegation.

Trade unions are not entirely happy with the agreed text on "girls at work" (Paragraph P of the Agreed Conclusions) as many member states were reticent in refering to a minimum age for entry into employment. The countries that favoured a reference to the International Labour Organisations' Convention 138 on Minimum Age were not prepared to put up a fight about it. In general, countries were reluctant to make specific references to policy and legislative international instruments in the action-oriented paragraphs¸ However, the conclusions do commit member states to work towards the elimination of child labour.

"I think the Agreed Conclusions still give trade unions some leverage to hold governments accountable on key issues," commented Rebeca Sevilla, the EI coordinator with the delegation. "Particularly those related to public health, social infrastructure, social protection in relation to the care sector, equal sharing of family and care responsibilities, elimination of child labour, non-discrimination and equal remuneration."

The impact made by trade unions

The prominence of trade unions in the global debates at the UN Commission on the Status of Women is increasing, due to the joint work of the Global Union Federations (GUFs) and ITUC.

In 2008, ITUC representative at the UN Gemma Adaba was involved at the Expert Group's meeting on the priority theme and EI Deputy General, Jan Eastman, addressed the expert panel on the "Key policy initiatives on financing for gender equality and the empowerment for women".

This year, in the special event to commemorate International Women’s Day, PSI Executive Board member William Lucy participated in the high-level panel discussion on Violence Against Women opened by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Rapporteur on the subject, Yakin Ertürk.

Speaking about violence against women at the workplace, Lucy pointed to a steady, if slow, progress that has been made in the advancement of women:

"Many women have triumphed. But others have suffered the physical and psychological trauma of violence done to them, sometimes by strangers; sometimes by loved ones."

Political will is needed among governments and employers to make the workplace safe for women. He also raised the question of the economic impact of violence on productivity, as well as other costs associated with violence at the workplace.

A parallel event organised by the trade unions on the “Impact of unpaid family responsibilities on women workers prospects for decent work - trade union responses” attracted over 120 participants. The interactive session involved unionists and NGOs from all regions, including EI Executive Board members Jucara Dutra Vieira from the Confederaçao Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Educaçao(Brazil) and Salimata Doumbia from the Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Primaire Public de Côte d'Ivoire(Côte d'Ivoire).

The orientation session on the CSW for the trade union delegation was also highly appreciated and benefitted from the presence of the director of the ILO's Gender Bureau, Jane Hodges.

Work already started for 2010

Now that this session has agreed on conclusions, work has already started for 2010. The commission of the 54th session has been elected with delegates from Armenia, Italy, Japan, Senegal and Latin America (Brazil, Ecuador or Mexico).

It also decided on a multi-year programme of work for 2010-2014. The priority themes will be:

  • For the 54th session in 2010: the implementation of the Beijing Platform and Platform of Action and the outcome of the 23rd Session of the General Assembly.
  • For the 55th session in 2011: Women and girls in science and technologies: increasing opportunities in education, research and employment.

EI and its affiliates have an important role to play in the upcoming priority themes, such as women and girls in science and technologies, and others related to the girl child, financing for equality and the empowerment of women. All of which are relevant in the agenda of decent work.

Below click below for the joint statement by EI, the ITUC and PSI, as well as links to the Agreed Conclusions.