Welcome to the NCWC Blog about the CSW 2011!

Welcome to the NCWC Blog about the CSW 2011!! The National Council of Women of Canada will be attending the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women in February/March 2011. Watch this site for news about this meeting, what is being discussed, and what are some of the outcomes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Signing Off

Thanks everyone who followed this Blog on the 55th CSW 2011 - I've been amazed at how many viewers there are, and from all parts of the world. 

This Blog will stay up, as a record of some the activities of the meetings, and news, and the highlights for me while in New York. Who can foreget the Judy Chicago display.

Do leave comments or questions - i'll respond.

I did want to leave with this strong message from the Women at the Social Forum in Dakar. It expresses very well what women are wanting, and working for  - 

In solidarity, and Peace,
Mary Scott 

World Social Forum 2011 - Dakar

World Social Forum Letter of Solidarity with the Struggle of Women in the World

In this year, 2011, the World Social Forum joins with the peoples of Africa for the third time, following Mali in 2006 and Kenya in 2007. We, women from different parts of the world who have gathered in Dakar, recognizing that uniting our strengths will eventually bring change, confirm our solidarity and our admiration for the struggles of Senegalese women, African women, and women of the world. Their struggles, alongside the struggles of all men and women, strengthen resistance everywhere against the globalized capitalistic and patriarchal system.

Today, we are still experiencing the same world crises - economic, food, ecological and social - and we are concerned to observe that these crises are persisting and deepening. Here, we reiterate our analysis that these are not isolated crises, but that they represent a crisis of the model characterized by the overexploitation of labour and the environment, and by financial speculation on the economy. This is the reason why we as women continue to call for change of this model of society, this economic model, this production and consumption model, which generates increased poverty for our peoples, in particular for women.

We as women, who are attuned to respect and defence of the principles of justice, peace and solidarity, need to make progress in building alternatives in the face of these crises; however, we have no interest in palliative responses based on market logic.

We cannot accept that attempts to maintain the current system in place are made at the expense of women.

In this regard, we say no to intolerance, to the persecution of sexual diversity and to cultural practices that undermine the health, body and soul of women.

We condemn all kinds of violence against women, in particular, femicide, the trafficking of women, forced prostitution, physical violence, sexual harassment, genital mutilation, early marriage, forced marriage, rape, rape used as a systematic weapon of war, and impunity for those who commit these acts of horror against women.

We also say no to a society that scorns the rights of women by not allowing them access to resources, land, credit, and employment in dignified conditions, where women's jobs are rendered precarious in order for capital to grow.

We condemn the monopolization and colonization of the land of rural farmers, both men and women, whatever form it takes, by States or multinational corporations, and we condemn transgenic crops, which harm biodiversity and life.

We say no to the arms and nuclear race, which are carried out at the expense of state investment in social, health and educational programmes.

We condemn a society that excludes women from access to knowledge and education, and where women are marginalized and discriminated against in decision-making.

We say no to armed conflicts, wars and occupations. We say YES to a just peace for oppressed peoples.

In the face of all of this, we propose to strengthen our struggle so our countries will achieve economic, political and cultural sovereignty with respect to international financial institutions. We want the cancellation of odious and illegitimate debts, and a citizen's audit that would allow people to be compensated:  women do not owe anything - they are the primary creditors of this odious debt. We also demand the effective implementation of the Tobin tax.

We demand food sovereignty for peoples and the consumption of local products, the use of our traditional seeds, and women's access to land and productive resources.

We want a world where men and women have the same rights, the same opportunities to access knowledge, primary and higher education, literacy and decision-making positions, and the same rights to work and fair salaries.

We want a world where States invest in the health of women and our children; in particular, maternal health.

We demand the ratification and effective implementation of all international agreements, in particular, International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 156 and 183.

We want the democratization of communications and access to information.

We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian women for a democratic, independent and sovereign Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of refugees in compliance with United Nations Resolution 194.

We stand in solidarity with the women of Casamance for a return to peace.

We support the struggle of the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples for democracy, with the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo for an end to the conflict, and with the Kurdish women, for a society that is democratic, ecological and free, with equal status between women and men, and where there is the right to use their mother tongue in education.

We stand in solidarity with the right to self-determination for the Sarahoui women, in line with the United Nations Resolution, and to find a peaceful solution according to the Maghreb Social Forum.

We are with all women victims of natural disaster, such as Haiti, Brazil, Pakistan and Australia.

We stand in solidarity with the millions of women and children refugees and displaced persons.

We call for the return to their land and freedom of movement.

We propose the creation of alert and information networks on and for women in conflict or occupied areas. We propose 30 March as the day of international solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for a boycott of products from the Israeli occupier. We call for the creation in 2012 of an international forum for solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.

We recognize all the struggles of all the women in the world and see their demands as ours: what happens to one of us happens to all of us. This is why we must fight all together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CSW Concluding Statements - Michelle Bachelet Speaks.

Vice-Chair Says Agreement Required ‘Extensive, Intense Negotiations’; UN Women,
As First-time Secretariat, Deems Outcome Initial Step Requiring National Follow-Up

Noting that quality education and women’s full access to and participation in science and technology were imperative for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Commission on the Status of Women today urged Governments and relevant United Nations agencies to take appropriate actions to bolster women’s access to education and to specifically strengthen capacities to ensure that science education policies and curricula were relevant to their needs.  

Those were among the key observations and recommendations at the core of the Commission’s agreed conclusions (document E/CN.6/2011/L.6), reflecting the overall theme of the 45-member body’s fifty-fifth session, “access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”.  The Commission’s 2011 session, which opened at Headquarters on 22 February, had been originally scheduled to close on 4 March, but protracted negotiations on the agreed conclusions forced it to suspend its work until its closing today.

Among a host of vital priorities identified in the agreed conclusions, the Commission stressed that access to and participation in quality education, including in the science and technology fields, by women and girls of all ages, was an economic necessity and provided them with the skills, knowledge and aptitude necessary for life-long learning, employment, better physical and mental health, and full participation in social, economic and political development.

The agreed conclusions called for action on behalf of women and girls by Governments, United Nations agencies, and human rights and civil society groups, among others, in six key areas, including strengthening national legislation, policies and programmes; expanding access and participation in education; strengthening gender-sensitive education and training, including in the field of science and technology; supporting the transition from education to full employment and decent work; increasing retention and progression of women in science and technology employment; and making science and technology responsive to women.

Before the Commission adopted the text, Commission Vice-Chair Filippo Cinti (Italy) said it had been the result of “extensive and intense negotiations”.  Unfortunately, those talks had not been concluded by the deadline for the session’s final scheduled meeting, but agreement late that Friday night was a testament to the willingness of delegations to reach consensus.

In closing remarks, Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for General Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), said that while the agreed conclusions indeed reflected the commitment of Member States, they were only a “first step” and must be implemented and followed up at the national level.  She called on all Member States to spare no effort to ensure that their aims and objectives were fully addressed, especially in the six key areas of ongoing concern, such as violence against women and the situation of rural women and girls. 

Giving a brief overview of the session, she said that the Commission had convened to share innovations, best practices and successful experiences in the global effort to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Delegations had also used the opportunity to discuss traditional obstacles and new and emerging ones that were hampering gains.  She congratulated the Commission on the interesting discussions, pleased to note that access to quality education, with emphasis on science and technology, had been the overall theme.

Several overriding concerns had emerged during the two-week session, she said, including the negative impact of the ongoing global crises, lingering barriers that prevented women’s equal access to quality education and the fact that women’s transition from education to full employment and decent work “remained fraught with challenges”.  She also recalled that ending violence against women was a priority area for action and that the Commission had held an important panel discussion on the relevant theme:  “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”.  Another important discussion had focused on “gender equality and sustainable development,” she added.

In his remarks, Commission Chair Garen Nazarian ( Armenia) thanked all participants, noting that this was the first session in which UN Women had served as Secretariat of the Commission.  He said that the agreed conclusions provided a solid basis for accelerated and focused action in priority areas. 

Noting the attention to the welfare of girls, he said that “Girls are the women of tomorrow, but we need to hear their voices today.”  Ending discrimination against them must become a priority for all stakeholders, he said, adding his hope that all were leaving the session ready to act for gender equality and the empowerment of women at all levels.

In other action, the Commission adopted the draft report of its session (document/E.N.6/2011/L.4), which was presented by Rapporteur Leysa Sow (Senegal).  Also, Noa Furman (Israel) and Li Xiaomei (China) were appointed to the Working Group on Communications for the Commission’s fifty-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions.  

The Commission also briefly opened its fifty-sixth session to elect its Presidents and two Vice-Presidents.  Marjon V. Kamara ( Liberia) was elected by acclamation to Chair the Commission for the next two years.  Also elected by acclamation were Vice-Presidents Irina Velichko (Belarus), and Carlos Enrique García González (El Salvador). 

Making statements following the adoption of the agreed conclusions were the representatives of Hungary (on behalf of the European Union) and Venezuela.  The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations also made a statement.

Theme for CSW 56 -

The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication development and current challenge

The review theme is  the agreed conclusions from the 2008 session on "Financing for gender equality and empowerment of women." 

Resolution on gender and climate change adopted at CSW

March 2011 - The Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York reported that the 55th Session of the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) adopted by consensus a Philippine-initiated ground-breaking resolution on gender and climate change last March 4. 
The Philippine resolution entitled, "Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Promoting Empowerment of Women in Climate Policies and Strategies", stressed the need to ensure women's full enjoyment of all human rights and their effective participation in environmental decision-making at all levels.

It also highlights the need to integrate women concerns and gender equality perspectives in sustainable development policies and programs.  The resolution calls for all nations to facilitate and ensure women's effective participation in the crafting and implementation of climate change policies, strategies and programs.
In formally introducing the Philippine resolution to the CSW, Philippine Permanent Representative Libran N. Cabactulan pointed out that "the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability."
"As an archipelagic state with a largely agricultural and rural population, and as a country beset by numerous natural disasters, the Philippines knows this first hand," Permanent Representative Cabactulan stated.

He said that women are among the most vulnerable to climate change, emphasizing that "in many countries, they make up a larger share of the agricultural workforce and they tend to have less access to income-earning opportunities than men. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters."

Permanent Representative told the CSW that the Philippines has implemented policies that seek to bring economic growth and development to all sectors of our society, but that "climate change is a challenge that urgently calls for greater global cooperation."
The Philippine resolution contains 12-action points, among which is a call on states to integrate a gender perspective into their environmental and climate change policies, and to strengthen mechanisms and provide adequate resources to ensure women's full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels on environmental issues, in particular on strategies related to the impact of climate change on the lives of women and girls.

Fifty-three states co-sponsored the Philippine resolution, namely: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, the Central African Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, the Gambia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, the Niger, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grassroots Women speak out about UN Women

 The International Council of Women (ICW) is a member of Grassroots Women

The following is from a report on the session they held March 2 at the CSW

Different from feminist organizations and NGOs, these grassroots women comprised community leaders from grassroots organizations who are working to solve day to day problems related to human settlements, land rights, livelihoods, resilience to disasters and climate change, food se­curity, safer cities and informal care work, women's health and HIV/AIDS, among other issues, in their own communities. Among them are leaders of the movement of popular kitchens in Peru, leaders of federations of self-help savings and credit cooperatives in India and women fight­ing for land rights at the community level across Africa. Their work on economic security and human settlements are issues not yet being fully addressed in UN Women's agenda or vision.  

The launch of UN Women brings an unprecedented opportunity for the UN, national govern­ments and global organizations to consult with and include organized groups of grassroots women. Adding to the ripeness of this moment, Michelle Bachelet has repeatedly spoken of her commit­ment to the inclusion of grassroots women and issues related to their economic empowerment. 

For too long, grassroots women have been excluded from agenda-setting, planning and consul­tations in the UN's gender architecture, from the national offices to the UN headquarters. The Grassroots Women's Speakout delivered an explicit message: the time for inclusion is now.

In her concluding remarks, Charlotte Bunch, representative of the GEAR Campaign and a long time leader in the global women's movement, also affirmed  and appreciated the voices she heard, agreeing to support the idea proposed by women in the Speakout and proposing to working together to create a grassroots women's fund.  The idea of holding preparatory consultations with rural women leaders prior to next year's CSW on Rural Women was proposed by Haydee Rodriguez and strongly taken up by Michelle Bachelet.     

1st Session of the 56th Session of the Commission opened

Following the closure of CSW 55,  the 1st session of the fifty-sixth session of the Commission opened.

We welcome this opportunity to congratulate the Bureau of CSW 55 and welcome the Bureau of CSW 56 to be Chaired by:

Her Excellency Madam Marjon V. Kamara
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Liberia to the United Nations, New York

Just received - the Agreed Conclusions submitted by the Chair of the CSW, based on informal consultations

Draft agreed conclusions submitted by the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women on the basis of informal consultations Access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, including for the promotion of women's equal access to full employment and decent work
Just posted - you can see them here!

No Agreed Conclusions received yet -

The Commission on the Status of Women will hold a meeting on Monday, 14 March 2011, at 10 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber (NLB), in order to conclude its work for the fifty-fifth session. Immediately following the closure of the fifty-fifth session, the Commission will convene the first meeting of its fifty-sixth session for the sole purpose of electing the Chair and four Vice-Chairs of the Bureau of the Commission for a term of office of two years (i.e. for its fifth-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions, in 2012 and 2013, respectively).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Looking ahead at the themes for the CSW


  • 2012 - The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges

  • 2013 - Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls

  • 2014 - Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls

  • Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Commission on Status of Women Takes Action on Resolutions on Climate Change, Gender Dimensions of HIV/AIDS, Assistance to Palestinian Women

    As Ongoing Negotiations on Agreed Conclusions Force Suspension
    Of Work, Body Looks to Resume Fifty-Fifth Session at Later Date (note previous Blog)

    The Commission on the Status of Women today adopted two resolutions on mainstreaming gender equality in climate change policies and strategies, and women and the girl child and HIV/AIDS, and approved one text, by roll-call vote, on Palestinian women, to be sent to the Economic and Social Council for adoption.

    The 45-member Commission had been scheduled to conclude its fifty-fifth session today, but due to ongoing negotiations on its agreed conclusions, it was forced to suspend its work.  The Commission Secretary announced that the body intended to conclude its current session in a resumed meeting once that text was finalized and prepared in all six official languages.  However, the Commission adopted the provisional agenda of its fifty-sixth session.

    As for the resolutions under consideration today, the Commission, by a roll-call vote of 26 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 8 abstentions (Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Niger, Republic of Korea, Sweden), approved the text on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women.

    Deploring the dire economic and social conditions of Palestinian women and girls in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the systematic violation of their human rights, the Commission would have the Economic and Social Council affirm that the Israeli occupation remained the major obstacle for their advancement, self-reliance and integration in their society’s development.

    By further terms, the resolution would have the Council demand that Israel comply fully with the provisions and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other treaties.  Israel would be called upon to facilitate the return of all refugees and displaced Palestinian women and children to their homes and properties.

    Speaking after the vote, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine expressed gratitude to the Commission for approving the text.  Women bore the brunt of Israel’s policies and practices.  Adherence to international law, as affirmed in the text, could only promote peace efforts, not undermine them. 

    Speaking before the vote, Israel’s representative said the text, which was the only resolution before the Commission that focused on one specific situation, was nothing but a “politically motivated, factually flawed exercise”.  While the challenges facing Palestinian women were significant, the resolution was inadequate and misleading.  It would not advance the situation of Palestinian women, nor promote informed and responsible debate.

    Turning to women’s empowerment in the area of climate change, the Commission adopted a consensus text expressing deep concern that the adverse impacts of climate change on women and girls could be exacerbated by gender inequality and discrimination.  “[G]ender equality and the effective participation of women and indigenous peoples are important for effective action on all aspects of climate change,” the Commission stated in its resolution.

    In that context, it called on Governments to integrate a gender perspective into their environmental and climate change policies and to provide adequate resources to ensure women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels on environmental issues.  Governments were also urged, in their efforts to deal with climate change, to encourage women’s equal participation in training and capacity-building, and to integrate a gender component into their periodic reporting as States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    By a consensus text on women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS, the Commission stressed the need to “significantly increase and coordinate” political and financial commitment to address gender equality and equity in national HIV and AIDS responses, urging Governments to reflect in their policies and budgets the gender dimension of the pandemic.  It also emphasized the need to strengthen policy and programme coordination between HIV and AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health, and include those issues in national development plans.

    Introducing that text, the representative of Namibia, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that, for the most part, it contained technical updates of drafts from previous years and substantive updates would be made next year, after the General Assembly adopted a new political declaration at the upcoming high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, which would be held from 6 to 8 June.

    In other business, the Commission also approved the nomination of Noa Furman (Israel) by the Western European and Other States to an open seat on the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women for the fifty-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions.

    The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene to conclude its fifty-fifth session at a time and date to be announced.


    The Commission on the Status of Women, on the final day of its fifty-fifth session, met this morning to hear the introduction of three draft resolutions on “gender mainstreaming, situations and programmatic matters”.  In the afternoon, delegations were expected to take action on those texts, as well as the agreed conclusions on access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.

    Introduction of Texts

    LIBRAN N. CABACTULAN (Philippines) introduced the draft text on mainstreaming gender equality and empowerment of women in climate change policies and strategies (document E/CN.6/2011/L.1).  More than the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change was about people, he said.  It was a question of how the citizens of nations both rich and poor would be impacted by its effects, and how that impact would be differently distributed among various groups.

    Making up the larger share of the agricultural work force and tending to have less access to income-earning opportunities than men, women were the most vulnerable to climate change, he continued.  As the principal managers and caretakers of their households, women’s mobility was often limited and their vulnerability to sudden weather-related disasters thereby increased.

    Stressing that climate change was a challenge that urgently called for greater global cooperation, he said the resolution called for the need to facilitate and ensure women’s effective participation in the crafting and implementation of climate change policies, strategies and programmes.

    Next, MARCELO CARLOS CESA (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, introduced the draft text on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2011/L.2), saying that the economic and social crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had significantly affected the situation of Palestinian women and the need to provide them with assistance was critical.

    He said the majority of the paragraphs were identical to last year’s text on the same matter, with some additions to reflect changes in the situation on the ground in the intervening time.  The text reaffirmed the Israeli occupation as the main obstacle to Palestinian women’s advancement, self-reliance and integration, and stressed the importance of their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution, and to ensure their equal participation and involvement in all efforts for the achievement, maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

    The draft, he said, called on the international community to continue to provide urgently needed assistance and requested the Commission to continue to monitor and take action on the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, in particular paragraph 260 concerning Palestinian women and children; the Beijing Platform for Action; and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.

    WILFRIED INOTIRA EMVULA ( Namibia), speaking on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC), introduced the draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS (document E/CN.6/2011/L.3), which he said had been technically updated from previous years.  Substantive updates would be made next year.  In that regard, he further noted the negotiations in the General Assembly on a new political declaration to be adopted at the upcoming high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, which would be held from 6 to 8 June.  Member States would be able to make substantive inputs during those negotiations, he said.

    Turning to the current draft, he said it highlighted major factors, including the call by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015, as well as the need for commitments by Member States to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.  He hoped the draft would be adopted by consensus.

    Action on Drafts

    The Commission first turned its attention to a resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2011/L.2)

    Making a general statement before the vote, Argentina’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the text was important because it addressed the hardships faced by Palestinian women as a result of Israeli occupation.  He hoped the resolution would be approved by consensus, which would send a message to Palestinians on the importance the Commission placed on the needs of Palestinian women.

    Hungary’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, attached utmost importance to the situation of Palestinian women, expressing concern on impacts of the conflict on women and their families in the region.  While the text addressed a range of issues, her delegation believed that country-specific issues should be dealt with within the framework of the General Assembly.  Her delegation had expressed that point repeatedly over the years.  She also stressed that any text dealing with the situation should adequately include the findings of the relevant report by the Secretary-General.

    The Chair informed the Commission that a roll-call vote on the draft resolution had been requested.

    Argentina’s delegate then asked which delegation had called for a roll-call vote.

    The Chair responded that Israel’s delegate had requested the vote.

    The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, expressed her disappointment with the text and said her delegation would vote against it.  The United States, along with its international partners, continued to support the Palestinian people, including Palestinian women.  Her Government had a deep interest in addressing the humanitarian conditions of Palestinians, as reflected in its support for ongoing gender programmes, and in creating environments that enabled women to lead.

    Moreover, she said, the United States was the largest bilateral donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provided education, health and social and relief services to more than 4.7 million refugees in the region.  Her Government had contributed $247 million to the Agency in 2010, and $30 million in 2011 thus far.  The United States also contributed to bilateral assistance and other United Nations programmes.

    She went on to say the United States was deeply engaged on the situation in Gaza and would continue to work with the Palestinian authorities, Israel and other partners to improve peoples’ lives.  Noting with deep concern that Hamas had taken efforts to narrow women’s freedom of public appearance, among other liberties, she was troubled at the Commission’s insistence at adding in the text one-sided condemnations that detracted from the real challenges.  Instead, energy should be redirected towards the future.  The United States would continue to pursue a comprehensive peace, and was committed to working with the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process and regional States to return the parties to direct talks that would lead to an agreement producing a just and lasting peace.

    Israel’s representative said the text was nothing but a “politically motivated, factually flawed exercise”, and it stood out as the only resolution before the Commission that focused on one specific situation.  Such resolutions had no place in an important forum like the Commission.  Yet, as in past sessions, a group of Member States had again chosen to politicize a professional body by exerting pressure on the Commission’s membership to approve the one-sided resolution.

    “This resolution clearly has no place in this hall,” she said, asserting it would not advance the situation of Palestinian women nor promote informed and responsible debate.  If its authors were genuinely interested in improving the situation of Palestinian women, they would not have omitted crucial factors significantly contributing to their plight, in particular a multitude of alarming internal social conditions.

    Living in a patriarchal society, Palestinian women were all too often the victims of restrictive gender stereotypes, domestic violence, severe oppression and honour killings, she said.  As the Secretary-General’s report cited, Palestinian laws relieved rapists who married their victims of any criminal responsibility.  Those findings were supported by numerous studies conducted by Palestinian non-governmental organizations, such as the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling.  That group had conducted focus groups of Palestinian women for a 2009 study, which found that Palestinian women believed that “silence is the only way to protect themselves in such a patriarchal culture.  This belief is also compounded by the opinion that society and social institutions cannot protect [them] or prevent the injustice, and even, to the contrary, may increase it.”

    Israel saw an even more oppressive environment for Palestinian women in Gaza, where the Hamas terrorist organization continued to rule, she said.  Hamas’ “morality police” had taken on an expanded role there, while Hamas itself continued to attack Palestinian non-governmental organizations that promoted civil society and worked to ensure the protection and empowerment of women.  Yet, the resolution read as if those realities did not exist.  While the challenges facing Palestinian women were significant, the resolution was inadequate and misleading.  She called on all Commission members committed to upholding the integrity and professional nature of the forum to join Israel in voting against the text.

    The Commission then approved that resolution by a roll-call vote of 26 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 8 abstentions (Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Niger, Republic of Korea, Sweden).

    Speaking after the vote, the representative of Japan expressed hope that the situation of Palestinian women would be significantly improved by the assistance of the international community.  Her delegation would have preferred to see a text that was more balanced and had abstained because it was not.  Japan would continue to contribute to efforts to improve the situation of Palestinian women.

    Spain’s delegate said her country would have abstained had it been able to do so.

    Speaking after the vote, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine expressed her gratitude to the Commission for approving the text.  She said United Nations resolutions remained necessary in light of the ongoing need for the international community to provide essential services and the grave violations being committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The text was especially important, as women bore the brunt of Israel’s policies and practices.  Adherence to international law, as affirmed in the text, could only promote peace efforts, not undermine them.  Respect for international law would bring about a change in the negotiating environment towards achieving a just and lasting settlement to all core issues.

    Explaining that she would not respond at length to the Israeli delegate’s comments, which were replete with “distortions”, she said nothing affected Palestinians “more destructively” than Israel’s occupation, its illegal policies and its dehumanizing treatment of the Palestinian people.  Israel’s delegate should focus on the actions of her own Government, which had obstructed the resumption of peace negotiations.  Surely, illegal policies — not the approval of the current resolution — were the real problems facing the region.  In sum, she looked forward to the time when her delegation did not have to put forward resolutions.  Until that time, it would continue to look to the United Nations as the protector of those most in need.

    Rwanda’s delegate regretted he had not been able to participate in the vote. Had he been present, he would have voted in favour of the resolution.

    Next, the Commission took up the draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV and AIDS (document E/CN.6/2011/L.3).

    Speaking before action, Namibia’s delegate said the resolution was important to SADC and he encouraged that it be adopted by consensus.

    The representative of Chile welcomed the text, as it would help achieve the goals of the high-level meeting next June.  She supported the text and emphasized her delegation’s understanding that operative paragraph 15 in no way implied an endorsement of abortion.

    An observer of the Holy See, reaffirming the importance of providing adequate care to all sufferers of HIV and AIDS, said much more could be done to ensure access to effective, affordable care.  The Catholic Church provided one quarter of all care for those persons.  In the area of prevention, she said more attention and resources should be allocated to support a value-based approach to sex education and to sexuality.  Indeed, the spread of AIDS could be stopped effectively when respect for the dignity of human nature, and inherent moral law, was included in HIV prevention efforts.

    In that context, she insisted on the necessity of distinguishing between health care for HIV/AIDS victims and prevention methods that ran counter to a woman’s dignity.  Reaffirming all reservations with regard to the term “sexual and reproductive health and services”, she said her delegation did not consider abortion a dimension of that term.  She also said the Holy See did not endorse family planning or condom use as part of any HIV/AIDS prevention programmes.  As for youth education, she said parents’ rights must be fully respected, as affirmed in international instruments.

    The Commission then decided to reconsider the text at a later stage.

    The Commission next decided to transmit the summaries of three panel discussions (documents E/CN.6/2011/CRP.3, 4 and 5) to the Economic and Social Council’s 2011 Annual Ministerial Review.  Those documents included the Chair’s summary of the Commission’s high-level round table on “access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work” and the moderator’s summaries of the two panel discussions on key policy initiatives and capacity-building on gender mainstreaming that focused on “science and technology” and “education and training”.

    The Chair said four moderator’s summaries on panel discussions on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child; gender equality and sustainable development; elimination of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, and the empowerment of women; and the empowerment of women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges, would be included in the Commission’s report and available on the website of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

    The Commission then took note of four of the Secretary-General’s relevant reports (documents E/CN.6/2011/3, E/CN.6/2011/5, E/CN.6/2011/7 and E/CN.6/2011/8), as well as his note transmitting the report of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on the activities of the United Nations Trust Fund to eliminate violence against women (A/HRC/16/34-E/CN.6/2011/9). 

    Azerbaijan’s delegate then said that, had his delegation been present, it would have voted in favour of the draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women.

    Turning to the issues of the outstanding members of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women for the fifty-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions, the Commission decided to appoint Noa Furman (Israel) on behalf of Western European and Other States.  Action on the remaining outstanding appointments was deferred to the fifty-sixth session next year.

    The Commission next took note of the report of the Executive Director of UN Women (document E/CN.6/2011/2).

    Niger’s representative said her delegation’s vote on the draft text regarding the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women had been registered as an abstention, but she had actually voted in favour.

    After a brief suspension, the Commission considered the resolution on mainstreaming gender equality and promoting empowerment of women in climate change policies and strategies (document E/CN.6/2011/L.1).

    Speaking before action, the representative of the Philippines, the main sponsor, said the draft was a timely one and he thanked all delegations that had participated in the negotiations.

    Asked by the Chair to read aloud the revisions, he said the word “promoting” had been added to the title.  Explaining that revisions throughout the text were marked by additions in bold and deletions by strikethrough, he said changes had been made to preambular paragraph 7.  Preambular paragraph 8 had been added, while preambular paragraph 9 contained additions and deletions.  Preambular paragraphs 11 through 13 also contained changes.

    Moreover, the first operative paragraph was new, he continued, saying that changes had been made to operative paragraph 2.  The third operative paragraph was new, while operative paragraphs 4 and 5 contained changes, as did paragraphs 7 and 8.  Operative paragraph 9 was new, and operative paragraphs 10 and 11 contained changes. Operative paragraph 12 was new.

    The Commission then adopted the resolution by consensus as orally revised.

    Explaining his position after action, the representative of the Russian Federation said his delegation had participated in negotiations and would not break consensus.  At the same time, the talks had not always shown an “objective approach”, and as a result, the text had not reached a “balanced approach”.  Too much micromanagement and too many attempts to manage events had been seen in various positions.

    Specifically, the Russian Federation seriously objected to preambular paragraph 8, he said, as there was no scientific evidence attesting to what was stated in that paragraph.  He also objected to operative paragraph 1, in that it exemplified a selective approach to the issue in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Indeed, there had been no desire to acknowledge the fundamental principles of that Convention.

    Continuing, he said operative paragraph 3 was not in line with the issues addressed and seriously “twisted the general trend” of the document.  Further, his Government had not agreed to the inclusion of operative paragraph 6, as it showed an “extremely selective approach” to the serious issue of climate change.  The Russian Federation also objected to operative paragraph 7, as it was not accurate on the most important issues related to, among others, Government activities.  Noting that his Government had been flexible in agreeing to operative paragraphs 10, 11 and 12, he said it would not participate in references to language in the resolution, as if the text reflected a consensus view.

    The representative of Venezuela expressed concern over the negotiating process and the “manipulation and lack of flexibility” of some delegations during those discussions.  Her delegation was extremely disturbed to see the inclusion of paragraphs that changed and distorted the nature of the Beijing Declaration, particularly the chapter on women and the environment.  Venezuela was also disturbed by the argument used by some delegations that the Declaration was an outdated document, merely because it had been adopted in 1995.  It was true that the Declaration should evolve, but neither the framework of that text, nor the international legal framework, should be changed.

    She expressed distress over the insistence of many delegations, as well as the text’s facilitator, on taking up the matter of climate change and deliberately disregarding specific reference to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Tackling climate change required the broadest participation of all countries in respect for their differentiated responsibilities, and it was only in that context that the gender perspective could be included.

    The Commission then turned to the provisional agenda for its fifty-sixth session (document E/CN.6/2011/L.5), approving it by consensus.

    When the meeting resumed following another brief suspension, Filippo Cinti (Italy), Commission Vice-Chair and Facilitator of the negotiations on the agreed conclusions, announced that while delegations were working hard, they still had not been able to agree on a text.  He had received a commitment that they would work to finalize the text by day’s end.  As such, he recommended that the Commission reconvene in a resumed session to complete its work.

    Following that recommendation, the Commission’s Secretary said he would seek an additional meeting from the Secretariat of the Committee on Conferences.  As no budgetary provisions had been made for a resumed session, he would request that an additional meeting be accommodated on an “as-available basis”, at a time and date that would allow for conference services.

    The Chair then requested that negotiations be concluded as soon as possible and that a text be submitted to the Secretariat for preparation in all six official languages.  He then suspended the Committee’s 2011 session.

    Date, Time and Place for final meeting of the 55th session of CSW

    Commission on the Status of Women Fifth-fifth session

    The Commission on the Status of Women will hold its 17th meeting (Pending the approval of the Committee on Conferences) on Monday, 14 March 2011, at 10 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber (NLB), in order to conclude its work for the fifty-fifth session.  

    Immediately following the closure of the fifty-fifth session, the Commission will convene the first meeting of its fifty-sixth session for the sole purpose of electing the Chair and four Vice-Chairs of the Bureau of the Commission for a term of office of two years (i.e. for its fifth-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions, in 2012 and 2013, respectively).

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    WOMEN'S DAY: Without Grassroots, the Tree Will Not Stand --

    WOMEN'S DAY: Without Grassroots, the Tree Will Not Stand - IPS ipsnews.net

       WOMEN'S DAY
    Without Grassroots, the Tree Will Not Stand

    Andrea Lunt and Kanya D’Almeida

    UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 (IPS) - Women from grassroots organisations all across the globe arrived in New York this week for a five-day summit dedicated to bolstering female and community- based representation at the all levels of political decision making.
    Following on the heels of this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Grassroots Summit on Women’s Leadership and Governance, hosted by the Huairou Commission, attracted individuals from a range of institutions, spanning village healthcare advocates, to international scholars.

    The event offered a chance for participants to share local success stories and challenges, while creating a platform for grassroots organisations to strengthen their partnerships with entities such as the newly formed UN Women.

    Jan Peterson, chair of the Huairou Commission, told IPS the women were challenging traditional decision-making structures at both the country and global levels.

    "For all of this time policy makers and academics and other NGOs have made the agenda for grassroots women, for what leadership they need," Peterson said. "But in this case grassroots women leaders themselves are saying ‘Hey, we’re here, we can speak for ourselves, we can analyse ourselves, and we can organise how we want to move in partnership with others, but we need to get our own voices together first’."

    Among the participants at the summit were Naseem Shaikh and Godavari Dange, from Maharashtra, near Mumbai, India.

    The pair represented Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a community organisation that facilitates ties between grassroots women and district-level health officials to ensure better access to healthcare for the poor.

    As part of its work, SSP mobilises grassroots women into aptly named Self Help Groups (SHG), which monitor community needs and act as "decentralising" links between issues on the ground and policy making at the top levels of government.

    Today SSP’s combined operations work with more than 300,000 families across India.

    Dange told IPS their organisation was a successful example of how community leaders were stepping up to have their voices heard. "Before decentralisation there was somebody ruling from the top and people following that," she said. "Now because of decentralisation, grassroots women are contributing to who is making the policy… But we still have challenges. We are a big country so we have to continue to fight for a space at the state and national level."

    Fellow summit participants who had travelled to New York from 22 different countries echoed the Maharashtrian women’s struggles for political participation.

    Representatives from Papua New Guinea, South Africa and Tanzania acknowledged that while their struggles on the ground may differ - responding to the particular manifestations of patriarchy and the specific shackles of the free market across the world - the overall goal of women’s empowerment knows no borders.

    Everywhere women are united in their fight for economic justice and political representation.

    Speaking on behalf of the Maasai Women and Development Organisation (MWEDO), Espupat Ngulupa stressed the fact that Maasai women are one of the poorest and most marginalised groups in the world. Maasai women struggle daily against the leash of male dominance - they are in dire need of swift political change, and are dedicated to etching out spaces in which their voices will be heard.

    Piyoo Kochar, a representative of the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOW Politics), highlighted the fact that her organisation’s objective is to bridge cultural, linguistic and geographical chasms between women around the world via an online, multi-lingual forum dedicated to improving women’s access to resources and information.

    "We are keen for women to share their experiences and build collaborative knowledge," she said. "Already we have 9,500 members, constantly sharing skills… We believe in the cross-fertilisation of strategies, relying on a network of networks that already exists at the country, regional, district, local provincial and levels."

    Today, there is a greater need than ever for platforms like iKNOW’s website. Kathy Karapa Tom, the founder and executive director of Widows Orphans Deserted Association (WODA) in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, discussed her struggle for equality in a country that is home to 800 languages and millions of slum dwellers.

    "I work with women whose husbands have passed, and though this is a tragedy it is also an opportunity for us to break away from the control our husbands have on us, and organise around providing education, food and love to our children," Karapa Tom told IPS. "We are the victims. We are the ones who work and suffer. We know what is best for ourselves, so we need to form our own organisations."

    "It cost us twenty dollars to register our organisation with the National Council of Women, a branch of the government," Karapa Tom added. "In order to do this, women sat in the marketplace for hours and sold their produce and their fish so they could earn a little extra income."

    "It is a struggle, but we do it, we succeed," she said. "We are more than cooks and baby factories. We have human rights and skills and potential and we will realise them."

    Although her message was powerful, we cannot allow ourselves to forget the uphill climb ahead of most women. Emily Tjale, the director of the Land Access Movement of South Africa (LAMOSA), is fighting alongside farmers and peasant women to reclaim their ancestral lands in South Africa.

    "We started our movement in 1989, just before Nelson Mandela was released from prison," Tjale told IPS, adding that the battle for land is a war against the post-colonial bureaucracy of ownership papers and title deeds - a system most farmers are unable to navigate.

    Despite her exhausting work, Tjale remains convinced that any lasting national or international changes have to be guided by women’s voices from the grassroots. "Without roots, the tree will not stand," Tjale told IPS. "Without a firm foundation, nothing you build can last."


    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Reflections on IWD by Stepahnie Nolen (Globe and Mail - Canada)

    In much of the world, gains in women's rights elude a silent majority

    NEW DELHI- Many years ago, not long after I first read The Female Eunuch, I stopped writing Christmas cards and started sending annual International Women's Day cards instead.
    A few years later, I was working in the Middle East and sharing an office with Palestinian journalists who were members of the Communist Party. They gave all their female colleagues red roses on March 8 - which was weird, but it's always nice to get roses.

    In 2003, The Globe and Mail sent me to open a bureau in Johannesburg. There I discovered that Women's Day was a national holiday, with street festivals and concerts, recognizing the bedrock role of women in the country's struggle for freedom.

    This week, the newspapers here in New Delhi are full of good old-fashioned rants by feminists about enduring inequality - and also ads urging men to splurge on diamond trinkets and fancy chocolates for the women in their lives.

    It's 100 years old today, this holiday - born of the desire of women in the socialist movement in Europe to have their particular demands recognized within the workers' struggle.

    Clara Zetkin, who first proposed the day, and her feminist sisters had, in essence, three spheres of concern. They wanted political inclusion for women; economic equality; and what you might call personal autonomy. These needs were more difficult to articulate in 1911, but they were core to all else: the right of women to decide what happened to them, whom they married, when they had sex, when they had children, the right to live a life without violence.

    Much of it, of course, they won. I am the beneficiary of their struggle; if you know it's International Women's Day, you likely are too. Yes, the gender imbalance in our Parliament is dismal; there is an ongoing disparity in pay for equal work done by men and women; and access to abortion is not uniform across Canada. But Ms. Zetkin might well look on the gains of the past 100 years with satisfaction.

    Until she looked south. The silent majority of the world's women know nothing of International Women's Day; they remain mired in the struggle for the most basic freedoms.

    Of course there has been change, particularly in the past 25 years, for women in the developing world. In China 100 years ago, almost all women were peasants; today they make up nearly half the list of the country's most powerful new tycoons. In Egypt, women have played a critical role in the political upheaval of recent weeks. In Rwanda, women hold more than half of parliamentary seats, and they are using them to put forward innovative policy in a number of fields.

    The same things that brought change to the developed world - a shift from subsistence agriculture to an industrial economy, a gradual opening of access to education that created a class of women able to push for political change - lie at the root of the changes in the south.

    I saw it vividly in Sri Lanka two years ago when I spent the day with four generations of women in the Perera family - a wrinkly, twinkly great-grandmother, who told me about giving birth to her daughter in a dirt-floored house by lantern light; that daughter, who got through primary school and worked as a maid; her granddaughter, a poised young woman with an MBA and a rising career with an airline. The family is not wealthy, living nine people in three rooms. But they have come almost unimaginably far.

    Yet when I think about the places I've lived and worked since I first started mailing out the cards, and the 40-odd countries I've reported from, that family feels like a rarity. Instead, the people who come to mind are the 11-year-old Ethiopian girls whose bodies were destroyed by the children they tried to birth, and Radhika, a haunted Indian woman who was gang-raped in the Punjab as punishment for a romance across caste lines.

    I remember the Afghan women who showed me their ill-set bones that broke from vitamin D deficiency after the Taliban barred women and girls from leaving their homes or opening their curtains (lest a passing man be defiled by their faces - hard-line Islam their neat excuse for a particularly toxic brand of misogyny).

    Sometimes these women are so engaged in the brute business of survival they have no space to think about more. And sometimes they have a cherished, quietly tended vision of the change they want: of political power, of job opportunities, of justice and safety.

    In 2008, I met Rose, an activist for democracy in Zimbabwe - one of hundreds of women who were systematically raped by supporters of President Robert Mugabe when they tried to do political organizing to end his brutal reign.

    In Santiago de Chile in 1998 I met young women who were sexually assaulted on their first day at the engineering college by men determined to prevent them from enrolling. The women quit.

    In Tehran in 2003, I met three young women who earned engineering degrees - but who were beaten by religious paramilitaries until bruises stained their legs like dark stockings, because they let their head scarves slip back off their foreheads and spoke to some boys in a coffee shop.

    Two weeks ago, in India's rural province of Rajasthan, I met low-caste girls whose mothers had defied their fathers to insist they go to school. The girls had turned up on the dot of 9 a.m., their worn uniforms well pressed, their hair slicked down. But they sat alone and in the dark, because they were too short to reach up and open the shutters, and their teachers had not come - because only women deign to teach in a low-caste girls school, and the teachers can't bear the sexual harassment they face when they take public transport, which is all they can afford, to get to work. The girls sat in quiet rows with their books open, trying to sound out words, lips working, fingers sliding along the tattered pages.

    There is a universality to sexual harassment, to sexual violence, to the struggle for reproductive rights, and to the more quotidian question of how to work and care for children and older family members. Women in the developed world see this.

    I think the thing we don't see, though, is how the same system that has lifted us up and brought so much progress on these fronts is connected to the system that keeps these women down.

    We subsidize agriculture - and dump our farming excess into the markets of African and Asian farmers, three-quarters of whom are women. You can't stage a revolution when you earn $1 a day growing millet. Our hunger for iPhones and Kindles fuels the market for coltan, the mineral that lies at the root of the vicious war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war fought literally on the bodies of women, some 300,000 of whom have been raped in the decade of the war. Our desire for the latest H&M frock drives the sweatshops of Bangladesh, where women sew for 12 hours a day and earn $3. That barely covers the cost of a place to sleep, a meal and bus fare.

    The globalization theory, of course, is that the $3-a-day garment worker job allows the Bangladeshi woman to send money back to the village where her daughter will go to school. Go she might - but will the teacher be there?

    I wonder if, in 1911, Clara Zetkin had a clear vision of the change that was needed, and the change that would come. I wonder whether she would tell us all today to keep the faith, that the next 100 years will bring change to every corner. And I wonder whether that would be enough, for Rose in Zimbabwe, or those little girls in Rajasthan.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Article by Kanya (my lunch partner) for IPS - included quotes on Canada

    WOMEN'S DAY: A Historic Opportunity Unveiled

    UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 (IPS) - In 1945, more than half a century ago, the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco wrote women's equality into its canon, creating an indisputable commitment to gender equity in the post-World War global order.

    Though only four of the original 160 signatories were women, Minerva Bernardino from the Dominican Republic, Virginia Gildersleeve from the United States, Bertha Lutz from Brazil and Wu Yi-Fang from China successfully inscribed women's rights in the U.N.'s founding document, which stresses in its preamble "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small".

    However, 66 years later, women continue to struggle, far below the level of their male counterparts, in every single aspect of human society. Only 11 of the 192 heads of state are women; one in three women in the world will experience rape or sexual assault in her lifetime; and while performing two-thirds of the world's work, women own a mere one percent of the means of production.

    While the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women draws to a close Friday, after two weeks of workshops and conferences, activists say these abysmal statistics must not be pushed into the shadows of high-level consultations, self-congratulatory events and erudite consultations, and the question must be asked - what has the CSW achieved for women's rights? Where should it go from here?

    U.N. Women - Seizing the Moment

    The 2011 CSW saw the launch of U.N. Women - a newly founded task force dedicated to gender equality and women's empowerment. The establishment of U.N. Women represents a moment of victory in a long and arduous battle for gender rights within a multilateral body comprised largely of male- dominated, male chauvinist nation states.

    For the women at CSW - from activists to government heads to policy-makers from diverse countries around the world - the induction of U.N. Women represents a historic opportunity for radical change, both within the U.N. and within the global, political and economic system.

    "U.N. Women comes at a time when the bankruptcy of the policies of the last seven decades have been laid bare,"
    Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough, told IPS.

    "We have a global crisis in terms of financial institutions, we have a global ecological crisis, we have a crisis of ongoing conflicts all over the world - I think everyone agrees that something is fundamentally broken," she said.

    "This means that U.N. Women has the potential to be a real game changer and not another bureaucratic U.N. agency," she added.

    "The fact that women had to work so hard to even create U.N.Women - UNIFEM was always considered a baby, or a stepchild of the U.N., compared to agencies like the UNDP [U.N. Development Programme] and UNFPA [U.N. Population Fund] - means that now that we have it, we shouldn't settle. This is a critical time to ask, what is it we can contribute? What is it we can really change?" Dutt asked.

    Mary Scott, the president of the National Council of the Women of Canada (NCWC), pointed out that by far the most integral part of CSW were the side-events, organised by and comprising of grassroots women's leaders and activists, which took place parallel to the illustrious events at the U.N. headquarters.

    "But the parallel events educate other NGOs, not government delegations," Scott told IPS. "The high-level consultations are primarily controlled by governments, and may or may not consider the views of grassroots leaders. They are closed sessions."

    This concern was echoed by hundreds of female activists across the world, who convened at countless workshops and sessions over the last two weeks, to express concerns and critiques of U.N. Women and CSW for excluding local leaders, workers and victims in the formulation of their agenda and policies.

    "The absence of Aboriginal women from Canada in the official Canadian delegation really struck me," Scott told IPS. "The issues facing our Aboriginal sisters in Canada have been documented in many U.N. reports, including CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women]."

    "In February 2009 Canada was told it's not doing enough in areas like aboriginal rights, violence against women, poverty and racism by the U.N. Human Rights Council," Scott added

    "In November 2008, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women asked Canada to report back in one year on steps taken to address inadequate social assistance rates across the country and the failure of law enforcement agencies to deal with the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women and girls," she said.

    "CEDAW recommended that Canada develop a specific and integrated plan for addressing the particular conditions affecting Aboriginal women, both on and off reserves, including poverty, poor health, inadequate housing low school-completion rates, low employment rates, low income and high rates of violence."

    "We have yet to see a plan that addresses these issues. Such a plan must be developed with the Aboriginal women playing a key role, with groups such as the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC)," she concluded.

    Discussing the challenges for U.N. Women at a side-event last Saturday, Frances Kissling, a visiting scholar from the University of Pennsylvania, stressed that the 21st century must see the silencing of voices of religious fundamentalists in the U.N., who have severely undermined conversations on women's emancipation.

    "The Holy See has tried for years to take the word 'empowerment' out of the resolution on the Status of Women. IF U.N. Women is to be a transformative agency, we should have developed by now the capacity to plan a meeting that cannot be derailed by people who do not agree with the core agenda of that meeting," she said.

    Regardless of these reservations, U.N. Women presents an enormous opportunity for change and many experts believe that it must not be crippled by premature criticism.

    "I do believe that U.N. Women can be in a leadership role that operates within the constraints of an intergovernmental agency," Dutt told IPS.

    "Whether or not [U.N. Women's inaugural executive director] Michele Bachelet is able to translate the power of her position into solid action is something that remains to be seen - but there is an opportunity right now that we must seize, and support," she concluded.

    *This article forms part of IPS coverage for International Women's Day, Mar. 8, whose theme this year is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women".