The CSW Agreed Conclusions were adopted on Friday 24 March after over 107 hours of negotiations.
The 17 pages of final text bring to the fore concerns about the restricted and, often, regressive negotiating environment of CSW. For a number of years, progressive feminist activists and organisations have expressed concerns about the stalling of normative development at CSW and observed the widening gulf between the grassroots at parallel events (held offsite from the UN) and the negotiations on site. On this note, the power of the parallel NGO CSW was seriously hampered this year with large numbers of women’s human rights defenders unable to attend as a result of visa restrictions.
In this light, the final text is far from the full, feminist vision for women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, but the text offers promise and direction. The Conclusions set out commitments on gendered gaps in income, conditions, rights to and at work, gendered occupational segregation, gender-based violence and unpaid care, and, in doing so, highlight the unfinished business of gendered inequalities in the world of work. The risks of compounding and entrenching these inequalities in the changing world of work are centred, as is the challenge to address them.
A question remains over whether the text comprehensively deals with key themes related to the changing world of work with some topical issues under-explored. For example, while digital advancements and the growing informal economy are prominent in the final text, the challenges, opportunities and gendered dynamics of automation and the so-called “share economy” aren’t canvassed. The hot topic of longer work hours is dealt with opaquely in the language on work and family balance.
A summary on the AC in some key areas is below:
Human Rights and Intersectionality
The Conclusions wrestle with both human rights and instrumentalist approaches to gender equality.
Predominantly the language frames the achievement of gender equality as critical to realising the human rights of women and girls, however, sections of text frame gender equality as a means to achieve broader social and economic ends.
The final text draws links to other human rights instruments, however, this was contested during the negotiations. For example, the reference to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in paragraph 2 was not appearing in drafts of the text during negotiations. The tendency towards making reference to “other relevant conventions and treaties” rather than making explicit those conventions and treaties weakens the ties between CSW and other key human rights frameworks, undermining the intersectional possibilities of the Agreed Conclusions. This watering down of language is also reflected in wording which asks governments to consider implementation and ratification of treaties and conventions. Accordingly, language on ‘national realities’ and ‘respect for each country’s policy space and leadership’ further clouds the commitments.
The Agreed Conclusions do not go far enough in their framing of the relationship between the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) and the 2030 Agenda. While progressive feminist organisations have pushed for a framing that recognises the BPfA (widely regarded as the international high water mark for women’s rights) as the vehicle through which the 2030 Agenda should be achieved, the AC language recognises Beijing as a foundational document for the 2030 Agenda.
Language on “multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination” is referenced four times in the text, which is an increase from the two references in CSW60. Significantly, the Conclusions also include standalone paragraphs on rural women, women and girls of African descent, women with disabilities and migrant women. The language is strengths-based, focussing on leadership, expertise and meaningful participation while also acknowledging structural barriers and challenges. However, opportunities to tie this language with advances across the UN system are missed. For example, despite appearing in drafts of the AC, a reference to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families was excluded from the final text.
Finally, CSW continues to neglect sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), firmly placing the Conclusions out of step with other UN decision-making bodies. The absence of SOGIE language is compounded by the continual references to a gender binary through language such as “both or between women and men” and “the opposite sex.”
And while the final text includes progressive language on young women and the leadership of girls and girl-led organisations, similarly to CSW60 the text fails to make reference to the Youth CSW and, in doing so, fails to recognise the significance of spaces dedicated to lifting the voices and views of young people at CSW.
Indigenous Women’s Rights
CSW61 heralds the most significant advancement in CSW language on Indigenous women’s rights ever. This language follows the first standalone paragraph on Indigenous women at CSW60. The operational text calls for measures to be taken to respect and protect ancestral and traditional knowledge and makes specific links to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The final text did not include references to free, prior and informed consent, however, the groundwork is firmly laid for this to emerge in future CSW language.
This was a key priority for the Australian Government delegation and speaks to the power of civil society delegates with the leadership of Leann Wilson and Jahna Cedar critical to this outcome.
The Agreed Conclusions hold the line on space for civil society. Paragraph xx commits governments to promote a safe and enabling environment for all civil society actors, including through increased resources. Although contentious, a listing of civil society organisations, as per CSW60, was included in paragraph 46 encompassing “women’s and community-based organisations, feminist group, women human rights defenders and girls’ and youth-led organisations.” Despite the Priority Theme, trade unions weren’t included in the formulation.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO)
The status of the ILO in the Agreed Conclusions echoes much of the difficulty experienced in naming other human rights instruments and normative frameworks in the Agreed Conclusions. Critically, the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work are recognised in both the preamble and operational sections of the Conclusions. And while a list of ILO Conventions to consider for ratification are elaborated, there are several missed opportunities to strengthen CSW and ILO links on women’s economic empowerment. For example:
- while the Conclusions cover a lot of ground on transitioning from informal to formal work, the text fails to make reference to ILO Recommendation 204 on this subject;
- language on social protections fails to draw links to ILO recommendation 202 in this area;
- language on the links between gender-based violence and women and girl’s economic empowerment neglects to welcome the work of the ILO in the development of an instrument/international standards on violence and harassment in the world of work.
Overall the language on women’s rights to and at work could be stronger. While language on decent work is prominent in the document and collective bargaining makes two appearances, “living wage” is not included in the final text. This is due, in part, to the fact that “living wage” does not enjoy a consensus internationally on its definition. However, there is an in road with the term “wages that allow for an adequate standard of living” in nn. Despite tireless advocacy from progressive women’s rights organisations, the term “just and favourable conditions,” which is internationally recognised, is conspicuously absent.
CSW is a site where the contentions around language on “the family” and its accompanying narrow and harmful definition continues to play out. This is countered, year after year, with attempts to broaden the scope of what is meant by family and ensure the primacy of individual rights within the family.
This year we saw an integration of language on the family throughout the text on unpaid care. This was certainly prominent in drafts throughout negotiations, but hasn’t landed as strongly in the final text.
Over the course of negotiations, two frameworks emerged in valuing unpaid care and both are present in the final Agreed Conclusions.
The conservative or traditionalist view valued unpaid work and care through a framework which emphasised gender roles and stereotypes. This is evidence in language such as:
- in z “men’s participation and responsibilities as fathers” where unpaid work is not decoupled from the gender of those who perform it. Or in paragraph 20 “women’s contribution to the home” which, problematically, does not mention redistribution;
- this language often makes reference to “sharing” or responsibilities without clarifying that this is “equal sharing;”
- the text on work/life balance is largely been framed as work/family balance.
The progressive framework for valuing unpaid work places emphasis on de-gendering the work, decoupling it from gendered roles and highlighting the needs to redistribute the work. This can be seen in:
- references to “equal sharing of responsibilities” or recognising the share as “disproportionate” or “uneven” and a barrier to participation in the paid workforce;
- language on recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid work which makes clear links to the role of public services and social protections in making this possible (in z).
Gender-Based Occupational Segregation (GBOS)
The framing of this issue in the text succeeds in dismantling the structural drivers of GBOS. The causes are highlighted in paragraph 21 (which includes discriminatory laws and practices, social norms and gender stereotypes) while recognising the need to both create pathways for women into male-dominated or masculinised sectors (such as b) and value work that is overwhelmingly performed by women (such as paragraph 37). Finally, the Agreed Conclusions are very strong in calling on governments to eliminate GBOS.
The language here recognises “just transitions” which has not previously been included in CSW language. Language on the accountability of extractive industries, which featured in drafts during negotiations, did not make it in to the final text.
The final text includes references to gender-responsive budgeting, but it’s concerning that it was a sharp point of contention during negotiations given it’s prominence in previous language. The incoherences and contradictions of the Agreed Conclusions are brought to light by the fact that language on ensuring tax systems do not negatively impact on women’s workforce participation was negotiated out of paragraphs q and r in the final text. This is language that should go hand in hand with gender-responsive budgeting.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
The one paragraph on SRHR includes fundamental concepts such as rights to control and decide freely on all matters related to sexuality but excludes Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Overall, the link between economic empowerment and SRHR is so light and cursory that the SRHR language constitutes a step backwards. Of major concern is the fact that SRHR issues are confined to just one paragraph in the Conclusions.
Once again, the CSW Agreed Conclusions make weak and narrow commitments on disaggregated data, citing only sex, age and income which sits uncomfortably with the SDG indicators and the intersectional language elsewhere in the text.
Time-use surveys are specifically cited in aa as a means to measure the value of unpaid care to national economies. And while the language focusses on the need to measure unpaid care in the economy, the stronger language specifically referencing GDP from drafts is missing.
Critically, the need to improve data on intra-household deprivation and poverty is referenced in 53 and 52.