Concluding Sixty-Third Session, Women’s Commission Approves Text on Strengthening Social Protection Systems, Sustainable Infrastructure for Gender Equality
The Commission on the Status of Women, concluding its sixty‑third session today, approved a set of agreed conclusions aimed at empowering women and girls by building greater social protection systems and access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
By the terms of the agreed conclusions — titled “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls” — the Commission urged Governments, alongside the United Nations system and international and regional organizations, to strengthen normative, legal and policy frameworks so that women and girls can fully and equally enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Running 24 pages long in draft form, the text calls also for strengthening women’s and girl’s access to social protection and public services and for making infrastructure work for them, including through gender-responsive climate change strategies and increased access to digital technologies.
Emphasizing that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be implemented in a comprehensive manner, the Commission, through the text, made a host of recommendations. They included insuring women’s full and equal participation in governance and judicial institutions; ensuring that social protection, public service and sustainable infrastructure contribute to preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls; and taking steps to reduce and redistribute women’s and girl’s disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work.
It recommended stronger, more inclusive and gender-responsive social protection systems and measures, helping migrant workers access social protection in countries of destination, and guaranteeing access to maternity protection and promoting, among other things, paid maternity and parental leave.
It urged that priority be given to investments that contribute to an equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women, together with accelerated progress towards the goal of universal health coverage for all women and girls, as well as increased investment in health care with universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Once finalized, the text of the agreed conclusions will be transmitted to the Economic and Social Council and its high‑level political forum on sustainable development for inclusion in their work.
Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), Chair of the sixty‑third session, said the agreed conclusions, although “perhaps too long”, were substantive. Emphasizing that “these are difficult times for women’s rights — of that there’s no doubt,” she said that is even more reason for the Commission to tackle issues head-on. She regretted that it failed to agree on language dealing with access to sexual and reproductive health services for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. She was sorry, too, that it did not voice grave concern about violence, discrimination and threats faced by women human rights defenders. Nevertheless, she said, the Commission took some significant steps on sexual harassment as well as on the risks faced by women and girls when collecting water and household fuel, providing a firm foundation on which to build upon in future texts.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said that although not every delegation got everything they wanted at this year’s session, the agreed conclusions provided enough for Member States to take home and work with to further improve the lives of women and girls. Looking ahead, she encouraged delegates to strive to add “bold new language” to the Commission’s outcome documents and to appeal to the ministers for finance in their respective Governments to invest more money in women and girls.
Speaking before adoption of the agreed conclusions, the representatives of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in identical statements, said they could not join consensus on a text that disregards their countries’ well-known “red lines”. The representative of Bahrain also requested an apology for bullying and harassment that he said he received from high United Nations officials and senior Commission members during the session.
Speaking after adoption, Nigeria’s representative, on behalf of the African Group, urged the international community to advance the right to development. Emphasizing that a positive social and economic environment for women and girls is essential for Africa’s development, he asked the continent’s partners to make good on their development pledges, including in the areas of capacity-building, technology transfer and official development assistance.
Brazil’s representative said his delegation, while not satisfied with the outcome, decided to join consensus out of goodwill. “As they now stand, the conclusions before us are, at best, a compromise solution that does not reflect well the positions of all Member States, including my own,” he said, adding that Brazil going forward will no longer support “the inappropriate use of dubious terms and expressions” that cause confusion and misunderstanding.
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the European Union, thanked the Chair, the facilitator, the Bureau and UN-Women for their patience and tenacity, “especially in the face of unacceptable and hostile external pressure”. She underscored the Union’s commitment to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, adding that the agreed conclusions should send a clear message that the push-back against women’s rights will not be tolerated.
The representative of Comoros, speaking also on behalf of 17 other countries, expressed concern with the way in which paragraphs relating to the family were dealt with during negotiations. Promoting the family is crucially important, especially in the context of social protection, she said, adding that refusal to consider language that refers to the family as a contributor to development is unacceptable.
The representative of Argentina, speaking also on behalf of 11 other countries, said disturbing attempts to negatively affect the course of the Commission’s negotiations represented an unethical attack on multilateralism, all Member States, the United Nations system “and every woman and girl around the world”. Pointing to attempts worldwide to weaken the level of protection of women’s rights, he said Argentina and its partners sought to include the principle of non-regression in the text while showing flexibility to achieve a consensus outcome.
The representative of the United States said the agreed conclusions included terms and concepts that are controversial and unclear, preventing some Member States from joining consensus. The views of many delegations were also not considered, she added. Emphasizing the primacy of parents and the families they create, she quoted her President as saying that parents, not bureaucrats, know best how to raise their children. She also noted that the United States does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning nor does it support abortion in its global assistance.
Egypt’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the text reflected some useful elements in such areas as family-related policies, health, combating violence against women, and the role of men and boys in promoting women’s rights. Going forward, he said a serious effort should be undertaken to improve the Commission’s working methods.
Several speakers condemned harassment and cyberbullying directed at Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), who facilitated the discussions on the agreed conclusions. The Observer of the Holy See, for one, said harassment, intimidation and bullying have no place in United Nations negotiations. People should not have to suffer for doing their job, he said, adding that the force of argument must prevail over the argument of force.
In other business, the Commission approved a text containing the report on its sixty‑third session (document E/CN.6/2019/L.1) as well as the provisional agenda and documentation for its sixty‑fourth session (document E/CN.6/2019/L.2).
Briefly opening its sixty‑fourth session, the Commission, by acclamation, elected Mher Margaryan (Armenia) as Chair of its sixty-fourth and sixty-fifth sessions. It also elected, also by acclamation, Mohammed Sahib Mejid Marzooq (Iraq) as a Vice-Chair for its sixty-fourth session and Jo Feldman (Australia) as a Vice-Chair for its sixty-fourth and sixty-fifth sessions. Brazil was appointed to serve as a member of the Working Group on Communications at the Commission’s sixty-fourth session, and the Russian Federation as a member of the same Working Group at the sixty-fourth and sixty-fifth sessions.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Guatemala, Nigeria (in its national capacity), Liechtenstein, United Kingdom (in its national capacity), Iran, Mexico, Mauritania, China, Cuba, Japan, Djibouti, South Africa, Lebanon, Sudan, Kuwait, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
* The 12th & 13th Meetings were not covered.