March 5, 2014

CSW 58: What is the Commission on the Status of Women?

In preparation for my upcoming trip to the United Nations for the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, I have been pouring over documents produced by the UN as well as numerous non-governmental organizations at all hours of the day and night. “I don’t see what you’re so worried about,” said my father, “I haven’t seen the UN do much of anything worth worrying about.” I told him that before the UN, I felt as Erasmus felt before Luther, that is: as a fly before an elephant. “An elephant? Sure… the UN might be an elephant, because it is really big and produces a ton of (excrement) each year.”

My father’s response is understandable. As a conservative and a Catholic, for him the UN smacks of totalitarian overreach (it is worldwide after all) and anti-religious bigotry (the recent report from the Commission on the Rights of the Child only solidified this suspicion). But since I am bound to attend and report on CSW 58, which starts in a mere 5 days, I thought it prudent to take this time to offer a few primers on this event and a few hopes and concerns leading up to the convening of the Commission.

This 58th Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 10 to 21 March. “The Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” says their website.

With a mission statement like that it is easy to be cynical about the possibility of good being done by the Commission. Mary Ann Glendon’s sharp remarks from her summary of the Fourth World Conference on Women are not entirely undeserved:

 The Beijing documents (a brief Declaration and a long-winded Program of Action) were a 149-page (single-spaced) hodge- podge of the good, the bad, and the silly. To a lawyer’s eye, they resembled a sprawling piece of legislation, with slabs of ideological pork interspersed among commonsense provisions and bureaucratic boilerplate. They had been produced, naturally, by a committee ‘The UN Commission on the Status of Women.’

But for every non-governmental organization (NGO) chomping at the bit to spread abortion and destroy religion (operating on a slightly updated version of Voltaire’s wishes: that the last living priest be choked with umbilical cord of the last child to be aborted) there are NGOs pointing to Chile (where the ban of abortion decreased maternal deaths by 69%), defending the rights of exploited sex workers (as if legalizing prostitution would do anything but enshrine the abuse of women) and demanding that women be thought of not simply as walking reproductive organs, but as intelligent, compassionate, industrious daughters of God, whose needs cannot be pigeon-holed into the narrow social theories of affluent liberal westerners.

This 58th Commission on the Status of Women comes at a crucial time for the UN. In 2015, the eight Millennium Development Goals (listed below) are due for review. So, in addition to “monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities,” the Commission is also a testing ground for the theories and ideas which will dominate the discussion next year. To put the matter in stark terms: There are two ways to eradicate hunger; the hard way involves the work of saints to go where no one else will and to make sure the powers of the world support them in their efforts, the easy way is to get rid of the hungry. While no one openly opts for the easy way, behind obscure language about “breaking points” and “unsustainable population” lies this sinister idea.

Each meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women has two themes which are considered by the member States and NGOs, whose findings and conclusions are written up as the Agreed Conclusions (a draft of which is already available). This year’s priority theme is to review “challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.” The review theme is to “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.”

The Millennium Development Goals are as follows:

  1. Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
  2. Achieve Universal Primary Education
  3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  4. Reduce Child Mortality
  5. Improve Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
  7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability.
  8. Global Partnership for Development.

It is my intention, with these preliminary blog posts, to get the average reader up to speed on the Commission, so that when I begin covering the event from New York, the background will have already been filled in. We will look at some of the promise as well as the problems going into this 58th Commission on the Status of Women. It is my hope more good will come of this Commission than evil. Whether that will happen is up to us and God.

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