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“Is the CSW passé?”

Solana Larsen

I just finished writing an article for the New Humanist about the religious conservative presence at the CSW, and stumbled on an interesting article I should have found sooner.

Star columnist for Concerned Women of America, Janice Shaw Crouse, read openDemocracy’s Isabel Hilton’s post on the Guardian’s Comment is Free about the lack of media coverage of the CSW, and had some fun with it (read: plagiarized and distorted).

“While the left is complaining about the outside world’s lack of interest in the goings-on at the CSW, the conservatives are there armed with the TRUTH,” she mocks, “The lack of media interest is just one more sign that the influence of feminism has peaked and is beginning to wane.”

My favorite part:

“The public is genuinely interested in addressing female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and other real forms of violence against women, legitimate issues that must be eradicated. They are tired, though, of having the CSW and other leftists manipulate those issues to push their grab-bag agenda of quotas, governmentally-mandated housework by husbands, universal abortion-on-demand, mainstreaming approval of lesbianism and pushing so-called “sexual freedom” while telling teens that they can be “safe” if they’ll only use a condom.

The CSW isn’t passé – it’s this world view that is.

Another article I found describes the rightiwing presence at the CSW and gives some more details on the controversy surrounding the US suggested resolution on sex-selective aboortion. Elisha Dunn-Georgiou from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States highlights some of the dishonest tactics of religous conservatives.


“UN dishonors women”

Solana Larsen

Here’s an example of some of the spectacularly negative things some American conservatives say about the UN process:

National Review (via Andrew Sullivan):

Last Friday, the UN surpassed itself as it finished its annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women by singling out Israel and only Israel (which actually has a very good record on women’s rights) as being the only state “found in violation of women’s rights.”

It’s outrageous the writer would make it sound like that everything that went on for two weeks was related to Israel. (Perhaps, a more interesting article for the National Review would be how the United States blocks international progress in women’s rights that would help the muslim women they supposedly care so much about.)

It was a PS to the meeting and not a central thing. Pakistan put forward a resolution on the Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women, which refers to this report completed by the United Nations. Forty out of forty-five countries voted in favour of it. Granted, it is a little weird that Israel is the only country mentioned in any of the four resolutions suggested by states (and jeez, who is Pakistan to talk?). But it is a rather striking poll on international sentiment. Only the USA and Canada voted against. Here is a summary of how the Commission voted. The fact that Israel has a “good record” may be why it’s particularly important to point out (here’s a little reminder of the UN’s role in creation of Israel). OK, so it would be nice if there was no such thing as politics at UN meeting on women. But then it wouldn’t be governments sitting at the table.

The fact that representatives voted to help Palestinian women is no reason to slam the entire CSW or the UN. On the contrary. Here is a draft of the agreed conclusions of the CSW. It is a long and detailed document which will be of great assistance to women’s rights activists around the world. (No country is singled out. I am not sure if it is because the bit on Israel goes in a seperate document or simply hasn’t been included yet.)

… what if it was the Commission on the Status of Men?

Jane Gabriel

“You are absolutely the last one!” said the woman trying to control the queue into the UN press and ID centre as she slammed the door behind me and locked it firmly. She glared at all of us and shouted “And don’t unlock the door under any circumstances”!

As I squeezed into the crowded room I thought, just for a minute, that word was spreading that journalists were turning up to cover the CSW. But I was wrong, everyone else seemed to be from an NGO and the press room inside was empty. Valerie Semplicino said the only journalists who had asked for accreditation were from Spain, Korea, the Netherlands and Iran. The only male journalist in the world here covering the CSW is from Iran.

When Valerie started her job in 1999 she told me that the journalists formed a “line that never stopped, it went on for days and days, it was constant, it was crushing”. They’d had to move the press accreditation office outside into a trailer in the garden in order to deal with everyone”. Those days have gone she said “but I cannot even begin to guess why”.

As you enter the main lobby of the UN the first thing you see is an exhibition called “I am powerful” – but read the text below and it says “a celebration of women’s potential – and a call for action”. My heart sank again; the irony must surely be lost on the exhibition’s organisers: the wording could have been from 1946 when the CSW was first created.

As I headed off for my first two sessions called ‘Violence against Women and the girl child’ and ‘Stop Rape Now’, I thought ‘Yes, we are powerful, but we certainly do not have the power’. I suddenly thought about what would happen if this UN meeting was the Commission on the Status of Men. The journalists would surely come flocking and Valerie would be out in the the trailer like before. I for one, would queue all round the block for as long as it took for the chance to report on the status of men – and what needs to be done…

More later from the two sessions on violence against women and girls.

The CSW’s absent media coverage

Jessica Reed

Isabel Hilton wrote a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free titled “Forgotten Women”, which questions the motives behind the CSW’s lack of coverage. You can read it here.

Just imagine that it was possible to get 4,000 women and 200 girls together, along with hundreds of NGOs and representatives of 45 governments to talk about real ways of protecting young women and girls from violence and improving the status of women. Surely such an event would be of interest?

So why, when 45 governments, 4,000 women and hundreds of NGOs do get together to focus on these issues do none of the conventional media pay the slightest attention?

Sad but true: a quick search in Google News shows less than a dozen of articles about the Commission, a good amount of them published by pro-life groups considering abortion as the “greatest crime against women and children in this generation” (and as Solana pointed out, they have active delegates at the CSW):

Millie Lace (Arkansas), Licensed Professional Counselor and Director of the National Helpline for Abortion Recovery says that if CSW is truly pro-woman and truly wants to protect women, they should call upon governments to protect girls (and boys) from the moment of conception.

We have however found good company in the blogosphere: a couple of brilliant women’s blogs have picked up openDemocracy’s efforts and commented: Women’s Space, Feminist Law Professors and the F word.

Protesting women arrested in Tehran

Solana Larsen

What timing. 50 protestors at a women’s march were roughed and arrested yesterday in Tehran. Read the excellent account on Global Voices. You can see their photos here. If you haven’t already, please sign the “One Million Signatures” petition of behalf of women in Iran. We need to let them know the world is watching.

The blog Women’s Space/The Margins also mentions that a group of Iranian women were denied visas to attend the CSW. I’m not sure of the context, or whether they represented the Iranian government. Either way, I wonder how many delegations may have been affected by the entry requirements of the United States. This is a recurring problem in most global meetings. I wouldn’t speculate that this was a general policy of the United States. (At least the Iranian government presumably agrees with the American on abortion)

A little trivia: In case you ever need a visa to attend a UN meeting, you should know that the application is free, unlike for other visas.

Forgotten women

Solana Larsen

openDemocracy’s editor Isabel Hilton comments on the lack of press coverage for this year’s CSW on the Guardian website, Comment is Free. “Is Britney Spears’ shaved head or celebrities not wearing underwear more important than the fate of half the world’s population?”

Women UNlimited, poDcasted

Jessica Reed


Women UNlimited’s very own blogger Solana Larsen was interviewed for the weekly openDemocracy poDcast. In the United Nations’ hallways Solana interviewed a “girl child” – one of the 200 invited at the United Nations to discuss their situation in their own countries. A girl-ambassador of Malawi, she talks about her eagerness to go back to her school to tell her friends about what the UN can do for her and her friends.

You can listen to Solana’s report here: low resolution / high resolution , or visit our poDcast page here.