UN Commission on Women Headed for Deadlock

By | February 15, 2018

NEW YORK, February 16 (C-Fam) The UN Commission on the Status of Women failed to reach an agreement the last time it considered the topic of rural women because of controversial issues like abortion and sex education. The same outcome now haunts this year’s Commission set to begin in mid-March.

A representative for the 54-country African Group chastised the UN women’s agency that prepared the draft text: “This zero draft includes many notions that are not consensual. This is not the practice. We appeal to the secretariat not to do it again!”

The African Group rejected the initial draft agreement that was initially proposed by Colombia, which is chairing the commission this year. The draft includes terms such as “comprehensive sexuality education” and “sexual and reproductive health” without any qualification—red lines for many African nations.

Delegates met to discuss the timeline of negotiations over the draft agreement on policies to empower rural women last week. They picked up right where they left off in 2012, the last time the commission tackled the same topic at its annual session. That time, nations failed to reach agreement because of controversy over the same issues.

Sources told the Friday Fax that the Latin American delegations egged on the delegation of Colombia to include the controversial terms in the draft agreement, even as European delegates urged them to be cautious and act in an impartial way to avoid compromising the negotiations.

Delegates expressed concern that the mounting pressure to reach an agreement, especially in light of the debacle on rural women in 2012, would give the facilitator of the negotiations and chair of the commission added leverage in resolving differences over the language.

At the briefing, the Colombian facilitator expressed his intention to stick to the schedule of negotiations beginning on March 1 and proposed a novelty for the negotiations this year. He will begin to frame the negotiations, and attempt to resolve differences between states, through a “working text” from the very first reading of the draft, instead of allowing states to go through the first reading of the draft with all the suggested edits from countries.

A working text is not normally used until later stages of negotiations, when it becomes urgent to reach an agreement. The decision by Colombia to use this new methodology indicates they anticipate the negotiations to be controversial, and they want to shepherd the negotiations as quickly as possible.

“I will avoid long work hours if possible,” the Colombian delegate said.

Other delegations also took the floor to lament the lopsidedness of the draft.

The Holy See expressed concern that the draft contains “many elements that polarize,” referring to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health, called for recognizing the central role of the family, and lamented that the secretariat and UN Women had not taken into account a “diverse experience of views.”

The Russian Federation also expressed frustration with the emphasis on sexual and reproductive health. “Women don’t only need access to these services,” a delegate said.

African and Asian states expressed the need to focus on a broader range of development concerns for women in rural areas, including education, sanitation, health, and food security.

Donor states took the floor expressing support for the draft and called for further focus on human rights and gender equality.

Another important agreement that will be negotiated by this year’s commission will concern the arrangement of the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women in 2020.