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Cheryl Saban Ph.D. Headshot

CSW58 -- Imagining a Different World for Women

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Can you imagine living in a world where extreme religious laws that inhibit the movements and rights of women and girls simply couldn't exist?

Can you see us living in a place where women and girls have full control of their own bodies? Where gender equality and the empowerment of women is "de facto," and not something we need to continually "strive" for?

How about the idea that women and girls could actually walk or travel about freely without the fear of being the victim of violent behavior - of domestic abuse, trafficking or slavery. A world where women and girls would no longer need to fear the global statistic of being the unlucky 1 in 3 of us that will be sexually molested, assaulted, or raped in her lifetime, with a horrifying too many of those attacks ending in gruesome deaths?

I can imagine living in such a harmonious, balanced world -- but it's a vision that seems infuriatingly sluggish coming to fruition.

Like millions of women, girls, men and boys around the globe - I am both encouraged by the many achievements women have made, and discouraged by global disparities that still exist for women and girls. When you consider that simply obtaining sanitary products is problematic for millions of women, then we need to talk.

According to United Nations Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, "No country in the world has achieved equality between women and men and girls and boys, and violations of the rights of women and girls are an outrage....We can no longer hold back half the world's population."

As Gloria Steinem astutely remarked, "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." And when you look at the facts on the ground regarding the status of women and girls from a global perspective, the truth about the many hardships women and girls face is sobering, and frankly, it's difficult not to get pissed off.

I'm not discounting the achievements. There have been many. And it's important to be pleased about the great gains we've made - more girls are in school, more women are working, more women are seeking and obtaining leadership positions, and fewer are dying in pregnancy and childbirth.

Yet, the progress we celebrate has been slow, uneven, and not felt everywhere. Violence against women is nearly epidemic. Banking resources, business resources, technical advice, equal opportunities, economic empowerment, and education are elusive, dangerous or close to impossible for women to obtain in various parts of the world. Approximately 800 women and 8,000 newborns perish in childbirth every day due to complications from lack of health care. And though in most States laws have been passed forbidding the practice of child-marriage, such practices continue - the laws are simply not enforced.

So, how do we make significant and positive changes for women and girls in some of the most difficult areas? How do we change mindsets, cultures, and habits, and how can we bring the ideas that worked - the best practices that made a difference in women's lives, to scale? All of these issues and more will be topics for conversation in the next two weeks.

The status of the world's women will be discussed in depth during the upcoming CSW58 in New York City. The Commission of the Status of Women is arguably the highest authority on issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global level.

Beginning March 10th, New York City will be humming with excitement and even more energy than it usually has. Hundreds of women, men, government officials, ministers, national delegations, girl's groups, boy's groups, NGOs, and other stake-holders will gather at the United Nations to discuss this year's priority theme, Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

The underlying theme and structure that has been guiding formal discussions on women's issues for many years can most probably be traced back to September 1995, to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The Conference title was Action for Equality, Development and Peace. The Platform for Action essentially called for: 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. At that time, 12 strategic objectives and actions were prescribed:

• Women and Poverty
• Education and Training of Women
• Women and Health
• Violence against Women
• Women and Armed Conflict
• Women and the Economy
• Women in Power and Decision-making
• Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of Women
• Human Rights of Women
• Women and the Media
• Women and the Environment
• The Girl-child

These 12 strategic objectives are essentially the same issues we focus on today.

Last year, during the ten-day-long meetings of the CSW57, the Commission worked tirelessly to reach agreed upon conclusions and a signed document by the majority of member states, 'On the Elimination and Prevention of all forms of Violence against women and girls.' Though this might seem like it should have been a no-brainer, obtaining this signed document was a long hard slog of haggling, re-working, and redefining concepts to reach a conclusion. The participants spent hours editing the document line-by-line, parsing word by word, going back and forth, round and round, behind the scenes over the course of the entire ten days. It was a tough negotiation. Several countries threatened to veto. But, perseverance, dedication, and the willingness to compromise on some critical issues meant that a deal was finally signed.

This year, the global community will come together during CSW58 to discuss the status of women, where we stand in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and to begin to frame the post-2015 agenda. This session sets off a year-long ramp-up of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action.

It's clear that the participation of women and girls is critical to the success of community-building, and must be involved at all levels of the political process to shape and influence policy. It is also self-evident that the full engagement of men and boys is vital in these discussions, for they play a key role in the realization of gender equality.

The participants of the CSW58 have their work cut out for them. They'll be looking ahead, in preparation for the post-2015 debate, discussing what can be done now to make sure the interests of women and girls are more properly aligned with the Millennium Development Goals. As Lakshmi Puri, UN Deputy Executive Director, said in her remarks to the Africa Ministerial Preparatory Meeting for CSW58, "The MDG framework has not delivered progress for women and girls in the way we had hoped for. The reasons for this lack of progress are that the MDG targets do not address several fundamental dimensions of gender equality, such as violence against women, women's unpaid care work and women's lack of access to resources."

Perhaps in the upcoming CSW58, these fundamental issues will be at the top of the agenda. I hope so. I will imagine it. And this time, I'll imagine things moving a bit faster.