The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place from 10 to 21 March 2014 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls” was this year’s priority theme.
The participation of women’s organisations in CSW sessions provides an opportunity for delegations to highlight and promote the incorporation of specific gender equity goals. After many years of work, women’s organisations have achieved a voice of their own at these meetings. But participation is not enough. Holding governments accountable to the effective implementation of the commitments they signed onto, is the new challenge.
While participation in these meetings has had a positive impact on the whole, the time has come to move forward with concrete actions to fulfil the strategic goals agreed upon. The development of indicators that make it possible to monitor and track real progress at the country level is still a pending debt for guaranteeing women’s rights.
To analyse these and other questions, GenderIT.org spoke with Dafne Sabanes Plou (1), the APC Women’s Rights Programme coordinator for Latin America, who participated in CSW 58 and shared her views on the issues discussed during the session.
Florencia Flores Iborra: What is the process for participation in CSW 58?
Dafne Sabanes Plou: The work of women’s organisations begins at the national level and then continues with regional meetings. In the case of the APC Women’s Rights Programme, we participated very actively in the NGO committee that works in the framework of the CSW on follow-up, monitoring and evaluation of commitments under the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
For us, the Latin American and Caribbean regional meeting on mechanisms for the promotion of women held in early February in Mexico City was very important. A number of the organisations that are members of the committee were able to participate, and the meeting provided an opportunity to work together on the development of a document with recommendations to put forward at CSW 58 (2).
From the APC Women’s Rights Programme we presented a proposal for the issue of ICTs to be included from a perspective of rights and empowerment, in addition to guaranteeing access to the effective use of technologies. This request ended up being very well positioned as it was included in the final document alongside a series of assets that are considered as basic needs for women.
2) Ensure gender equality to promote capacity building and resource distribution, in:
Access to land, credit, information technologies, social security, decent work, equal pay for work of equal value, and universal care services, to build women’s social and economic security and autonomy.
Thanks to the work carried out in Mexico we achieved the inclusion of information and communications technologies as a basic right in the agreed conclusions of CSW 58.
(dd) Ensure non-discriminatory access for women of all ages to gender-responsive, universally accessible, available, affordable, sustainable, and high quality services and infrastructure, including health care, safe drinking water and sanitation, transport, energy, housing, agricultural technology, financial and legal services, and information and communication technologies.
(ee) Invest in closing the gender gap in information and communications technologies by making them affordable and accessible including in access to broadband as a tool for the empowerment of women and girls and the exercise of their full range of human rights, access to information, access to markets, networking and increased opportunities (3).
This is highly significant because they are talking about non-discriminatory access for all women. This is a landmark achievement for the development of communication as a human right.
The key point here is that we are looking at access to ICTs as a means of achieving the empowerment of women and the recognition of their rights. ICTs are understood as a basic right and not as a luxury good. Some time ago this would have been unimaginable. We have been very successful in our advocacy efforts for the inclusion of these issues.
It is very interesting to see the incorporation of the perspective that regards ICTs as a window opening onto other opportunities. In this sense I share the view of Frank La Rue (4) when he says that communication is a right that facilitates the exercise of other rights.
The inclusion of this view of technologies as an extension of rights is not something that just happened by chance. Women’s organisations have worked painstakingly for years and little by little we are seeing the fruits of these efforts.
FFI: With regard to Section J of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, have their been advances or setbacks?
DSP: In the preamble to the CSW 58 conclusions, and more concretely in Article 26, it is acknowledged that there has not been a great deal of progress in terms of ICTs, and that a gender gap in access to these technologies persists. Personally, I think it is very important for this to be explicitly stated.
26. The Commission notes with regards to Millennium Development Goal 8 (A global partnership for development) that the development resources, including official development assistance, in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential and remain inadequate to the task. The Commission also notes that the global economic crisis and the shifts to austerity measures taken by some countries have impacted women and girls negatively, with reduction in investment in social sectors. It also notes that a gender gap in access to information and communication technologies persists (5).
I had the opportunity to be in Beijing 20 years ago, and I believe that Section J (Women and the Media) was approved for the theme of the media and there was no real understanding of what the inclusion of information technologies in the platform entailed.
That is why I think it is very significant that the conclusions specifically noted that the gender gap persists. Because this acknowledgement leads to the recommendation to invest in policies that contribute to closing the gap, which repositions the issue of ICTs on the agenda.
The fact that so little progress has been made in 20 years towards realising the strategic objectives agreed upon points to a failure on the part of governments, and this debt to women needs to be paid.
Section J of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a section that has not been worked on in depth. In 2013, UNESCO took up the issue once again. The problem is that the media remain tied to old stereotypes and continue to reinforce images and messages that are no longer consistent with the new generations.
FFI: It would appear that the problem with the CSW sessions does not lie with the agreements reached but rather with the implementation of the strategies agreed upon. How did the participation of Latin American delegations address this?
DSP: We are concerned by the fact that a number of countries want to eliminate the issue of women’s rights from the agenda (6). There is fear on the part of some states to accept processes of change. In many countries there are still issues related to tradition and culture that continue to carry a lot of weight, and where a highly patriarchal discourse persists, heavily influenced by religion and the church, which continue to be significant forces.
Fortunately the region of Latin America and the Caribbean had an extremely firm stance and after long hours of discussions and negotiations we succeeded in getting the issue of rights explicitly included in the conclusions.
One interesting point to highlight is the participation of Latin American women. We were able to maintain our positions and stand firm in the discussions, and this is due, among other things, to the fact that we are organised. After the sessions we had specific meetings where we came together to share our thoughts and analyse the issues addressed and the actions to take.
Thanks to the agreements that the countries of the region had managed to reach at the meeting in Mexico in February, our delegations worked with a high degree of consensus and also with interesting internal agreements, in which we were able to develop a common voice for the Latin American region, which gave us considerable strength.
In the case of our region (7), the key lies in the fact that our civil society organisations are very well organised. The Latin American women’s movement has a long history, and since the very first women’s conference it has been working non-stop, including more and more women and incorporating the struggles of different groups in pursuit of the elimination of discrimination and exclusion.
The demands of rural women, indigenous women, the LGBT movement and Afro-descendent women have been included in the demands of the region’s women’s organisations, which have become increasingly more powerful.
Advocacy takes a lot of work and perseverance. People often ask if it is really worth spending hours discussing whether or not to include a particular word in a document, and it has also been suggested that we should work more with people. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. We need to work on both fronts.
It is very important to participate in these spaces, to bring the concerns of women’s organisations to the delegations who represent us and ensure that our interests are taken into account in the negotiations of international agreements.
FFI: In connection with the internet, are their any actions planned to combat stereotyping in the media?
DSP: Internet monitoring is a pending issue. Personally, I have high expectations for an analysis of the current situation of the portrayal of women on the web by the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) (8). The last GMMP report was published in 2010 and in four years the situation has changed considerably. It would be very helpful to have this information by the next session of the CSW, scheduled for March 2015.
For the 2010 report, a special chapter devoted to internet news monitoring was included for the first time, on a pilot basis. A total 76 national news websites in 16 countries and 8 international news websites containing 1,061 news items, 2,710 news subjects and 1,044 news personnel were studied. (9)
The last report found that in many countries, culture is rooted in gender inequality and online news stories reinforce discrimination against women.
In think it is essential to study what is currently happening on the internet in more depth. It is important to remember that the internet is one of the main sources of information today.
One of the things that was discussed at length was the lack of gender indicators and of indicators of progress in terms of technologies and the media. There is currently a lack of monitoring, evaluation and systematisation of experiences.
In the case of technologies, the gender variable does not even exist. Today there is no way of determining who is using ICTs. When you have hard data, you have a tool that you can use to fight for the development of concrete public policies.
There is a great deal of insistence on the need to develop indicators on the part of civil society. The problem is that time and again, it is women who have to take the initiative. In this regard, we still have a lot of work to do.
(1) Dafne Sabanes Plou is the regional coordinator for Latin America at the APC Women’s Rights Programme and has an extensive background in research on ICTs and gender issues.
(2) Declaration of the Mechanisms for the Promotion of Women of Latin America and the Caribbean prior to the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Mexico City, 7 February 2014, www.oas.org/es/CIM/docs/DeclaracionMexico-ENG.pdf
(3) Agreed Conclusions of the 58th Session of the Committee on the Status of Women, 10-14 March 2014. The full document can be downloaded here
(4) Frank La Rue is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
(5) See note 2.
(6) We recommend reading the position letter from the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on the agreed conclusions of CSW 58. Available at: www.genderit.org/feminist-talk/lac-countries-submit-position-letter-csw5…
(7) To learn more about the regional context in terms of ICT-related public policies in the region, we recommend reading the conclusions presented in Análisis de la integración de la perspectiva de género en las agendas y políticas digitales de Latinoamérica y el Caribe (Analysis of gender mainstreaming in the digital policies and agendas of Latin America and the Caribbean) by Kemly Camacho, a researcher at Fundación Acceso, where she heads up research on the social impact of ICTs. She is also a member of Cooperativa Sulá Batsú, an APC member organisation.
The report notes that a considerable number of digital agendas, strategies and policies in the region have not placed priority on actions aimed at gender equity in the information society.
It is impossible to fully gauge the degree of gender inequity in the information society because of a lack of relevant data and of regular assessments of the situation.
Specific actions have been undertaken in almost all of the region’s countries to promote gender equity, but these are not integrated into national ICT policies.
There is a need for regional discussion on the importance of this issue and the definition of priorities. There have been few opportunities for ICT public policy makers to discuss the question of gender equity and determine its importance.
These actions should ideally be promoted by the e-LAC regional action plan, the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and its gender affairs division.
There are interesting practices in a number of countries, undertaken by national governments, local governments, civil society and the academic community, which it would be useful to study and evaluate so that they can be scaled up and contribute to new knowledge.
The report presents a selection of interesting initiatives that have been undertaken, aimed at non-traditional approaches to working with women and gender relations in the information society.
(8) The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) is the largest international study of gender in the media. It emerged from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and began in 1995 when volunteers in 71 countries around the world monitored the representation and portrayal of women in their news media on radio, TV and in newspapers on the same day. The last report, released in 2010, is available at: www.genderit.org/sites/default/upload/Informe_GMMP_2010.pdf
(9) For more information see: www.apc.org/es/blog/la-imagen-de-la-mujer-en-la-red-avances-o-retroces