Features from Beijing +15

Unlike previous conferences on the Commission on the Status of Women, this year’s official opening of 54th session which also marked the review calendar of the Beijing Platform for Action was seen by majority of women who thronged the conference hall as an anti-climax.

The Unites States prides itself as an industrialised country and a leading democracy that upholds human rights of its citizens, but at the ongoing 54th session on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, this super power is unable to stand tall.

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Limited space for women’s political expression

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As of November 2009, women held only 18.8 percent of seats in single/lower chambers of Parliament globally. Although these figures may look like a drop in the ocean, they are seen as modest improvement compared to 1995 when they were at only 11.3 percent.

In a bid to avoid controversy, governments have opted for a declaration to be adopted instead of an outcome document following the Beijing+15 review. Activists are divided on what this means, with some decrying the way that the historic meeting is being dumbed down; others say it’s safer not to open up debates that could risk fragile gains made 15 years ago on such touchy issues as sexual and reproductive rights.

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NGOs find new spaces for engagement

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The old adage “another man’s food is another man’s poison”, reverberated the predicament non-government organisations faced during the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, that also commemorated 15 years since the Beijing conference on women.

As the impact of the financial crisis continues to reverberate across the world, countries in the South and North are incurring immense human and economic costs.

Amidst all these, women are at the centre of the fallout and the little economic gains they had made, have been wiped out.

Poor women living with HIV are outraged over World Health Organisation guidelines that have made several governments reconsider providing free formula milk, instead asking them to exclusively breastfeed. The women argue that they are too poor to afford food to gain the requisite nutrition a woman needs to generate enough breast milk for the baby.

“The moment the doctors told me there was no formula milk, I broke down. I knew I could not sustain exclusive breastfeeding with the poverty situation I was in,” says Everlyne Atieno from Mathare North slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

The goal to reaching 50/50 parity as called for by various local, regional and global instruments as well as constitutions in many countries may still remain a mirage for many women.

Organisations working on women’s empowerment have been challenged to cast their nets wide if they are to reach a huge population of the group they are seeking to empower.

Women from Africa and Asia are pointing accusing fingers at their governments and donors for neither analysing climate change from a gender perspective nor putting in place mechanisms to cushion them from its ravages. Discussing the matter at CSW54, the women said most governments have an idea of the broader impact of climate change on the well-being of their countries, but are yet to focus on its gender dimension.

“At the global level, the problem starts with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCC), which does not address the issue of gender, especially in adaptation and mitigation sections,” says Ms Cate Owren, Programme Director at Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO).

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