When we entered the room, I was surprised: the room looked quite different from what we had seen so far. There were no tables but only small chairs with a little desk on the side, there was no podium for a chairman or a speaker but a cupboard, and the walls were full of posters – I was reminded of my second grade classroom and the “United Nations Cyberschoolbus” project for young children came to mind. But as a diplomat, you should not pay attention to appearance but only to substance. This was a good principle for the following 90 minutes since the briefing was about Women’s Issues and of course, we should not judge the abilities of people by their look but by their work.
We had the honor to hear a briefing from Ms. Christine Brautigam, who is the head of the Women’s Rights Section of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women. Ms. Brautigam is a popular guest speaker at conferences and discussions all over the world and during her briefing, it became clear why she is such an expert in the field: her enormous knowledge is combined with a capability to explain complex circumstances in a simple way. When I left the room, I had learned plenty of facts about Women’s Issues and felt that I understood the topic much better.
Ms. Brautigam started with the basic facts: she explained that the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was elected by the ECOSOC Plenary and that it met twice a year to discuss global policies for gender related issues. The CSW is one of the oldest commissions in the UN system: during its 60 years of existence, it has had a great influence on the improvement of the situation of women all around the globe. One of its successes is the fact that the CSW has organized four World Conferences on Women which adopted landmark documents to specifically advance the rights of women in the world.
Throughout history, especially in the 1960s, the increasing focus on Human Rights was beginning to draw more attention to women’s rights. In 1975, the first World Conference on Women was held in Mexico, and the United Nations declared the decade from 1975 until 1985 the “Decade on Women’s Rights”. After the first conference, there has been a series of other conferences in which the status of women was discussed and promoted. In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was signed by most countries in 1980 and entered into force in 1981. Until today, 182 states have become party to the convention. Interestingly enough, the United States of America have signed the CEDAW convention in 1980, but have not ratified it yet.
The last milestone of the history of Women’s Rights was the Fourth World Conference in 1995, which adopted the Beijing Declaration on the status of women and put forward 12 critical areas of concern to women’s rights in a Platform of Action.
After this overview, Ms. Brautigam talked about recent problems the CSW was confronted with: even if most states and leaders completely agreed with the central ideas to achieve equality between women and man, the realization lacked far behind the signed agreements. Especially the political rights of women were still not respected in many countries. Consequently, this was one of the major aspects within the work of the Commission on the Status of Women. As an Arab diplomat, I felt particularly affected by this part of her speech, knowing that in a lot of Arab countries women’s political rights are more an instrument of positive political publicity rather than the conviction that women’s work and opinion is needed in all parts of society to achieve further progress.
On the other hand, I was proud that the following discussion mainly took place between Ms. Brautigam and two members of our delegation: Dania and Roxana obviously impressed the head of the Women’s Rights Section with their profound knowledge of the issue and their detailed questions. Even though after a certain point of the discussion I was not able to follow anymore, I could observe that both sides enjoyed the conversation. Hence, I was very thankful at the end: to Ms. Brautigam for the insight she gave us, to the entire delegation that showed that young people still care about gender equality, and to Dania and Roxana who underlined that also Arab delegations want to improve the overall situation of women.
Jan Ingo Knuth