Photo: Participants rejoice as the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women adopts Agreed Conclusions, delivering a roadmap that ensures women’s social protection, mobility, safety, and access to economic opportunities. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown - Photo: 2019

A ‘Level Playing Field’ for Women and Girls Key to Achieving Sustainable Development Goals

By Caroline Mwanga

New York (IDN) – UN Member States have agreed to safeguard and improve women’s and girls’ access to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure, ensuring that their design and delivery is transformed to prevent discrimination and create a “level playing field” for women and girls.

This is the upshot of the two weeks of intense dialogue, the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63), concluded March 22 in New York.

Commenting the outcome of the meeting, known as the Agreed Conclusions, adopted by Member States, the Executive Director of UN Women, which serves as the CSW Secretariat, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said: “This annual gathering has never been bigger nor more significant for the women and girls of the world. The Commission’s recommendations pave the way for governments to engage and invest differently; involving women in policy dialogue, and targeting initiatives that go to the heart of the largest barriers to the empowerment and voice of women and girls.”

As the single largest forum on gender equality and women’s rights for UN Member States, civil society organizations and other international actors, this year’s CSW saw a record number of attendances. Participants included more than 5,000 representatives from civil society organizations around the world, nearly 2,000 Member State delegates and 86 ministers. 

The Agreed Conclusions, adopted by UN Member States, put forth concrete measures to bolster the voice, agency and leadership of women and girls as beneficiaries and users of social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure.

Key recommendations from the Agreed Conclusions include the following: 

Invest in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure to support the productivity of women’s work, including in the informal economy;

Ensure that progress in women’s access to social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure is not undermined by budget cuts and austerity measures, and levels of protection previously achieved are not reversed;

Build on multilateral commitments to gender equality, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), to strengthen access to social protection, public services and infrastructure for all women and girls;

Recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work by ensuring access to social protection for unpaid caregivers of all ages, including coverage for health care and pensions;

Scale up investment in quality public care services that are affordable and gender-responsive;

Identify and remove barriers to women’s and girls’ access to public services, such as physical distance, lack of information and decision-making power, stigma and discrimination;

Guarantee the availability of safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, including for menstrual hygiene, in homes, schools, refugee camps and other public places;

Ensure that transport policies and planning are sustainable, accessible, affordable, safe and gender-responsive, taking into account the different needs of women and men, and adapted to be used by persons with disabilities and older persons;

Promote the full and equal participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in policy dialogues and decision-making relating to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure;

Strongly condemn the impunity and lack of accountability rooted in historical and structural inequality that accompanies pervasive violence against women.

Universal access to an old-age pension, quality health-care services and safe and affordable public transport can enhance women’s income security and independence, shape whether a small entrepreneur will get her products to market on time, and at what cost; or whether an adolescent girl can get safely to her school and has access to a toilet.

This can determine whether girls go to school at all, what markets a woman farmer can access, and how much time she has left in a day to pursue other paid work or leisure.

Social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure are integral to achieving the implementation of the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by world leaders.

The importance of the Agreed Conclusions is underscored by the fact that over 2.5 billion women and girls around the world are affected by discriminatory laws – laws that impede gender equality and hold women and girls back. In too many countries, there are unequal standards for women and men, whether it’s for applying for a passport or in the choice of employment, receiving inheritance and deciding when and whom to marry.

Against this backdrop, a high-level event on the margins of the CSW63 on March 20, launched the ‘Equality in Law for Women and Girls by 2030: A Multistakeholder Strategy for Accelerated Action’. The strategy, developed by UN Women, the African Union, Commonwealth, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Secretaría General Ibero-Americana, and many other UN and NGO partners, seeks to fast-track the repeal or revision of discriminatory laws in 100 countries by 2023.

In her opening remarks, UN Women Executive Director Ngcuka highlighted how laws are not abstract concepts, they impact every facet of women’s lives. According to The ‘World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law Index (2019)’, only six countries around the world give women and men equal legal rights in specific areas of economic empowerment.

“We have made a lot of progress since governments adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995),” she said, however, “there are 37 countries where women don’t have the same rights as men when it comes to applying for a passport… 40 per cent of countries have at least one constraint on women’s property rights,” she added.

Announcing the initiative, Ana Maria Menendez, Under-Secretary General to the United Nations, said: “Women and girls must be both beneficiaries and active participants in the design of social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure,” echoing the theme of this year’s CSW.

“This can be achieved when laws are gender equal and inclusive of the needs of women. For example, discriminatory land laws which limit women’s ability to own and inherit property prevent them from effectively contributing to food security for their families. This can spiral into malnutrition, higher health cost and lower productivity and income.”

Focusing on six thematic areas – Comprehensive reforms, economic empowerment, minimum age of marriage provisions, ending gender discrimination in nationality laws, addressing discriminatory rape laws and promoting equality in family relations – the Equality in Law Strategy is expected to address the legal needs of over 50 million women and girls over three years.

Laws that promote gender equality yield multiple dividends, noted Nabeel Goheer, Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth. For instance, a law that enables women to inherit on an equal basis with men, could empower mothers to invest in the education of their daughters. This in turn increases women’s average age of marriage, because girls who stay in school are less likely to be married off.

On the margins of the CSW63, UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) co-hosted  the Women and Sport Awards celebrating the role models and change makers in advancing women and girls in and through sport.

Introduced in 2000, the awards are given to individuals or organizations who have made remarkable contributions to the development, encouragement and reinforcement of women and girls participation in sport.

IOC President Thomas Bach highlighted the role that sport plays in development and women’s empowerment, not only on the field, but also in other areas of society and in their personal development.

“Sport gives girls and women self-confidence,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “Especially in countries where women’s rights aren’t a top priority yet, there’s a tremendous benefit to women’s and girls’ participation in sport.”

He also described the IOC’s work to empower women within the organization, including through increasing women’s membership in the Commissions to 42 per cent, with the goal of reaching full equality in the future. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 March 2019]

Photo: Participants rejoice as the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women adopts Agreed Conclusions, delivering a roadmap that ensures women’s social protection, mobility, safety, and access to economic opportunities. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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