Feminists disappointed as UN cancels huge women’s conference due to coronavirus

Following frenzied discussions on the global outbreak, the annual Commission on the Status of Women was canceled, nullifying months or even years of prep work from feminist groups.
Fri Mar 6, 2020 - 8:42 pm EST
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NEW YORK, March 6, 2020 (C-Fam) — Countries rejected a recommendation by the UN Secretary to hold a “scaled down” UN Commission on the Status of Women this year due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. With some fearing a modified conference would lead to unequal participation between countries and regions, they decided to postpone it indefinitely instead.

Following frenzied discussions on the global outbreak, the annual CSW was set to take place at UN headquarters in New York from the 9th to the 20th of March in a “scaled down format.” To reduce exposure and limit travel to New York from capitals, UN Secretary-General António Guterres proposed shortening the conference and cutting all non-official events last Friday. It seemed like a done deal early Monday morning.

When UN member states met to discuss Guterres’ proposal later that morning they all agreed that extreme circumstances called for extreme measures. Then they came up with an even more drastic solution: not to have the bulk of the conference at all in March.

On Monday, UN member states tentatively agreed that there would only be a procedural meeting on March 9 instead of the annual two-week conference. The single-day meeting will adopt a political declaration and any other resolutions of the commission. Other parts of the commission’s work, including the general discussion, interactive panels with ministers and experts, and all side events, would be postponed until further notice, in the hopes that some suitable time is found at a later date once the virus is contained.

Delegates from South Africa, Ecuador, and Fiji all expressed distress that the differing responses to the virus from different states might lead to “unequal” attendance. They were not happy about the prospect of a conference that would disadvantage developing countries.

“We would not like to see our delegation not coming following the Secretary General’s recommendations and finding that other delegations do come,” said the Ambassador from Ecuador.

They expressed similar fears about the participation of non-governmental organizations.

“I am troubled. My heart is heavy,” said the Ambassador of South Africa. “You said all side events will be cancelled. But then you said you are allowing those non-governmental organizations based here in NY to participate in the general discussion. That is discrimination. It cannot be condoned,” he said.

Few countries expressed a preference for a scaled-back version of the conference; among them were the United States, Brazil, and Russia.

“It is better to have a scaled-down Commission on the Status of Women than no Commission on the Status of Women at all,” said a delegate from Brazil.

As a result of the discussion, there will be no CSW in March at all, not even the scaled-down version proposed by the UN Secretary General.

The cancellation of the two-week-long conference on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was especially distressing to feminists who had been planning ahead for this event for months and even years.

“No Commission on the Status of Women should occur without civil society organizations,” said Houry Geudelekian, the Chair of NGO-CSW.

Geudelekian said they had received over fifty-thousand emails from feminists asking them “not to have a CSW without them.”

The CSW was expected to draw up to 12,000 women at UN headquarters this year Geudelekian pointed out.

Published with permission from C-Fam.

  coronavirus, feminism, united nations

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