One of the backlashes from the Covid-19 pandemic is the cancellation of the widely publicised annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) meeting billed to hold in New York, USA, this month. In this report ENE OSANG looks at the cost for Nigerian women and asks: Will the struggle by the Nigerian woman struggle suffer?
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was established by ECOSOC resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946.
CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
In 1996, ECOSOC in resolution 1996/6 (p. 20) expanded the commission’s mandate and decided that it should take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing progress and problems in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities.
During the commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York.
They discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, and the 23rd special session of the General Assembly held in 2000 (Beijing+5), as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Member states agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic, and social fields.
The outcomes and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up.
Any impact so far?
The National Coordinator of the 100 Women Lobby Group Mrs. Felicia Onibon said the meeting has been nothing but very impactful to Nigerian women and women across the world.
“I think it gives people opportunity to know what’s going on in other parts of the world, people come in to see what Nigeria has done and is presenting and it’s an opportunity for those who will never come to our country to see and have first hand reports on our progress.
“At the meeting you will sit on same table with women making impacts and hear, first hand, personal experiences which have effect on young people and gives women confidence too.
Some of the things we do or say are things we subconsciously learnt from the CSW.
There was a particular year we went for the CSW and women from Muslim country like Iran came with an all women media/technical crew, Turkey too. They came to show that women from Muslim countries are technology savvy and could do their own things.
These women handled the equipment and recorded the events, and instructed people around on what to do among others. It was an eye opener for me, and encouraging as well.
“I saw the reaction from our Nigerian women the North when they saw this all women technical crew, they saw that even when they are covered they were very effective.
“So, when you see such and compare with our advocacy which hasn’t yielded much results and another country had made things happen, you get encouraged to go back to your drawing board to decide on how best to plan yourself so the CSW is very impactful.
“Another reason is that it helps nations to think positively. If not for a CSW kind of meeting we won’t have a ministry of women affairs today, because the ministry was after women went for the Beijing conference and began to push for the establishment of a ministry else it was a commission.
“It was because women had valid argument to show the leaders and when they saw that it didn’t take the government six months to create the ministry of women affairs,” she recalled.
Reactions trail cancellations
For national coordinator women lobby group it was a good decision, stating that everyone in the world could see the dangers of such gathering following the outbreak of the Covid-19.
“A natural disaster was brewing which we can all see that it’s a pandemic that needed to be managed properly. Those who took the decision to cancel it could see the future and knew what would have happened.
“Imagine the over 200 Nigerian women who were set to go there and if 50 got infected it means 50 families will suffer the trauma of coroner virus and you know that an average Nigerian family is up to 10 persons and these persons will go to church every Sunday and will greet other people and this would probably have spread the disease. So, it is not a setback but a good decision.”
According to her, “The cancellation saved lots of trouble and disaster, though people lost a lot of money like my organisation and our partner were supposed to host two side-events in New York, the money we spent to put everything together is gone but we thank God for life.”
Onibon expressed hope that with technological advancements meetings which couldn’t hold before could now be held virtually and people could contribute from across the world and get all information as well.
“Technology has helped a lot. The meetings particularly the government based ones held and those who had the means connected while it was going on and partook in the discussion during that period. Nigeria was still able to submit her report, the shadow report so I think the only thing we missed is social interaction,” she said.
…It’s a setback
On her part, the Executive Director, Centre for Organisational Development, Lady Nkiru Celine Okoro, regretted the cancellation and said it was a setback for women.
She stressed that between the sanctity of life and sanctity of women’s rights through the UNCSW 64 the sanctity of life should be superior.
“To this extent, the cancellation was inevitable. More so, when other international programmes including the Europe league were suspended. However, whether this is a major setback to gender concerns globally there is no doubt that it is,” the executive director said.
This year’s meeting has been stalled by the outbreak of the highly contagious Coroner virus following the cancellation to prevent further spread to more nations.
In Nigeria, however, the ministry of women affairs is spearheading a home-grown Nigeria CSW64 scheduled for March 26-28 as initiated by the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen.
The home-grown CSW64 is believed to avail participants the opportunity to still deliberate on the area of focus based on the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, this is coming even when the National Assembly is in the process of declaring a stop to sovial gatherings for the time being.
Why home-grown CSW?
Nigerian women over the years have battled mounting barriers to addressing national gender and human development profile, amidst various strategies to draw attention to critical issues affecting women and girls.
Determined to push for a Nigeria where women and girls enjoy their human rights and realize their full potentials as citizens of a democratic state notwithstanding their geographic locations, socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic, religious or other identities.
Many conferences have been convened in the past such as the Women Organisation for National Conference (WORNACO), a platform convened by Prof Jadesola Akande and other leaders of Women’s organisations in 2005, that brought together women from across the nation and sectors of the society to articulate women’s demands and aspirations.
This charter demand became what is known as Womanifesto where various themes were deliberated upon and strategic objectives adopted for advancing accountability to women and girls.
To this end many are asking if it is really necessary to host another women conference when Womanifesto was just concluded a month ago.
Reacting to this query, Okoro maintained that a home-grown CSW was important, necessary, and expedient.
“It will help keep the issues of women nationally in the front burner considering the National Assembly is currently gearing up for constitution review. We need affirmative action in the constitution so this is a good way to push,” she said.
There’ll be lots of befits
Similarly, Onibon said Nigeria was hosting the CSW64 because it was not too affected by Coroner virus, adding that there is going to be lots of benefits to that.
“Since Nigeria feels it is not too affected by the pandemic it is an opportunity for all those who were to go to have a feel of the social interaction, letting people know the lots of things we have done over the years, how impactful, challenges we are struggling with, and some people will come with ideas of how to surmount those challenges.
“The government will talk about what they are doing and the meeting will be over. I also hear that the meeting will be low-keyed, especially as the National Assembly is saying there should be no gatherings.”
On whether it was a ploy to spend money already voted to be spent in New York she said, “I don’t I think so. The money to have been spent in New York would have been in dollars and it would have been so much money but here if the ministry uses the women centre for instance that wouldn’t cost much regarding venue and other logistics.
“If the CSW will be done like in New York, there won’t be feeding of anybody, people will feed themselves. I am not a part of the inner caucus of the planning but if I were part of them that’s the kind of planning I would suggest, that any participant should spend their own money because this is how it is done in New York. So, nobody should put that burden on government.”
However, some Nigerians had expressed scepticism over the idea of hosting a home grown conference given the array of conference women have had privilege of attending even in the recent past.