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Report of the AGM of WAC-UNA

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Report of the AGM of WAC-UNA on 20.11.13

The Chairperson, Gillian Briggs, reviewed the past year’s work. At the UNA-UK Policy Conference in April, our resolutions were well received - on women’s rights over their own bodies, the MDGs, and the need for more money for UN Women. Suzanne Long represented us on the Policy Advisory Committee.  Members had attended many meetings of other organisations, including the CEDAW working Group and CSW 57 NY. We became a full member of NAWO, also we are part of the UK NGO CSW Alliance which brings about 100 UK women and their organisations together. Valerie Gore of the Josephine Butler Society had been active, mentioning WAC UNA in a service at Canterbury Cathedral and in the JBS newsletter.

The Executive Committee was elected, membership as before, only Ann Wallace stood down due to ill health and was thanked for her work. The EC members are Gillian Briggs as Chairperson;  Suzanne Long as Immediate Past Chairperson; Sally Spear as Vice- Chairperson; Rubi Bhatacharrya as Secretary; Judith Webb  as Treasurer; other members are Judy Lever, Paddy Beck, Parvin Damani and co-opted, Valerie Gore.

In 2014 WAC UNA will continue to promote women’s issues, especially via the UNA-UK’s Policy Advisory Group and  other members.

The main agenda item was the talk by Natalie Samarasinghe. This led to an interesting discussion which included:-

  1. The importance of the Responsibility to Protect work; 
  2. The need for many more people to be informed about the UN MDG and CSW work for human rights and gender equality (UNA-UK will be attending CSW 2014);  
  3. UNA-UK outreach plans related to its flagship UN Forum event on 28 June;  
  4. The preparation of a further UNA-UK teaching pack for schools, which will include information on women and girls; 
  5. Regarding rape, besides girls being told how to avoid this, the need was for boys to be taught their responsibilities;  
  6. The importance of primary education on gender equality before children’s  views are entrenched.

Please see below for the text of Natalie Samarasinghe's presentation

Report on the talk “ Beijing + 20 – time for a transformative agenda for women” by Natalie Samarasinghe, presented at the WAC UNA AGM, 20.11.13

Natalie reviewed the progress made in improving the equality and empowerment of women since 1945, when the UN was created, then the current position and finally the way forward.

UNA-UK and the UN work on issues of peace, development and human rights for all – and to do so they rely heavily on women, as NGOs and individuals, to lead the way.  UNA-UK is like a bridge between the UK and the UN. It develops and influences policies and has a broad grass-roots base.

Natalie, as the first female director of UNA-UK, feels a strong commitment to supporting and multiplying the work of building gender equality with women’s equal rights and opportunities.  WAC UNA, gathering information, can press for progressive action.

In the first decade of the UN, women’s issues were put on the agenda. Achievements included international laws, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Subsequent developments led to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, the bill of rights for women) and its optional protocol.  By separating CSW from the other human rights issues, all under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the states were enabled to focus on women’s issues and include development, peace and health topics. By the 1960s and 70s, emphasis was moving from top-down to grass-roots approaches. The 1980s and 90s widened discussion to the environment and violenceagainst women in conflict. The difficulties were the complex cross-cutting nature of issues, persuading states to have the political will to implementagreements and to provide necessary resources.  It was in 1995 that the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action set an integrated approach to policy and organisation, with progressive goals; it is a global blueprint for action. Other principles were expressed – the need to involve women in development programmes and that they are agents of peace.

So progress has been made. However, today there is more conservatism, less desire for progressive action. As Beijing + 20 approaches, it is desirable to resist any efforts to weaken the achievements. The danger is greater due to the instabilities and cut-backs in governments’ finances, which cause them to look inward and not so much outwards internationally. The first decade of the millennium, with austerity measures, a loss of confidence in financial and political systems, has led to backsliding and regression, even on tackling torture. The international community is more multipolar and polarised. Women are the group hardest hit by loss of resources.

There have been positive developments, in legal moves to define crimes against humanity and establish rape as a war crime. There has been learning from the work towards Millennium DevelopmentGoals (MDGs), from successes and failures. The UN Security Council has produced resolutions on women, peace and security, improving reporting and scrutiny – but more work is needed.

Now women need to adjust and transform their agenda, for example to attain better implementation of the Beijing document, of CEDAW, to have more women appointed to senior roles at the UN for country-specific roles e.g. in conflict and prevention. At the UN Ban Ki-moon has more women in his senior management team, and women Special Representatives for thematic issues. But more could be done. The creation of UN Women was a welcome and great achievement, but it is not receiving adequate funds to do the necessary work. The post 2015 development framework, which will follow the MDGs, is an opportunity to address some of the shortcomings of the current goals. Gender targets and monitoring should be embedded across the framework, in addition to a standalone goal, with targets for freedom from violence against women and girls, for gender equality (for example for reproductive rights, equal pay), involvement in decision making at parliament, in families etc. The new framework needs to deal with discrimination, child marriage, give the ability to open a bank account, toinherit property, etc.

UNA-UK has produced a major publication on MDGs and the new agenda, suggesting targets for “mainstreaming” women’s issues within policy making, programme design, data collection, participation and evaluation. The Association hopes that the Security Council will, at some point,endorse a comprehensive post-2015 agenda in which the conflict / development link is strengthened.

By partnerships with other organisations working on gender and women issues in the UK , UNA-UK hopes to ensure that Beijing+20 is transformative for the betterment of women around the world.