Reflections on the 66th Session Commission on the Status of Women

The priority theme for CSW66, ‘Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes’, gave us an opportunity to reflect on an area of key contemporary importance.

Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

After two years of virtual sessions, the 66th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) marked a turning point, and was organised in a hybrid format that saw many participants from the capitals physically present in New York. I was personally pleased that so many Ministers and other dignitaries attended the CSW66 in-person, as leaders of their delegations. Their presence in New York again showed the importance of this Commission. CSW remains pivotal as a forum to monitor the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is also the main place at the United Nations (UN) for deliberation and development of new norms to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Despite feeling the disproportionate impacts from climate change, environmental crises and natural disasters, women are also agents of change @SAMissionNY

The priority theme for CSW66, ‘Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes’, gave us an opportunity to reflect on an area of key contemporary importance. In their statements, Ministers and other participants brought a sharp focus to the special challenges posed to women and girls by climate change, environmental crises, and natural disasters. This year’s priority theme could not have been more timely. As stated in the Secretary General’s Report, Gender inequality, coupled with climate change, environmental degradation and disasters, is the greatest sustainable development challenge of the present time. Climate change, environmental and natural disasters impact society as a whole. Environmental degradation and the negative impacts of climate change affects all, but particularly women and girls’ poverty, health, and livelihoods. These impacts are strongest on rural and indigenous women and girls and those in vulnerable and marginalised situations.  

Despite feeling the disproportionate impacts from climate change, environmental crises and natural disasters, women are also agents of change.  At all levels, women are taking action and leading response efforts.  We need to use CSW66 to agree on practical measures of enhancing women’s leadership in all these areas.

The urgency of the current situation has been highlighted in the recent IPCC report on climate change, which states that climate change is hitting the world’s most vulnerable the hardest. It is thus critical that all policies, programmes and funding for effective natural resource management, disaster risk reduction, environmental governance and climate action, are gender-responsive.

In South Africa, we have made strides with gender responsive policies to address climate change, environmental crises, and disaster reduction.  Our national strategy towards gender mainstreaming in the environment sector ensures that the interests of women and girls are at the centre of all our actions.

Our national climate change response strategy addresses both mitigation and adaptation and forms the basis for a long-term, just transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy. It recognises the special role that women can play in this important area.

CSW66 has also reminded us that when we put women in leadership we are not doing them a favour, but it is for the benefit of all. Leaving fifty percent of humanity out of leadership will lead to sub-optimal outcomes @SAMissionNY

We pride ourselves for having a framework for gender responsive planning, budgeting, monitoring, evaluation, and auditing.  This framework ensures gender responsive programmes and budgets across the public sector.  It is aimed at placing gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of all public policies.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action commits States to ensure that women and girls can exercise their full human rights and fundamental freedoms safely and free from prejudice. Yet, women and girls continue to be denied equal access to land and natural resources, finance, technology, knowledge, mobility and other assets. This leaves them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate and environmental crises and disasters. 

Further, we should not allow natural disasters and environmental crises to create an environment where women are denied their sexual reproductive health rights.  We should all take actions to eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence all over the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted progress on gender equality and, in some areas, reversed hard-won gains. It has exacerbated inequalities and discriminatory norms and has led to increased violence against women and girls. The socio-economic fallout of the pandemic has compounded the impacts of the climate and environmental crisis, leaving women and girls further behind.  

Women and girls across the world are looking up to the CSW, as the leading intergovernmental body on gender equality and the empowerment of women, for guidance. They expect strong action-oriented policy recommendations that put gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at the centre of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. 

While we celebrate important progress made since the Beijing conference, we also grapple with the fact that women in all continents still face many forms of discrimination. Their voices are not always heard. They are not part of decision-making and leadership. COVID-19 showed the vulnerability of women, including in the world of work. 

Women are majority workers in some of the sectors that were among the hardest hit as a result of lockdowns. Many women have therefore been left even further behind because of COVID-19. For them, the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Development shall remain in a distant horizon.

We know that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, environmental crises, and natural disasters. Notwithstanding this, we also see evidence all over the world that women are leaders and agents of change at all levels. Our Agreed Conclusions therefore urge us to do more to integrate gender perspectives in all these areas using, amongst others, our domestic laws, and policies.

CSW66 has also reminded us that when we put women in leadership we are not doing them a favour, but it is for the benefit of all. Leaving fifty percent of humanity out of leadership will lead to sub-optimal outcomes as we deal with some of the biggest challenges facing the world today. 

CSW66 has implored us to focus with more determination on building the resilience of women to withstand the challenges as identified in the priority theme. 

In key sectors such as education, agriculture, energy, the just transition, the world of work, we need to deliberately build-in gender sensitive approaches. 

Some of our countries already practice gender responsive budgeting and finance. I am pleased that we used CSW66 to share best practices and learn from each other. Climate finance should have a clear gender lens, as women are critical actors in both adaptation and mitigation.

CSW66 had an important mandate to also review the working methods. This was most timely after a five-year period. We should all be pleased with the resolution adopted that lays a good basis for the enhancement of future sessions of the Commission. For example, we have opened more space for the engagement of civil society, and in particular, young people in the work of the Commission. 

When the time comes to review the implementation of the CSW66 Agreed Conclusions, we should bring back positive testimonies of concrete actions at all levels – where we will have advanced gender equality and the empowerment of women in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies, and practices.

This year, the Commission has an opportunity to advance the global normative agenda and global consensus, on the critical topic before it, which is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We can only make this a reality by mobilising all stakeholders across Member States, UN entities, civil society and all other sectors.

Ambassador Mathu Joyini is South Africa’s permanent representative to the United Nations and current Chair of CSW66.

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