Each year the issue of space and access for civil society attending the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) continues to be a contentious one. It is becoming increasingly difficult to enter official sessions and side events. When one manages to overcome the exclusionary red tape, the space is far too limited to accommodate some 6 000 NGOs registered to attend CSW in New York.
Women's rights organisations are still managing to ‘move mountains’ with much less space but also with much less money since funding for gender equality is quickly dwindling. Sadly, these organisations actually have to justify why it makes good business sense to fund gender equality.
Panellists highlighted this at a CSW parallel event convened by the Association of Women's Rights in Development (AWID) on 9 March 2013 called “Successful strategies and funding mechanisms to eradicate violence against women: Women moving mountains”.
AWID conducted research to assess the aggregate impact of the Millennium Development Goal 3 Fund since it is one of the largest sums of money ever made available by a single donor. It is possibly the biggest infusion of resources since support for gender equality began in the 1970s. According to AWID, it demonstrates the kind of commitment required for turning words into action and gender equality into a reality.
Srilatha Batliwala a scholar associate with AWID, who presented the main findings, confirmed that they conducted the research with 33 out of the 45 fund recipients of the grantee organisations (73 percent). The work of the 33 organisations reached 164 countries, six continents and 15 regions. Gender-based violence and women's rights awareness reached over 224 million people.
The fund provided nearly 230 000 activists and 105 000 women's organisations with tools and training to help empower grassroots women and to strengthen outreach capacities. According to the results over 65 million grassroots women were reached.
When asked how these results could be proved since the beneficiaries' voices were not included in the study, Batliwala said, "You prove to me that it is wrong or give me the resources to do those studies, I do not have the money." She also explained that several organisations corroborated the data since their work as they had independent evaluations.
AWID's coordinator of women's rights information, Gabriela De Cicco, summed up the key point, "High-impact and multi-year funding enables women's groups and networks to protect laws and policies that advance women's rights as human rights and advocate for new ones to neutralise backlash. It allows them to create even bigger public pressure and visibility for women's rights issues". She contrasted this to the smaller localised efforts that fail to mobilise larger numbers of women.
Rupsa Mallik, director of programmes and innovation of CREA - a sexuality, gender and rights institute based in India – says the MDG3 fund encouraged reflection on their methodologies, "This demanded accountability on our part so that we were actually looking at the work with vigour measuring it and looking at the successes and challenges... we have a monitoring and evaluation unit now."
AWID said the findings not only give women's rights organisations reason to celebrate but also reveals the barriers they face in achieving gender equality. AWID hopes to use this as a powerful ‘evidence-based’ advocacy tool for a stronger case for why financial resources for women's rights work is central to global social justice.
Not only is more money needed for advancing rights, but more space is needed. Accredited NGOs can register up to 20 individuals to attend CSW but each NGO is only given two passes to enter the United Nations (UN) building.
Jenny Birchall from the Institute of Development Studies paints the full picture of the CSW scenario in her blog.
"There seems to be three CSWs taking place:
"The first one is taking place behind closed doors in the UN where member states’ delegates are engaged in their own discussions on progress and challenges in tackling violence against women and girls as well as negotiations around the conclusions document.
The second is taking place in the semi-public spaces of the UN buildings. In the north lawn building where a secondary pass is needed to enter, women's rights and gender equality advocates and activists with such a pass are strategising, lobbying their contacts in member state delegations to try and ensure that the conclusions documents retains strong language.
The third CSW is taking place outside the UN in the parallel events where participants from gender NGOs from around the world attended diverse sessions. Many of these events were completely full, with people standing, sitting on the floor and flowing out of the doors."
Birchall's question is fundamental - "What are the connections between the three spaces of the CSW?" One wonders whether there should be a change of tact in convening this high-level commission.
There were no agreed conclusions in 2011, 2012 and in 2013 the possibility of the same is high. With the fight for women's equality being far from over, it remains clear that we need alternatives to provide women's organisations with more money, space and access to continue advancing women's rights.
- Loveness Jambaya Nyakujarah is the Alliance and Partnerships Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of GL's special coverage of CSW 57.