UN Commission on the Status of Women 68 – WBASNY Highlights

By Fay Parris, Co-Chair, WBASNY International Women’s Rights Committee

The 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women regarded as the “UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment” convened from 11 to 22 March 2024. The Session’s priority theme was “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”[1]. During this two-week period thousands of Non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives hosted parallel events and attended side events hosted by United Nations bodies, governments and other NGOs.

  1. Two-Part Series on the Proclamation of May 24th as the “International Day Against Harassment and for Inclusion in the World of Work”

During CSW68, WBASNY hosted a two-part event pertaining to the proclamation of May 24th as an International Day against Harassment and for Inclusion in the World of Work, an initiative launched by two Geneva-based organizations, Rezalliance and StrukturELLE. Part I of this event, which occurred on March 14th, was in co-sponsorship with the United Nations Association of New York and Medical Women’s International Association. The panel included Joëlle Payom, Founder of Rezalliance; Maya Dougoud, Co-Founder and President of StrukturElle; Zita Küng, President of Swiss Institute for Feminist Law and Gender Law, and Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, President of the Medical Women’s International Association. Fay Parris, Co-Chair of the WBASNY International Women’s Rights Committee, moderated this panel and thanked UNA-New York Executive Director Ann Nicol for an excellent collaboration.

The stage for meaningful discussion was set after Joëlle Payome shared her traumatic experiences of harassment in the workplace and why she was propelled to muster courage to proactively address the issue of harassment in the workplace which impacts millions globally. Maya Dougoud spoke about the importance of addressing and changing structural inequities which adversely impact an individual’s experience and advancement in the workplace, Zita Küng provided critical historical and feminist perspectives and Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi presented a recent study pertaining to the harassment of women doctors.

One can reasonably surmise that we spend at least one-half of our adult years in the world of work. Invariably, we work with people who have the power to impact our career trajectory, mental well-being and similarly, sense of self-worth. That translates into workspaces where individuals either thrive and are encouraged to progress professionally or they are not.

Harassment in the world of work is a primary impediment to professional growth as it crushes the spirit and remains a glaring affront to well-established principles of human rights, international law and our humanity. Harassment unaddressed, unconfronted and uneliminated reflects the lack of will to establish systems and infrastructures that support its victims and prevent further victimization. Thus, on March 15th, Part II of WBASNY’s event on workplace harassment was a convening of employers and representatives from diverse industries who shared their perspectives about best practices for addressing and preventing harassment and overall, creating cultures of inclusion in the workplace.

The panel included Naa Adoley Azu, Principal-Inclusive Researcher at Microsoft and Former Justice of the High Court of Ghana; Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH Executive Director, American Medical Women’s Association; Maya Dougoud, Associate Professor, Fribourg School of Management, Switzerland, Founder & Co-President, Strukturelle; WBASNY President Dawn Lott; Sabrina E. Morrissey, Esq., New York Women’s Bar Association President; Connie B. Newman, MD, MACP, Medical Women’s International Association Vice President, North America, Past President, American Medical Women’s Association, and Adjunct Professor of Medicine, NYU Grossman School of Medicine; Andowah Newton, Esq.; JoËlle Payom, Founder, Rezallliance and REZ-CARE.com; Anne Popiel, Assistant Director of Talent & Culture, Sofitel New York; Anupama Selvam, Esq., Staff Attorney, Immigration Rights and Advocacy Project, Bronx Legal Services; Swati Sawant, Esq., Co-Chair, WBASNY International Women’s Rights Committee; Saloni Sethi, Acting Commissioner, NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence; and Zita Küng , President, Swiss Institute for Feminist Law and Gender Law.

The event sponsors were WBASNY, Sofitel, American Medical Women’s Association, FRI – Swiss Institute for Feminist Legal Studies and Gender Law; Strukturelle, Schreier & Wachsman, LLP,  Maria Cortese, Esq.,  Fay Parris, Esq., Dr. Connie Newman, and Terry Raskyn, Esq.

The “May 24th initiative” is synchronized with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) agenda to eliminate harassment and for inclusion in the world of work through the ratification of ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190)  and  Recommendation (No. 206).[2] Findings from a novel survey published by the International Labour Organization and Lloyd’s Register Foundation 2022, “Experiences of violence and harassment at work: A Global first survey”, also inform of the tremendous amount of multi-layered strategic initiatives that need to be spearheaded in workspaces globally in order to eliminate and prevent harassment in the workplace.

  1. Medical Women’s International Association CSW68 Parallel Event

On March 12th, the Medical Women’s International Association sponsored a parallel event titled “Eliminating Gender Inequities in Healthcare to Achieve Gender Equality.“ The presenters addressed Violence against Women, Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Healthcare, Sex and Gender-Based Differences in Disease and WBASNY International Women’s Rights Committee Co-Chair Fay Parris representing WBASNY, presented the international legal framework for one’s right to health and particularly detailed current gaps in women’s equal access to health globally.

  1. March 21st UNCSW Side Events

On March 21st, WBASNY Vice President Rebekah Nellis Kennedy and International Women’s Rights Committee Co-Chair Fay Parris attended two side events at the United Nations Headquarters: The first event, “Role of Women in Shaping Justice Systems: A Conversation on the Forthcoming CEDAW General Recommendation No. 40” was sponsored by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and showcased the importance of the CEDAW Committee’s Recommendation 40 for a paradigm shift and “a new approach to governance based on parity and inclusivity as a core principle and a leading force for transformative change.” According to the CEDAW Committee, the premise for Recommendation 40 is the realization that “the achievement of parity as a fundamental human right requires systemic action” and the myriad “crises and disruptive changes affecting the world…demonstrate that globally governance has failed to deliver on its core task of ensuring peace and security, and that it is high time to rethink the classic patriarchal model of governance.”[3]

On this theme, Hon. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Executive Director, GWL Voices, who served as President of the UN General Assembly for the 73rd session from 2018 to 2019 and the first from Latin America and the Caribbean to do so, explained that access to justice is fundamental to other human rights and that in spite of progress, women’s participation in the justice sphere is very low. She shared statistics which reveal that in 54 of the most powerful organizations since 1945, only 13% of the time have these organizations had women lead; the UN General Assembly, now in its 78th Session has only had four women presidents; there has only been two women presidents of the International Criminal Court, and there has never been a woman Secretary General, which must become a top priority.

Lady Justice Jane Frances Abodo, appointed in April 2020 as the Director of Public Prosecutions in Uganda, previously a High Court Judge in the court’s Criminal Division, addressed the imperative for societies to conceptualize gender-based violence as a public rather than a private matter. She shared how the criminal justice system in Uganda has progressed in facilitating women’s access to justice through the establishment of a department that is gender sensitive and serves not to traumatize women when they enter the court system. In view of the volume of gender-based violence cases in Uganda, for the past four years, gender-based violence cases have been fast-tracked such that roughly 4,500 cases have been handled. As a result of the department and the Domestic Violence Act victims/survivors have more confidence in the system and more people are coming forward with cases. She emphasized how important it is to have women at the table to address critical issues impacting women and society.

Maude Somah, Director of Communications & Public Affairs, Ministry of Justice and National Coordinator of the Gender and Security Sector National Taskforce, Liberia explained that despite challenges, women in Liberia have been at the forefront of fighting for equality and shaping the justice system. She highlighted the fact that Liberian women have successfully advocated for gender mainstreaming in all of the security forces, that such initiative has received support from the UN and, as a result, women’s voices are heard, and women are protected. She views CEDAW as an opportunity for women in Liberia to further shift the justice system as it provides a framework of addressing discrimination against women in all forms.

Nalini Singh, Member of the Fiji Election Commission and Executive Director of Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FRWM) informed of how her organizations very actively advocate for women’s rights and how FWRM is committed to removing all forms of discrimination against women and advocates for institutional and policy reforms in this regard. She highlighted the Family Law Act of 2003 and the amended Penal Code that addresses violence against women. Singh emphasized that data pertaining to the impact of this legislation is critical because it reveals what is happening in-country and is a roadmap to identifying gaps in effective protections, trainings and other support mechanisms. She views the publishing of sexual violence statistics and the publication of judgments as critical. She also reported that the representation of women in courts in Fiji is under thirty percent and thus more work is needed to have women in leadership positions in the judiciary.

Other speakers who, sharing best practices, emphasized the importance of vigorous advocacy by members of the judiciary, prosecutors, parliament and civil society to advance the status of women include Béatrice Maillé, Legal Adviser and Minister-Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN; Antonia Kirkland, Global Lead for Legal Equality & Access to Justice, Equality Now; Renee Dopplick, Deputy Representative for the American Bar Association to the United Nations; Alejandra Vicente, Secretariat of the GQUAL Campaign and Béatrice Maillé, Legal Adviser and Minister-Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN. Rea Abada Chiongson, Senior Legal Advisor on Gender, IDLO moderated.

The second event, “Investing in Women’s leadership: Women’s Participation in Recovery and Reconstruction Efforts,” was hosted by The Permanent Missions of Austria, Sierra Leone and South Korea to the UN; Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP); Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC); UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and UN Women. The event’s objectives were: “1. To present the key findings of the research study on women’s participation in post-conflict economic recovery and reconstruction and share experiences of women’s initiatives from different geographic regions; 2. To discuss existing and promising practices for better recognizing, measuring and documenting women’s contributions; and 3. To reflect on action-oriented recommendations that bolster women’s role in economic and post-conflict recovery and promote their active engagement in decision-making spaces.”[4]

[1] Please visit: https://www.unwomen.org/en/how-we-work/commission-on-the-status-of-women
[2] Please visit: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/violence-harassment/lang–en/index.htm

“ ILO Convention No. 190 (or C190 for short) is the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.
The Convention was adopted in June 2019, by the International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and came into force on 25 June 2021.
Governments that ratify C190 will be required to put in place the necessary laws and policy measures to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work. The Convention represents an historic opportunity to shape a future of work based on dignity and respect for all.”
[3] Please visit: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/hrbodies/cedaw/grecommendations/gr40/CEDAW-general-recommendation-40-flyer.pdf
[4] For CSW68 Side Event Schedule Pease visit: https://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw68-2024/side-events/schedule

For March 21st event, scroll  down to program below and click on Concept Note: “The Permanent Missions of Austria, Sierra Leone and South Korea to the UN, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and UN Women
21 Mar, 03:00 PM – 04:15 PM