UN Commission on the Status of Women

Kathryn Urban, Sunday School Coordinator, writes:

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the 62nd Annual UN Commission on the Status of Women as part of the PCUSA delegation. Spending the week in New York City with ten amazing women from presbyteries all over the US, I got to hear their personal stories of faith as well as meet with delegations of global leaders.

While the summit and the outcome documents dealt with women’s issues broadly, I was struck by the intersectionality of these challenges. In many ways, it felt as though I was attending meetings on everything wrong with the world today, and the other women there as PCUSA representatives felt the same. Lucy, a Palestinian woman by birth spent the week at events surrounding women’s role in negotiating peace settlements. Kristen, a public school employee in rural West Virginia focused on safe transportation to and from school. My own week was oriented around women’s representation in government and sexual and reproductive rights.

Through meetings with bilateral partners, town halls with the UN Social and Economic Council, and NGO dialogue, PCUSA and the other delegations at this year’s summit made some impressive progress. One area of considerable growth was around access to contraception and family planning, an issue which last year caused the entire summit to end early as countries couldn’t come to an agreement. Another achievement was in agreement of the role of men and boys in actively advocating for the rights of women and girls. But there remain challenges. The UN members of the Social and Economic Council were unable to agree that fundamentalism is a key threat to women’s human rights, particularly women from vulnerable groups. The role of civil society in preventing and eliminating violence against women was another issue area that was overlooked.

Even as continued advancements are made in countries’ commitments to women’s rights, the outcome document of the Commission on the Status of Women is ultimately nothing more than a sheet of paper. It will be up to member countries to implement the agreed upon language in their own countries. I am encouraged by the gendered language of the Sustainable Development Goals, through which UN member states agree to take action in seventeen issue areas, such as climate action and quality education by 2030. Because progress on the SDGs is tracked and publicized, it is my hope that the gendered goals imbedded within will be acted upon with some level of transparency.

Sixty-two years is far too long a time to be having a conversation on women’s equality. If engagement with the faith community and other partners can push UN member states to live up to their commitment, then perhaps CSW 63 can be the last of these summits.