There is always something being traded off, most of the times those in control and in power lose nothing but are intent to push so that they can gain more. This is not a lesson on gambling, politics or chess, but a reflection of the negotiations, the discourse and the general mood at the ongoing and almost concluding 59th session of the United Nations Commission on Status of women (CSW59). The commission took place 9th-20th March 2015

The journey

During the 4th conference on women held in Beijing in 1995, women from all over the world, from all walks of life and across all social classes gathered to make sure their voices were heard. This was a landmark gathering that bore the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) adopted by 189 governments. The platform crafted 12 critical areas of concern that governments and the entire world should focus on to ensure; women are included into the world’s development, gender is mainstreamed and women’s rights and their agency in totality is advanced.

Amongst the critical areas of concern include; health, education, participation in decision making, violence against women (VAW), women’s human rights, peace and security, the girl child amongst others. From the number of governments that adopted the resolution and especially being that it is not a recent affair, it would be safe to assume that the momentum built from the conference and the spirit enshrined in the platform for action would be carried through and that the world would only focus on ensuring the world’s development becomes engendered.

Weak political declaration

Alas, over time and specifically to mention in 2015, 20 years after the BPfA, governments through the United Nations are still debating women’s human rights. When I say debating, I mean most of them are not comfortable with having texts and documents’ that guarantee human rights for women. The political declaration adopted fleetingly at the 59th session of the United Nations CSW, fell far short of what women’s rights organizations hoped for. Not only did the declaration not recognize human rights as inherent to women but the role played by women rights organization in development was not recognized but rather lacked prominently.

This is not just important to mention, but in reflection, it is quite a strong statement given the prominent role that women play in building our economies and contributing to development. At the 20th anniversary of the BPfA, we have a few things to celebrate, but that would not be the case if governments had not engaged civil society and other actors across the divide including women rights organizations.

The declaration also failed to recognize women human rights defenders who put their lives at risk to ensure governments are held accountable to fulfil the enshrined in the Beijing Platform. The declaration also failed to mention sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) which even though are basic human rights are deemed too “controversial”. Question begs, how can SRHR be too controversial when in countries like mine (Kenya) 7 women die daily from preventable deaths by unsafe abortion? Finally the link between the commission’s work and the post2015 development agenda lacked strongly.



The backdrop

The current global trends are worrying when it comes to violence against women, the worrying figures of 1 in 3 women have , continue to or will experience physical or sexual violence are gory to say the least. The digressing political will does not do any better towards getting solutions to remedy the situation. Maternal mortality is not a done deal yet and in some regions like Africa where the averages are above 500 per 100,000 live births, these trends are worrying and especially given the inequalities amongst and within countries. Harmful practices like child, early and forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) still plague many girls across the world, some countries having as high prevalence rates as 98% for FGM. In my country, percentage of women in political leadership still is at 19% which falls far short from the 33.3% mark.

I present these figures so that we can gauge where the status of women, a cause begun ages ago and concretized by BPfA stands. This cause has taken far too long to be achieved and at this time more than ever stands compromised by lack of political will.

Side events & methods of work.

Even though the mood was sombre, women rights organizations attending the CSW59, caucused in various side events. The events articulated the various issues affecting women with the numerous side events accommodating all possible topics. One thing was evident, the realities of women across the world is that of an intersecting maze. Young feminists took to social media to launch their statement, express discontent with the process, articulate what they want and express hope for a better world under the hashtag WhatYouthWant

What CSW59 failed to do was to produce a political declaration that reflects these intersectionalities and to ground them in basic principles of human rights.

The working method resolution even though not finalized as yet is a slight step towards right direction especially recognizing human rights.

It was my first CSW to attend and with all the expectations I carried to New York, I must admit I was disappointed. This illustrates why I have to continue being a gender and human rights activist and most of all a young feminist telling the world what I and my counterparts want at the top of my voice. My role stretches to holding my government and the world accountable to ensure women and girls are not undermined, disrespected or abused by at any given time.




Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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