Accountability and Implementation: Lessons Learned from the 59th Annual Commission on the Status of Women

Author: Isabella Higgins, NCWU Intern

In March 2014 I attended the United Nations’ 58th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a WomenNC CSW Fellow. During my weeklong trip NGOs from around the world inspired me as I heard about their work addressing issues such as girls’ access to education, and maternal health; however, while the NGOs inspired me, the UN government officials frustrated me. It seemed as though they were more concerned about meeting their own countries’ political agendas than they were about improving the lives of women and girls. For example, many countries debated endlessly over word usage, such as “child marriage” v. “early and forced marriage.” While these two phrases seem incredibly similar, they have very different implications.

I began to wonder if global documents and initiatives such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals even had a purpose. Although I left the 58th annual CSW feeling skeptical and unsure, I ended up returning to the UN this March for the 59th annual CSW. Thankfully, I was very pleasantly surprised by discussion of accountability and implementation.

The theme of the 59th CSW was “Beijing + 20: Implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.” Activists created the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women. The document is an agenda that addresses issues affecting women and girls (i.e. women and labor, women and health, women and the environment). Now, twenty years since the agenda’s creation, the UN decided it was time to review global progress made in addressing the document.

Now, to be honest, upon arriving to CSW I was not super optimistic. I figured my trip would be similar to last year’s trip: I would love the NGOs and the UN officials would frustrate me. I would leave the trip wondering if there is even any point to creating global documents. However, I was amazed by how often I heard the words “implementation” and “accountability” while at CSW.

This year, NGOs and UN organizations, such as the UN Research Institute for Social Development, repeatedly emphasized the importance of holding governments accountable and making sure they not only talk the talk but also walk the walk, and truly implement ratified documents and current legislation. As members of NGOs, our job is not done as soon as a global document is ratified or a local bill becomes a law. Rather, it is our job to follow up and make sure that the government is funding and implementing ratified documents and laws.

The discussions I partook in at CSW surrounding implementation and accountability are incredibly important discussions for us to have here in North Carolina. They are also important discussions to have about bills that have yet to become legislation. For example, as the ERA continues to gain notoriety in NC, it is important for us to remember that if the ERA becomes a law we need to make sure the government implements it. Additionally, for those of us attending Women’s Advocacy Day, it is important for us to not only advocate for new legislation, but to also ensure that any current NC legislation that we agree with is genuinely being implemented. We must hold our state legislators accountable for any promises they have previously made, such as the government’s promise to reimburse survivors of eugenics practices.

We must remember that our fight for women’s rights is not over as soon as positive legislation is passed. I encourage everyone to speak up when government’s promises are broken and to continue to advocate until policymakers implement legislation.