The United Nations' commitment to the advancement of women began with the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Its Preamble declared faith "in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…"
In 1946 the Commission on the Status of Women was established to promote the advancement of women throughout the world. The Commission met for the first time at Lake Success, New York, in February 1947.
Initially, the Commission focused on legal measures to protect the human rights of women and awareness-raising on the status and situation of women around the world. Debates in the Commission brought unfamiliar issues into the international political arena. From the very beginning, the work of the Commission attracted the interest, participation and support of the growing international women's movement.
By the mid 1960s, the Commission had begun to address women's role in economic and social development. Delegates from developing countries drew attention in particular to the situation of women in rural areas and the need to enhance their contributions and address their priorities and needs.
In 1975, at the urging of the Commission and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations observed International Women's Year with the theme "Equality, Development and Peace". The culmination of the year was the first global Women's Conference in Mexico City which adopted a global plan of action to improve the status of women.
The United Nations Decade for Women from 1976-1985, and the following world conferences on women, created an unprecedented momentum for change. The Platform for Action adopted in Beijing in 1995 consolidated the consensus and commitments achieved through the work of the Commission.
The Commission's 60-year history is marked by significant achievements. The Commission ensured that provisions for equality between women and men were included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a milestone in the struggle for equality.
In 1979, after four years of preparatory work by the Commission, the General Assembly adopted the historic Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This landmark treaty entered into force in 1981 and by early June 2006 had been ratified by 183 countries. The Optional Protocol to the Convention, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1999. The fact that 79 States were party to this instrument by early June 2006 attests to the willingness of Governments to adhere to the terms of the Convention.
The Convention has been an inspiration for women in all parts of the world. It has had a positive impact on legal and policy development at national level, for example through the strengthening of provisions in constitutions, the establishment of commissions to review legislation, and the development of temporary special measures to enhance women's participation in different areas.
The Commission has played a critical catalytic role in promoting gender mainstreaming at national level and within the United Nations system. The positive outcomes can be seen in the attention to gender perspectives in other functional commissions of ECOSOC, the role ECOSOC plays in promoting and monitoring the implementation of gender mainstreaming, the work of the General Assembly on the human rights of women, as well as the path-breaking work of the Security Council on women, peace and security.
The Commission continues to provide unique opportunities for exchange of ideas, experiences, good practices and lessons-learned to enhance implementation of commitments at national level, through interactive expert panels on the themes under consideration and roundtables for high level representatives attending the annual sessions.
World Conferences on Women
The Commission has made a decisive contribution in organizing and following-up the world conferences on women in Mexico in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. The world conferences set in motion an important and continuing cycle of research and analysis; goal-setting; progress review to identify achievements as well as gaps and obstacles; and renewal and expansion of commitments.
The world conferences offered a forum in which women´s organizations could broaden their participation and increase their voice in shaping the work of the United Nations. The number of NGOs involved in the work of the Commission grew dramatically during the Decade for Women.
Over the past ten years the Commission has systematically reviewed progress in implementation of the twelve critical areas of concern identified in the Platform for Action at its annual sessions, and has adopted recommendations for action to facilitate increased implementation.
The Commission acted as the Ad-hoc Preparatory Committee for the five-year review of implementation of the Platform for Action in the 23rd special session of the General Assembly in June 2000. The outcome identified persistent gaps and challenges and provided new recommendations for action to ensure full implementation of the commitments made in Beijing in 1995.
The ten-year review of implementation held during the 49th session of the Commission in 2005 indicated that while progress had been made at national level and gains could be seen in relation to each of the 12 priority areas in all regions, serious obstacles and challenges were reported in every area.
In the Declaration adopted during the ten-year review, Member States reaffirmed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome documents of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly and pledged to ensure their full and accelerated implementation.
New Challenges and Opportunities
World leaders assembled at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, emphasized their commitment to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. The 2005 World Summit reiterated this resolve to eliminate discrimination against women and renewed commitment to the gender mainstreaming strategy.
The Platform for Action continues to represent the global policy framework for gender equality and empowerment of women and guides the work of Member States, the United Nations, international and regional bodies, and civil society. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provides the normative framework. The synergies between the two instruments were recognized by the Commission on the Status of Women in its 49th session and are regularly highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. A major challenge for the Commission is ensuring accountability for implementation of existing policy recommendations and human rights standards at national level.
The framework of the Millennium Development Goals provide new opportunities for the Commission's work through mobilization of governments, international organizations and NGOs around time-bound, measurable targets, and through increasing the visibility of gender issues in national development planning and reporting, facilitating the development of alliances with new partners and increasing access to resources.
The Commission on the Status of Women has been an untiring advocate for gender equality and empowerment of women across the globe. It has provided a unique space for exchange of national experience and good practice and for bringing the voice of the women's movement to the United Nations. The Commission will continue to play a critical leadership role to ensure that the work of the United Nations has a positive impact on the lives of women at country level and remains a driving force for gender equality and empowerment of women.
United Nations Publications
Agreed Conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women on the Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, 1996-2005. (New York: Division for the Advancement of Women, 2006).
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol (New York: Division for the Advancement of Women, 2004)
Women Go Global: The United Nations and the International Women's Movement, 1945-2000, An interactive, multimedia CD-ROM. (New York: Division for the Advancement of Women, 2002)
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with the Beijing +5 Political Declaration and Outcome Document. (New York: Division for the Advancement of Women, 2001).
The United Nations and The Advancement of Women, 1945-1995. The United Nations Blue Books Series, Volume VI, Rev. Ed. (New York, 1996).
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