CWGL participation in the UN Commission on the Status of Women: ‘social protections’ at the intersection of gender, human rights, and economic policy

Written by MaryBeth Bognar (Program Coordinator, Outreach)

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) has a history of engaging at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as part of its continued mobilization with other feminist organizations to advance women’s rights. Each CSW operates around a theme based on pressing needs in our shared work; this year focused on “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” The busy two weeks of CSW happened against a backdrop of significant mobilization of voices who were actively working against these themes and CWGL’s feminist values, making it clear that our work is more important than ever.



CWGL participated in events, strategy meetings, and conversations, with a focus on representing our current effort to end gender-based violence and discrimination in the world of work. Contributions by CWGL were framed within the intersection of gender, human rights, and economic policy. This allowed for key areas to be amplified across the discussions around social protections, including:

  • the value and recognition of women’s paid and unpaid labor;
  • the precarious conditions that often exist for women in informal work settings;
  • the inextricable link between gender-based discrimination and violence within these labor realities and in realizing rights;
  • how these issues impact women based on intersecting identities and circumstances including during crisis, among others.

As global coordinator of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, CWGL widely promoted the campaign’s new digital platform to further highlight resources related to the CSW theme.

Bridging Labor and Women’s Rights at CSW

CWGL has been focused on amplifying feminist voices and bridging the women’s rights and labor rights movements over the past year in particular. CSW proved to be a key opportunity for facilitating this connection and engaging more partners in the effort. On the eve of CSW, CWGL celebrated International Women’s Day with a statement emphasizing the importance of bridging these movements, to ensure women’s dignity and equality in the world of work. This concept is reinforced by the historical link between this day and women’s labor rights: International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, as a result of the New York City garment worker strikes. CWGL’s statement included the global call to action to participate in #ILOendGBV to push for the adoption of a new International Labour Organization (ILO) convention in June 2019.

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In addition to releasing a statement on International Women’s Day, we also honored the day by helping to organize and participate in the Expert Group Meeting on Women’s Rights in the Changing World of Work, convened by the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice (UNWGDAW) and OHCHR. The meeting brought together representatives from human rights organizations, labor rights movements, and feminist advocates. It served as the first in a series of consultations for the Working Group’s forthcoming thematic report on this topic to be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2020. 

CWGL Leadership at CSW Events

Inequality, Women’s Empowerment, and the Sustainable Development Goals

CWGL Faculty Director Radhika Balakrishnan spoke on this panel that was hosted by the Human Development Report Office of UNDP. Radhika stressed that macroeconomic policies must be looked at from a human rights and gender perspective to achieve equality in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Stop Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work: Union Women & Feminist Allies Campaign for the Adoption of an ILO Convention in June 2019

CWGL Program Coordinator Rasha Moumneh participated in this International Trade Union Confederation event. Rasha spoke alongside union leaders and labor organizers on the importance of building bridges between the women's and labor movements, with an emphasis on the active campaign for a new ILO  convention to end gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.

Local Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW

At this meeting convened by NGO Committee on the Status of Women, CWGL Executive Director Krishanti Dharmaraj spoke on the importance of localizing human rights principles into legislation, and provided evidence of this approach from her experience passing CEDAW at the city-level in San Francisco.


Pushing Back on Macroeconomic Policy: Public Services for Women’s Rights

Convened by ActionAid International and Public Service International, this panel included CWGL Senior Program Coordinator on Economic Policy Magali Brosio. Magali highlighted the importance of addressing the gendered dimensions of austerity measures and the importance of fostering solidarity among women at a global level in order to overcome the negative impacts of regressive macroeconomic policies.

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Gender, Economic Policy and Women’s Human Rights: Tackling Discrimination to Strengthen Social Protection, Increase Access to Services and Transform Systems

This panel was convened by the UNWGDAW with support from OHCHR, and co-sponsored by CWGL, the ILO, International Association for Feminist Economics, the Carter Center, and the Permanent Mission of New Zealand. The discussion was framed by the intersections of its title, with a deeper analysis of the ways that macro-economic policy and international mechanisms advance women’s human rights. The panel was moderated by Krishanti Dharmaraj, and included Radhika Balakrishnan and CWGL Senior Director of Program & Expert Member of the UNWGDAW Melissa Upreti.

Social Protection During Conflict and War

Convened by CWGL, UNFPA, and co-sponsored by the Mission of Finland, this panel explored the role of social protection in conflict and war through a gender lens. Within this context, Krishanti Dharmaraj emphasized that “women must be at the center of decision-making, not as victims or survivors, but as architects of peace.” The panelists offered insight on adequately ensuring social protection for women in crisis, including the concept of resourcing these services as an investment, not an expense, with economic policy and human rights at the core of this shift.

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Strategy Meetings

As CSW brought together a wide range of feminist activists, women’s rights organizations, and labor rights entities, CWGL held several strategy meetings with leaders of these networks.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign meeting brought together key partners. CWGL shared more about the background of the campaign, and the assessment that informed key efforts to better support the women’s rights and labor rights communities. The group discussed the campaign’s recent focus on moving from awareness to accountability; the potential of its new digital platform to support movement building; and the campaign theme and global call to action, to end gender-based violence in the world of work, including through its use of #ILOendGBV to push for the adoption of a new ILO convention. CWGL also used this opportunity to interview partners such as Education International, ESCR-net, and others to capture and promote their views on the CSW theme and its relation to furthering women’s rights.

CWGL convened a strategy meeting on its upcoming Global Dialogue on Ending Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work. This will be an advocacy event in late 2019, to influence broad ratification and implementation of the upcoming ILO’s new instrument on ending violence and harassment in the world of work, that is expected to be adopted this June.

An expert strategy meeting on CWGL’s new initiative for a feminist peace agenda took place during the second week of CSW. The meeting brought together partners from MENA and South Asia to continue discussions around the development of a new paradigm on women, peace and security.

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CWGL participated in a CEDAW Meeting of Experts on the Rights of Indigenous Women. Convened by FIMI (International Indigenous Women’s Forum) and co-sponsored by MADRE, CWGL, and Women's Human Rights Education Institute to build support for a General Recommendation on indigenous women’s rights from the CEDAW Committee. This first global consultation was attended by indigenous activist women and academics, including Rosalee Gonzalez from the Feminist Alliance for Rights Steering Committee Member/USHRN, and CWGL’s Melissa Upreti and Anya Victoria.

Celebrating and Connecting at CSW

CSW is a busy, productive two weeks of substantive engagement on women’s rights. In the midst of this, CWGL facilitates annual opportunities to celebrate and engage with feminists ranging from long-time connections to those stepping into CSW for the first time. Each year, CWGL ensures space for learning and exploration at the CSW for students in its Feminist Advocacy at the United Nations course taught by Radhika Balakrishnan. We also host an annual dance party that has become well known as an evening to celebrate with the women involved in this collective mission, when staff enjoyed the company of fellow feminists for this evening of fun, relaxation, networking, and positive energy for the work ahead.