Chair Licuanan opened the last Plenary of the 39th Session of the CSW and announced the formation of a Contact Group, to be chaired by Ms. Selma Ashipala (Namibia), to find a common understanding of the word "gender" in the context of the Platform for Action. Benin requested clarification about how and to whom the group would report. After a lengthy debate, Morocco proposed that the Chair of the Contact Group report directly to the FWCW. Chair Licuanan formally proposed establishing the group, which would meet from 15 May to 15 June in NY with the mandate of finding a common understanding on the word "gender" in the context of the Platform, and which would report directly to the FWCW. She noted that there would be a pre-conference on 2-3 September, at which the Chairperson could present the report. The proposal was accepted.
In draft resolution E/CN.6/1995/L.21, Provisional agenda and proposed organization of work of the FWCW, Australia proposed adding an additional sub-Item 8, entitled "National Priorities and Commitments," and the explanatory note: "Participating States are invited to make statements of national priorities and/or commitments, including specifying actions that they will take in their own countries to bring about change by the year 2000, taking into account the draft Platform of Action." The provisional agenda was adopted, as orally revised.
Delegates then turned their attention to the draft rules of procedure (E/CN.6/1995/L.3), the amendments to which had been circulated in English. Most of the amendments related to participation of the European Community at the FWCW. The EU noted that they did not consider their request to be a matter of precedent, but was considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether the EU could use transfers of competence. Following adoption, the US stressed the need to know whether the EC or the EU speaks for the member states, and on which issues.
The Plenary adopted the draft Platform, as contained in a variety of documents, including E/CN.6/1995/L.17, addenda 1, 2, 3 and 4 and corrigendum 1, 5, 7, 8-11, 13, 14 and 16. The US bracketed a sentence regarding the uncertain economic global climate. Peru made a statement on Section C (inequalities in health status), pointing out that Peru does not support abortion. The G-77/China said more work is required on peace and development. The Chair noted that there would be a two-week period during which corrections could be made to the text, to ensure that the documents accurately reflected the work of the informal negotiations.
The Chair then presented the outline of and draft texts for the Declaration, and proposed that they be sent to Beijing to serve as the basis for the Declaration, but noted that the document was informal. The CSW adopted the proposal. Document E/CN.6/1995/L.8 and addenda 1-3 (adoption of the report of the Commission on its 39th Session) were also adopted.
Secretary-General of the FWCW, Mrs. Gertrude Mongella, closed the Plenary by stating that it is clear that equality between women and men is an accepted, non- negotiable principle which permeates the entire Platform. She encouraged Governments to include NGO representatives and young people at the FWCW and to declare commitments and pledge resources.
Procedural questions dominated the FWCW preparatory process, and are the focus of this analysis. However, it should be noted that an understanding of procedural issues is often incomplete without acknowledging the political or issue subtext that can shape "procedural" outcomes. Nevertheless, a number of internal and external forces presented significant challenges for the work of delegates. For example, delegates had not adequately met as a whole to conceptualize the issues under discussion and the document as a whole, preparation time before the conference began was limited, and the relationship between member States and civil society continued to evolve. A key factor that informed both the procedural (timing) and political (maintaining a fragile global consensus) content of the Session was its proximity to other relevant UN conferences, including Vienna, Cairo and Copenhagen. Attempts by some delegations to use the opportunity to "upgrade" reservations to earlier international agreements raises a serious question for the UN conference process " a question that also emerged after the reversals in the debates on the New International Economic Order in the 1980s.
The preparatory process was originally scheduled to take two weeks and the draft Platform was originally scheduled to be approximately twenty pages. The draft Platform, however, was a sixty-eight page text, which was released in February when delegates were preparing for the Social Summit. Late publication was compounded by the quality of the draft text. The draft Platform"s language of victimization and under- developed integration of key demands into the context of the ICPD, the Vienna Declaration and WSSD were among the criticisms. A suggestion that key UN agencies should have been involved in expert drafting of the Platform was belatedly acknowledged during the Session when the Secretariat referred the section on health to personnel in WHO and UNFPA.
A major problem faced by the FWCW preparatory process was the lack of adequate issue definition. The 38th Session of the CSW saw one stage of the Secretariat"s draft text, and sent it back, expecting it to be influenced by the regional meetings. The regional meetings that took place during 1994 provided a chance for each region to identify their concerns and define the issues under discussion in their regional context, but delegates returned to the 39th Session of the CSW without a common approach. During opening statements at the 39th Session, it became clear that some delegations defined all of the issues as a violation of women"s human rights, while others preferred to treat the issues within the sectoral categories into which the draft text separated them. This debate continued into the negotiating rooms.
The special nature of the agenda for Beijing produced inevitable tensions within and across regional blocs. The central demand for the empowerment of women to co- determine the discourses on political and economic processes continues to attract resistance in some regions. Within the G-77/China, some delegations were accused of attempting to use the power of the bloc to entrench conservative elements in the Platform, inserting qualifiers and "escape clauses" by calling for respect for cultural and philosophical conditions. The tensions were sufficient to create serious problems for the Philippines, 1995 coordinator for the G-77/China " problems serious enough to be taken up back in the capital.
The debate over the word "gender" revealed some of the fundamental differences and positions of delegations regarding the Beijing objectives. Indeed the debate could become a textbook case study on the state of global feminism and feminist epistemology. The issue raised central debates on the relation between language, knowledge and power; the political contest over "natural" and socially negotiated identity; and ideas informing the current "backlash" against some of the feminist advances made in the US. Several countries expressed discomfort with the term "gender," and asked to bracket the word throughout the text. Others felt that this would impede the process, and pointed to years of use of the term in the UN (and in contemporary academic literature) and the lack of any questioning until this point. Those who wanted to bracket the term suspected that there was a hidden/unacceptable agenda behind its use, for example, tolerance of non-heterosexual identities and orientation. The Bureau circulated and retracted a definition of gender as the socially constructed roles adopted by men and women. Some of those who objected to the brackets suggested that the obstruction had serious implications. During one of the floor debates on the term, the delegate from the EU suggested that those who had asked for brackets might have a greater motive than the one stated, and that perhaps they wanted to bracket "women" throughout the text. The clash between those who thought the draft Platform was taking the role of women too far and those who believed that others were trying to derail the process slowed down negotiations and frustrated the participants. This definitive question should have been aired and addressed earlier in the preparatory process. Some of the most interested parties in the debate are now represented in the Contact Group set up to arrive at an agreed understanding of the word "gender." As one senior US delegate put it, the likely outcome will be the introduction of some "positive fuzziness" to the text. It is to be hoped that the exercise will provide an important forum for those with differing conceptions to learn more about each other"s approach to the Conference and issues at hand.
A number of possibly precedent-setting procedures are significant outcomes of this negotiation process. The non-governmental accreditation process was questioned from the first day, when accreditation of certain groups was challenged for their beliefs and exclusion of whole categories of NGOs, such as those from Taiwan or Tibet, were revealed. The CSW set up a small working group to address the issue, but the group reached an impasse. Interested parties therefore introduced a draft resolution in the CSW regarding NGO accreditation. China called for a vote on the resolution, and in doing so noted concern with the extraordinary, precedent-setting procedure. Many other delegates shared China"s concern, but there were no dissenting votes. Delegates preferred to settle the matter and focus on other issues.
There was talk of a draft resolution to establish a high-level post in the office of the Secretary-General to focus on gender matters. This would have had implications similar to the precedent-setting method of resolving the accreditation issue, given that the text under consideration was in a bracketed paragraph of the Platform. Problems with the nature of the proposed voluntary fund for the post prevented action on this in New York. However, high-level support, including that of Secretary-General Boutros- Ghali, exists. Together with the Australian initiative for a "Conference of Commitments," the proposal for a high-level post offered NGOs and delegations the promise of tangible breakthroughs in a programme that even Secretary-General Mongella found difficult to describe in terms of concrete initiatives.
Another outcome of this process was a critical focus on the evolving relationship between member States and civil society. The relationship between NGOs and delegates at the World Summit on Social Development was said to have signaled a new partnership between the two. Many at the CSW felt that NGOs" input was indispensable and represented a necessary creative approach, but NGOs felt shut out from the process at the 39th Session. Secretary-General Mongella characterized the situation as one where the delegates, as hosts, invited the NGOs into their sitting room, but then disappeared to the kitchen to cook, keeping their guests waiting and hungry. NGOs found it hard to keep up with the texts, since most of the document was negotiated in closed sessions. NGOs are looking forward to Beijing and have begun working to ensure a greater partnership there, but no new decision regarding NGO access had been made by the end of the CSW. Behind the accreditation and access debates is the UN"s evolving role as the facilitator of an unprecedented dialogue involving the representatives of sovereign States and global civil society. Since Nairobi, women have been in the vanguard of this promising but difficult marriage of an essentially American model of democratic lobbying and a forum with a built-in democratic deficit, which reflects the current global dispensation. This helps to explain the gap between expectations and realizations in the NGO camp, and the continued nervous response by some Government delegations. Some delegates expressed unease about the intensity of lobbying activities at the Session, and it was at times apparent that lobbying objectives might have been better served by more coordination. Any delays in addressing these issues may pose a threat to some of the advances made by civil society into the corridors of power. It has been suggested that this may well be one of the most significant issues to be taken up with serious intent as a result of the Beijing preparatory process.
The preparatory committee of the draft Platform for Action was faced with negotiating issues that have time and again evaded consensus in international fora. The Platform is an attempt to generate a women"s perspective and agenda for action drawing on the fragile consensus reached in related areas, including human rights, reproductive rights and health care, and women"s articulation of and participation in economics, politics and society. The politics of gender will help define and re-define numerous debates well into the next century. If Nairobi represented the moment for setting down a series of statements of intent, Beijing is intended to become the threshold of action and implementation. Despite all the internal and external challenges, delegates picked up a momentum in the last days of negotiations, and achieved some agreement. Chair Licuanan noted that delegates had negotiated the longest text in the shortest period of time in recent memory. The bracketed text, and remaining areas of contention, are well defined, and interim bilateral and multilateral informal discussions may be essential. The fate and momentum of the draft Platform for Action, whatever its weaknesses on questions of re-defining and remaking macroeconomic and political structures, whatever its achievements in advancing a comprehensive vision of the world through women"s eyes, will largely be determined by the continued vigilance of one of the most innovative critical social movements in civil society.
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