UN panel struggles to find consensus on women's issues

Women protest against Turkey's withdraw decision from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Istanbul, on March 20, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES (AFP) - A UN panel ended five weeks of arduous negotiations on Friday (March 26) with a watered-down declaration on the status of women around the world.

European diplomats accused Russia of being obstructionist and undermining the rights of women and girls in the 65th annual proceedings of the Commission on the Status of Women.

It had been thought that this year's deliberations would go better than in the past because of the new administration of US President Joe Biden, more progressive than that of the conservative Donald Trump.

But this did not pan out in the end.

At the start of the negotiations, delegates examined a draft statement of 50 pages comprising 80 bullet point paragraphs of conclusions on women's issues. In the end they approved a document with 24 pages and 64 paragraphs.

Entire sections on sexual harassment, gender equality and the rights of girls were eliminated altogether, AFP observed, comparing the first draft to the final document that was approved.

The original draft criticised what it called a rise in violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment.

The final text only said that "sexual harassment in private and public spaces, including in educational institutions and the workplace, as well as in digital contexts, leads to a hostile environment." It also adopted bland language saying the panel "recognises that gender inequality continues to be reflected in imbalances of power between women and men in all spheres of society."

One diplomat called these the "most difficult and tense negotiations since three years" and a "great disappointment. German ambassador Gunter Sautter said European countries regretted that the statement was not more ambitious.

"The systematic attempts by some delegations to derail the process and question international commitments and obligations on gender equality show that the pushback against women's rights continues," Sautter said.

A European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity was more explicit.

"Russia played an exceptionally disruptive role in the negotiations," the diplomat said. "While the rest of the membership was ready to find common ground, they did not hesitate to obstruct the process alone and to prevent us from reaching agreements," this person said.

"Today's low common denominator result demonstrates that a pushback against women's rights continues at the UN, and that Russia is doing all it can to undermine progress on the issue," the diplomat said.

A diplomatic source closed to the negotiations said, "Russia, with others, pushed for a traditional and very restrictive vision of the family."

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