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Women’s Participation at CEDAW’s 52nd Session

30 Jul

As we noted in previous blog posts, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (hereinafter “Committee”) celebrated its 30th anniversary with a public event on women’s political participation. Political participation is highlighted in Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (hereinafter “Convention”) which calls on all states parties to take all appropriate measures to prevent discrimination of women in public and political life, and ensure for their right to vote, to participate in government policy formulation, to run and hold public office, and to perform at all governmental levels.

As such, in its review of states parties in the 52nd session, the Committee discussed with the delegations the status of women’s political participation, looking not only at participation within the national political systems, but also focusing on diplomatic services. Below, we highlight some of the discussion that has taken place on this topic, as the Committee reviewed Jamaica, New Zealand, and Samoa. Overall with this issue, as well as most of the articles examined by the Committee, the focus was not only on enacting the right legislation, but also in ensuring that such legislation is implemented and a culture of participation is promoted. Women’s rights are not automatically ensured if they are translated into appropriate legislature; there must also be room within society for them to exercise those rights.  

For Jamaica, the Committee’s attention was on women’s participation in politics and emphasis was placed on political violence as a deterrent to participation in this context and the need for programs that increase awareness. Jamaica noted the difficulties of participation when the focus of political parties was mostly on winning elections, but noted efforts that need to be taken to ensure for the tools necessary to address this issue through providing financial support and support to women’s organizations that promote the advancement of women.

For New Zealand, the focus was on ensuring that adequate training is available to promote a culture of participation. The New Zealand delegation recognized as one of its challenges the need to engage more women as representatives and noted current measures undertaken, such as training available in the rural areas to promote participation as well as efforts undertaken by political parties. The delegation acknowledged that more could be done to build confidence and encourage participation.

For Samoa, the delegation discussed the proposed amendment to allow a minimum number of seats for women to participate in politics, which is a significant step for the government of Samoa.  The Committee focused its attention on the impact that Matai titles have on women’s participation; according to the national Constitution, women must obtain Matai titles before being candidates in elections, but there are barriers with accessibility to those titles and, more generally, with women coming forward to participate in politics.   

Overall, throughout the session, the Committee was focused on addressing its concerns towards the states parties, as it pertains to their obligations under the Convention. With the 52nd session now complete, attention and preparation shifts to the 53rd session to be held in Geneva in 1 October – 19 October 2012. As we move forward we also take note of the General Recommendations on the Committee’s agenda, such as access to justice and women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict. GAPW will be monitoring the development of the General Recommendations and will be reporting updates accordingly. 

–          Melina Lito

The ATT: Moving on and moving forward

30 Jul

As the mandate for the arms trade treaty (ATT) Diplomatic Conference expired on Friday afternoon, delegates and civil society alike were disappointed at the failure to adopt a treaty after four weeks of negotiations and, perhaps more importantly, the inability to address the lack of internationally-adopted common standards for the unregulated trade in conventional arms. The President’s draft treaty text was adopted as an annex to the Report of the Conference, although there was no clear indication of how that text would be treated in the future either in the General Assembly (GA) First Committee in October or elsewhere. While many delegations expressed regret over the lack of a consensus document, there was general agreement that the process is not over. In a statement to the plenary delivered by Mexico, a group of 90 countries expressed the desire to bring the current text to the GA First Committee to “finalize our work” to achieve “a strong and robust Treaty.” The Nigerian delegation explicitly called for a new mandate from the GA to complete the work of the ATT on the basis of the President’s most recent draft text with further consultations. The delegations of Germany, CARICOM, and Spain called for an ATT to be adopted “in the near future,” while others, including Peru, said there was “near unanimity.”

While this large majority of delegations is correct and commendable in their desire to continue to identify a way forward to achieve the still elusive goal of an ATT, it is difficult to imagine how, even with more consultations, the present text would become more robust or that member states would be able to reach “unanimity” on the major issues still left unresolved. After four weeks of hard work and difficult, political wrangling, there is much to be disappointed over.

The President’s most recent draft text still has significant loopholes and is far from the robust ATT that was aspired to by many delegates and civil society advocates—ammunition and munitions are lacking in the core items listed in the scope; the implementation measures provide for a superseding of the criteria by the vague references to “other instruments” and “contractual obligations under defence cooperation agreements;” records of authorizations do not need to be made public; and amendments can only be adopted through consensus leaving very little flexibility for substantive future changes in the Treaty. The language pertaining to criteria is particularly weak given the structure of the ATT as it will be driven primarily by national implementation responsibilities (and thus biases related to national interest). Diversion remains a “secondary” consideration in paragraph 6.4 (national assessment) requiring that states only “consider taking feasible measures” to avoid it. These are not insignificant weaknesses, but rather, compromise the Treaty and its ability to combat and eradicate the illicit and irresponsible trade in arms in a consistent, universal, and legally-binding manner.

Although the particulars of the text could certainly continue to be debated, the question now becomes how to proceed with the process writ large. Although the overwhelming majority of member states have made apparent their intention to continue the ATT process, the specific path forward (and on what basis) does not enjoy the same clarity. The most obvious option would be to bring the draft treaty to the First Committee in October and request another mandate to continue work through a new Diplomatic Conference. This is a position that, although not detailed explicitly on Friday afternoon, would seem to garner significant support among delegations given the commentary in the room. The French delegation noted that states “should not start from zero,” which would indicate support for using the draft text as the base forward.  Likewise the Chinese, Moroccan, and UK delegations called the President’s text “a good basis for future negotiations.”

As member states prepare to bring the ATT to the GA this fall, and they must at the very least report back to the body on the progress made, it is important to remember that the rule of consensus, and ultimately the de facto veto power of each member state, will not necessarily apply to future negotiations. As such, the majority of member states that have called for an ATT with stronger provisions than the ones found in the President’s text (presumably more than the 2/3 majority required for adoption of resolutions in the GA), should propose a text that encompasses more of the provisions that these member states have fought for throughout the negotiations, most notably inclusion of ammunition and munitions in the scope and clear, legally-binding criteria for national risk assessment. The group of 90 states on Friday noted, “Compromises have had to be made, but overall the text you [the President] put forward yesterday has the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.” Ultimately, if the rules of procedure change, then so should the Treaty such that these compromises be re-evaluated if they only apply to a few select states and a new, stronger text should be presented.

The goal of a universal, legally-binding treaty for the trade in conventional arms was and remains a noble one. A global ATT would certainly serve as a complement to already-existing, but mostly non-binding, agreements such as the UN Programme of Action on small arms, as well as future instruments seeking to contribute to the strengthening of the UN’s multilateral security framework.  As the next “phase” of this process begins, delegates and civil society should seize the opportunity to adopt a Treaty that can make a robust contribution such a framework.

More analysis and reporting from the month-long negotiations can be found here on Reaching Critical Will with the previous editions of the daily ATT Monitor.

–Katherine Prizeman