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A Report on the 41st Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

by Bella S. Abzug
President, Womenís Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)

United Nations, N.Y. -- Womenís work is never done, and that includes the stalwart nongovernmental organization (NGO) women from around the world who monitor what United Nationsí members are doing to make good on their promises to half the worldís population.

Once again a rainbow of women advocates from civil society were making their presence and views felt when the Commission on the Status of Women met here March 10-21. Its task: to review progress made in four key areas of concern in the U.N. Platform for Action, adopted by consensus of 189 member nations at the September 1995 conference on women at Beijing. The Commission, which meets once a year for about two weeks, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Commission are the only official U.N. bodies that have a majority of women delegates and a few token males, reversing the usual reality at the U.N.

Before settling down to discussing reports and reaching consensus on "agreed conclusions" on the economy, power and decision-making, the environment, and education and training, the government delegations were greeted by the new U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is riding a wave of U.N. reform. He told them their goals must be gender mainstreaming, the empowerment of women, and ensuring implementation of commitments made at four U.N. conferences on women from 1975-1995.

I was pleased that these goals were also stressed in his debut at the CSW by the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, who had a very good record on womenís issues as a member of Congress from New Mexico. At a private meeting I had with him right after he assumed his post as head of the U.S. mission, I was specially pleased to hear his plan to hold "town meetings" around our country to muster support for the long-delayed ratification of CEDAW and to marshal public support for payment of the long- overdue $1.3 billion U.S. debt to the United Nations.

Polls show significant majority support for the U.N. among the American people. It just has to be mobilized to make the Congress listen to the people, rather than to Jesse Helms, the obstructionist Senator from North Carolina, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

Richardson also made a strong pitch for appointing a woman to a proposed new post of Deputy Secretary- General which would be the number two position in the U.N. During the daily NGO briefings held by the U.S. delegation, Linda Tarr-Whelan, Ambassador-designate to the CSW, accepted a WEDO proposal that this recommendation be included in the "agreed conclusions" on women in decision-making. At the U.S. delegationís urging, this did become part of the official CSW consensus language.

With Richardson at the U.N. and Madeleine Albright as the first-ever female U.S. Secretary of State, we can look forward to increased sensitivity in U.S. policy-making to the status and needs of women. But words have to be translated into deeds and U.S. appointees take orders from the President, even when he takes such hurtful actions as eliminating federal welfare benefits and social safety nets for poor women and children. As always, it is up to women to ensure that commitments are turned into the right deeds.

We are now awaiting follow-up by the Presidentís Interagency Council on Women (now co-chaired by Sec. Albright and Hillary Clinton), which at this writing has not yet released its 200-page report on what our government is doing to implement Beijing. We also look forward to the release of a proposed National Action Agenda, compiled by the Interagency Council from the recommendations made by thousands of American women. The Action Agenda answers the question, "What do women want?" And what they want is good for our country and good for our planet. To make sure you are on the Council mailing list, call (202) 647-5184.

Excerpted from WOMANSWORD, Vol. 2, Issue 4, April 1997 Issue.




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