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Attending the UN Commission on the Status of women #csw60



CSW banner with logo and texts


The sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14 to 24 March 2016.

Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attended the session.

The priority theme this year was the ‘Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development’ with the review theme ‘the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls’.

Why go this year?

I have been involved in the National Association of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) for the past two years and am a core member of the UK CSW Alliance for Sisters of Frida. As an activist for gender and disability equality, I realise the impact and importance of the UN instruments in telling the state parties, and in particular, our own government of the treaties they have signed and to remind them of the legal and moral obligations. This might seem to be a quixotic task but it is evident that if we are not visible at those international spaces, our voices and concerns will definitely not be heard. Our government can also continue its façade of fulfilling its duties and pontificate about its role in global leadership where gender equality is concerned. As a disabled woman activist, the two themes of empowerment and domestic violence are of particular importance. I was asked to be in a side event on disabled women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by Enabled Women International to speak on the first goal – poverty, and in particular the role of the UK government and the impact on disabled women of government program cuts. And since we will be there, we organized our own side event, ‘Survivors in a disabling environment, what does empowerment of disabled women mean globally’?

While we might question the expense (self-funding) and putting ourselves through the grueling schedule of the UN event, my colleague and SOF Steering Group member, Lucia Bellini (who came with me) clinched the decision by remarking that if we, from the global north could not get there (funding, access reasons) how much more difficult it would be for the disabled women in the global south? Having that in mind, we asked other disabled women whom we know from other parts of the world, Jamie Bolling (ENIL), Dr Huhanna Hickey (NZ) and Khairani Barokka (Indonesia) to record short clips (2 mins) so that they could join our voices.

What did we do there?

Here is a report with videos of the side events we spoke at on the Sisters of Frida’s, a disabled women’s collective, website.

It seems needless to note but nevertheless, my main impression of being at the UN, apart from the security, is the networking and diversity of people you meet. There was also the back to back schedule of events and discussions to attend – at the main UN building and at the Church Centre (CCUN) across the street. Even a conference junkie like myself found it difficult to negotiate and pin down the relevant ones to get to.

One of the sessions I attended which I thought would be of particular interest was a session on media and technology and the intersections with violence against women – the Safety Net Project at NNEDV (National Network to End Domestic Violence)  with sister programmes in Canada, Australia (WESNET) and Ireland. (but not in the UK, why not?) They had resources with safety tips on how to be safe online and WESNET developed Webinars for practitioners working with women experiencing technology abuse. I am also most impressed by the toolkit “Toolkit on Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities in Fiji”  from the Pacific region.

As part of the UK CSW Alliance, we had our own briefings every morning and evening and also worked with the Government Equalities office head of EU and international policy, Charles Ramsden. The principal output of the Commission on the Status of Women is the agreed conclusions on priority themes set for each year. This year it was on the empowerment of women. Agreed conclusions contain an analysis of the priority theme and a set of concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level. The importance of this is where we can monitor and hold our government. I suggested adding ‘women with disabilities’ on an item about planning for natural disasters and emergencies – well, we always get left behind in times like those.

I met several interesting disabled women leaders, not least a commissioner for Gender Equality in South Africa, Ms Nomasonto Grace Mazibuko, with whom I had a very interesting conversation on albino-ism and the Namibian Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs, the Hon. Alexia Manombe-Ncube who wants to discuss about independent living in the UK. And of course fellow panelists Asha Hans (India), Adaobi Egboka (Nigeria)  and Andrea Parra (Columbia) with the Enabled Women International, Stephanie Ortoleva. Daniela Bas, the Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social a wheelchair user, was most approachable and friendly as were the disabled women from Fiji (on a session on domestic violence in the Pacific), Bangladesh, and Spain. It is clear that for an assembly as big as the CSW, there were not that many of us disabled women and our voices are very muted. It seems to me that we have to concentrate on the SDGs to make sure we are definitely not left behind in the ‘leaving no one behind’ aspiration.

Photos from the event are here (they are not in any order).


women sitting in a seni circle with wonan in a wheelchair at the end

with Eleanor, Suzanna, Asha, Stephanie, Andrea and others before the panel session

Group photo with women standing, one wheelchair user and one man in the back row.

The UK CSW Alliance with Charles Ramsden

–written by Eleanor Lisney



Eleanor is a founder member and coordinator of Sisters of Frida. She is an access advisor, an NUJ member on the New Media Industrial Council and the Equality Council. She is also on the British Council Disability Advisory Panel and the web team of the International Network of Women with Disabilities. She enjoys being on the EVA (Electronic Visualisation & the Arts) London organising committee.


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