The 62nd annual Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) kicked off at the United Nations in New York City this week. Tens of thousands of women from all around the world are be gathering at the United Nations for the next two weeks to discuss the ‘challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls’, this year’s theme.

This is the first CSW of the #MeToo era, and we can expect that the CSW will be a forum for this cultural movements to work its way into intergovernmental agreements. It is already happening to some degree. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka both made references to #MeToo and Time’s Up in their opening remarks.

In the global women’s issues and development circles, CSW is a very important gathering that will steer the work for the coming year.  And Though this huge conference is well known in some circles, on a larger scale, most people are unaware that CSW is happening these next two weeks, let alone what it is and why it is important to the attendees and larger audiences in the world of women.

Here is a quick guide for navigating the field of CSW this year and for future sessions.

What is CSW?

The Commission for the Status of Women is the primary intergovernmental body that is exclusively devoted to the equality and empowerment of women on a global scale. It was formed in 1946 to discuss and execute resolutions on equality and empowerment but after the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (where Hillary Clinton famously declared “Women’s rights are human rights”),  CSW became a politically more robust body that discusses the progress and shortcomings on gender equality.

In the two-week session, delegates of UN Member States as well as representatives from civil society gather to discuss the theme for that year and then produce resolutions for achieving the gender equality goals associated with that theme. This year goals will be geared towards rural women’s access to equality, last year the goals were focused on eliminating violence against women and the year before that the focus was on the intersection between women’s empowerment and sustainable development models.

How does CSW work?

The two-week session progresses in two stages. The first week is devoted to discussion with morning sessions and discussion groups where Member State delegates can make speeches and declarations on the theme of that year. The second week is for working sessions where delegates break into working groups to decide on resolutions. At the end of the week, resolutions are voted on and adopted.

During the session, civil society, often represented by NGOs devoted to global women’s issues, hold side events in and around the United Nations building. This year, over 5,000 NGO representatives signed up to attend CSW and each day hosts as many as 20 official side events for these representatives to attend and organize.

Why is CSW important?

The CSW is important because it creates a global consensus. This is the time and place for all UN member states and civil society organizations to come together and agree upon a set of resolutions that recognizes the successes and failures made in addressing global gender inequality and injustice.

These resolutions then serve as the set of goals to which the United Nations as a full body can utilize and measure against when discussing and executing policy on women’s equality. Not all UN Member States agree with or choose to execute these goals and civil society organizations will often only choose to work on a small set of resolutions that most pertain to their mission’s goals. The point is that governments and civil society organizations are working with the same set of resolutions for achieving gender equality.

The CSW does not get the attention it deserves on a global scale. This is the single largest annual gathering for women globally to discuss gender equality and empowerment, yet many people do not know that it’s happening right now. Anyone can watch the live webcast of the sessions and see what is being discussed.

Now is the time to pay attention to global women’s empowerment and equality. #MeToo, Time’s Up and many other global movements are calling for gender justice and bodies like the CSW have been doing the work that it takes to make these movements possible on an intergovernmental level. It’s time to pay attention.

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