After two weeks of talks and intensive negotiations, the Commission on the Status of Women was concluded on 23 March and the agreed conclusions adopted. On the agenda were women’s and girls’ rights, with a focus on women in rural areas, which was the theme of this year’s meeting. Despite a tougher world climate, progress has been made. The final document now contains important formulations on the fight against violence and sexual harassment, protection of women human rights defenders, and sexuality education in schools, as well as the right of women to own land.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which meets in March every year, is the UN forum that brings together the most stakeholders. This year, 4 300 representatives from 170 Member States and over 600 civil society organisations came together to discuss and adopt conclusions on gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights. This year’s theme was the empowerment of rural women and girls and the concept of ‘leaving no one behind’, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

During the two weeks the CSW is under way, national speeches from Member State representatives are given, roundtable discussions are held on different topics and a large number of seminars and events take place giving stakeholders the opportunity to meet and discuss issues concerning gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights.

During the opening of the meeting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a speech that was particularly well received, in which he stated that he is a feminist. “I am a proud feminist,” he proclaimed. He also said that for the first time ever, the UN has as many women as men in its upper echelons. President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajĉák also received applause when he said that the UN never has as much energy as at the CSW.

UN Women acts as the secretariat of the CSW. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka mentioned in her opening address that the gender gap is increasing for the first time in a very long time. This puts pressure on countries, governments and stakeholders to strengthen their gender equality efforts and adopt new and improved measures. Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka also spoke during the CSW about the #MeToo movement and made a passionate call to end sexual harassment and violence against women and girls. #MeToo and sexual harassment were subjects raised repeatedly during the CSW. They were also mentioned in Sweden’s national speech, which was delivered by delegation head Pernilla Baralt. Ms Baralt also highlighted Sweden’s feminist government and feminist foreign policy. The importance of civil society participating in various political processes was also emphasised, as were efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the SheDecides initiative.

During negotiations on the CSW conclusions, the atmosphere was positive and a united EU gave progressive input. But there are differences of opinion on these issues and several countries and groups are taking an increasingly reserved approach on issues such as human rights, SRHR and sexuality education. The agreed conclusions from the CSW were adopted on 23 March and must be seen in the current global climate as a positive step, including formulations on the fight against violence and sexual harassment, protection of women human rights defenders, and sexuality education in schools, as well as the right of women to own land.