Beyond Saudi’s UN CSW Chair: The Deeper Issue

For 77 years, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has echoed calls to end gender-based violence and address the myriad challenges confronting women and girls globally through its annual conferences.

Statements confined to papers
Over the decades, the resolutions and charters issued by the Commission and other UN bodies focused on women’s issues have largely remained on paper, limited to discussions within the confines of conference rooms and official statements. They have struggled to implement transformative solutions to the persistent challenges.

Today, questions regarding the committee’s efficacy and adherence to feminist principles resurface, particularly with the announcement that Saudi Arabia will chair the committee this year.

Structural and political challenges: colonially biased discourses

While the recent decision has faced widespread condemnation, our feminist analysis delves deeper than mere objections to Saudi Arabia’s leadership role within the committee. We scrutinize how such a move potentially serves to whitewash Saudi Arabia’s political reputation, especially given its horrific violations against women and girls.

The issue at hand with the Commission, as with UN Women, is multifaceted and deeply entrenched in both structural and political dynamics. It revolves around the principles, practices, and narratives propagated by these organizations and their branches, often rooted in the systemic oppression of women.

Perhaps the decisive factor of this critical perspective emerged long ago, stemming from the Commission’s historical neglect of issues affecting colonized women. Their struggles were sidelined, failing to be recognized as integral to combatting the oppression and violence faced by women worldwide.

Our skepticism resurfaced recently with the dissemination of colonialist-biased narratives, particularly evident in the discourse surrounding Palestinian women, after October 7th. This underscores the Commission’s tendency to offer mere lip service, resorting to non-binding agreements that fall short of addressing the systemic violence perpetrated by colonial powers against women.

Furthermore, the Commission risks becoming a platform for political whitewashing, enabling countries like Saudi Arabia to perpetuate patriarchal violence and maintain hierarchical structures that subjugate women. This is particularly concerning given Saudi Arabia’s track record of imprisoning feminists and women’s rights activists.

Empowering women beyond oppressive regimes

Progress in advancing women’s rights and addressing issues of violence and discrimination demands a fundamental shift towards centering the lived experiences and struggles of women themselves. Strategies and policies aimed at liberation must be grounded in the perspectives and aspirations of women.

Until this moment, the root of the problem lies in the longstanding practice of entrusting the chairmanship of the CEDAW committee, along with policy formulation and approval, to UN member states, many of which perpetuate oppression and violence against women, girls, and marginalized groups. This approach obstructs genuine liberation efforts.

An international body entrusting power to the very regimes that perpetuate women’s oppression undermines any genuine opportunity for women to break free from this cycle.

It is within this dynamic that we observe a lackluster response to pressing issues deeply intertwined with the subjugation of women, such as colonialism, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. These entrenched systems not only sustain but fortify perilous structures of oppression.

International bodies constrain the capabilities of feminist organizations and undermine their ability to challenge oppressive systems. Annual conferences, intended to catalyze change, often become arenas where political regimes exert undue influence, impeding substantive progress for women.

Manipulating women’s destinies: States with rights violations at the helm

Before Saudi Arabia’s chairmanship of the committee this year, other patriarchal and colonialist nations with a track record of horrific violations against women held the position, creating a cycle of interference in women’s destinies. This cycle is endorsed by an international platform claiming to champion women’s rights.

Despite efforts by feminist organizations worldwide to shape discourse and elevate diverse women’s issues, political lobbies wield disproportionate influence within the committee, thwarting meaningful change in favor of women.

Therefore, we steadfastly affirm that the core inequity within international organizations lies in the stark disparity of power.

Saudi Arabia’s ascendancy to chair the committee mirrors that of America or any other member state implicated in the grave violations against women and girls, whether on home soil or abroad.

We maintain that the ultimate solution rests within the hands of oppressed collectives and their grassroots endeavors aimed at dismantling the patriarchal hegemony once and for all.

Signed by: Takatoat, Feminist Consciousness, FEMALE, and SharikaWaLaken.

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