Reflecting on CSW66: Why Our Movements Must be Decentralised

Mena Souilem, June 2022

Green represents the struggle for reproductive justice in Argentina and Latin America, purple symbolizes the colour of the Spanish feminist movement, while orange represents anti-GBV movements. Illustration by Mena Souilem.
Green represents the struggle for reproductive justice in Argentina and Latin America, purple symbolizes the colour of the Spanish feminist movement, while orange represents anti-GBV movements. Illustration by Mena Souilem.

Attending the 66th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for the first time filled me with many emotions and questions. I attended as a part of RESURJ advocacy for younger south feminists’ inclusion. Coming from a context where uttering the word “Feminist” still leads to violent reactions and stigmas, seeing how the feminist and queer movement is advancing and fighting is inspirational and motivational to survive and resist.

The experience was great to learn about the different approaches the movement is taking to make their voices heard. And also to understand how they are organising, mobilising and lobbying in the UN, and handling the constant invasion of these spaces by opposing far-right campaigns that draw from exclusionary anti-LGBTQI and misogynistic views.

Even so, this experience also highlighted how these spaces and movements are not as inclusive of our varied contexts as we hope; both in terms of addressing the different issues and systematic oppressions we live under. 

Although the conversations and discussions affect the lives of millions of women from the Global South, the insistence on hosting CSW at the UN headquarters in New York only emphasises the event’s exclusivity. Even with south feminist organizations securing places for south activists and funding their attendance and the hosting of a virtual event this year, many of us in grassroots movements struggled to join the conversation due to internet accessibility issues. 

A great initiative that highlighted these barriers was #AfricaDisruptCSW66. The campaign by FEMNET encouraged African feminists and activists to engage online with CSW66 through the hashtag. FEMNET also hosted for the first time, an in-person #CSW66Africa event in Nairobi, Kenya where feminists from Africa gathered to voice their opinions and contribute to the discussion of this year’s theme. 

This year’s CSW priority theme was “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.” While climate change and its consequences impact the whole world, it is mostly countries in the Global South that are currently experiencing a greater proportion of these changes first-hand.

The lives of women and girls from the south are drastically impacted as systems shift in response to climate change.  For instance, women providers who work in agriculture have to work harder to secure income and resources for their families. This puts added pressure on girls, who often have to leave school to help their mothers manage the increased burden.

These different political realities are notably absent from CSW. The women whose lives under occupation and military systems are under threat daily; the women whose lives are taken by militia fire in Azawad; incarcerated Palestinian women in Zionist prisons, the women who are imprisoned, violated and assaulted in Western Sahara; the women in Yemen caught between war and famine. These vital voices are missing from these discussions. 

We hope for a future with self-determination instead of being determined by western organisations with a history of support for the fascist, militaristic, colonialist systems responsible for our oppressive realities. 

We hope for truly inclusive, non-hegemonic spaces created by us for us.