April 04, 2002

46th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

During the 46 th Sessionof the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held at UN Headquarters in New York, four Mercy women participated. Mary Dennett (Australia), Tina Geiger (Americas), Wendy Flannery( Australia and MGC team), and Deirdre Mullan ( Ireland and MGC team). Sister Marilee Howard from the Institute of the Americas Justice Team and some Mercy Women and colleagues from the New York Region joined for the Prayer Service at the UN chapel hosted by Tina and Marilee to commemorate International Women's Day.

Participation at a UN Conference

There are always two groups at any United Nations meeting. The first is made up of governmental delegates from member countries of the UN, who debate, amend, and ratify a platform for action on a given focus area. The second group is made up of NGOs, non governmental representatives from groups around the world, who monitor and lobby the first group every step of the way.

NGOs are private and independent agencies who specialize in areas such as women's health concerns, educational programs or social issues, who bring expertise, experience, and passion to topics which might otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood by governments.

As recently as 25 years ago at a UN conference held in Mexico City, some governments were still not counting women in their national census. Consequently, in 1975 parliaments and politicians knew how many whales there were in the world but did not know how many women there were in their country, much less the contribution made by the women of that country! The meeting of the Commission on the status of women, held in New York from March 4-15, 2002 was testimony to the determination of NGOs to demand action from governments to "walk the talk." Position paper after position paper, presentation after presentation gave visibility to the current position of women and girls and the need for urgent action to eradicate poverty and discrimination. The Millennium Summit Declaration encourages countries to...

Promote gender equality and empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and stimulate development that is truly sustainable.

Poverty is defined as a lack of access to, and control over, productive resources, physical goods and income, which results in individual and/or group deprivation, vulnerability and powerlessness. Poverty has many manifestations, including hunger and malnutrition, ill health, and limited or no access to education, health care, safe housing or paid work environments. Women and men who live in conditions of poverty also experience economic, political and social discrimination.

Women and girls are more vulnerable to poverty because of gendered inequalities in the distribution of income, access to productive resources such as credit, command over property, control over earned income and because of gender biases in labor markets, as well as the marginalisation /exclusion that women experience in a variety of economic and political institutions.

Women's empowerment has multiple meanings and is associated with a diversity of strategies. In the 1970s, when the concept was first evoked, it was explicitly used to frame and facilitate the struggle for social justice and women's equality through a transformation of economic, social and political structures at the national and international levels. Women's empowerment is assumed to be attainable through different points of departure, including political mobilization, raising awareness, and education. Empowerment is both a process and a goal. Empowerment strategies are informed by the reality that women experience oppression differently that is, according to their race, class, colonial history and their country's position in the international economic order.

What is the significance of the meeting of the 46th Commission on the Status of Women?

To the skeptics, perhaps nothing , but one thing I know for sure, having attended my first CSW conference. Women want a commitment from the governments of the world to allocate resources and create structures designed to bring women into the world arena as equal and participating partners in the decisions and programs that affect women's lives everywhere. The world was at the CSW conference and the face of the world was not white! It was not male. It was and is black and white and brown. It comes in business suits and sweeping capes, in silks and saris. It is intelligent and resourceful. It is focused and determined.

What does this mean? It means that women are tired of being poor, beaten, tired of being silenced, tired of being trafficked and talked down to and discarded. And tired of bearing daughters destined to do the same!
Deirdre Mullan rsm


Sister Tina Geiger of the Institute of the Americas Justice team attended the CSW caucus on Trafficking. Her report follows:

A 12 year old girl is kidnapped, smuggled into a country other than her own, her identification papers are taken by her abductors and she finds herself in a brothel "servicing" men with sex-- twelve to fifteen customers a day. She is caught up in the world's fastest growing crime, the sex industry, also known as " sex slavery".

How is this possible?

Many factors intersect to create economic, social, cultural and political realities that allow sex slavery. Social realities that denigrate and devalue the girl child allow a climate where abducting a girl child is not considered a crime. Political realities where women are denied human rights promote a culture of acceptance for sexual exploitation and abuse. Global economic policies that value the rights of the few over the rights of the many cause situations where desperate parents sell a child into sex slavery to ‘save' their other children from starvation!

While at the UN during the week of March 5-8, 2002, I heard the above story and realized that it is just one aspect of the complex reality facing women and girls worldwide. I realized that a first step along the way of eradicating poverty and disempowerment is awareness.

I am not as overwhelmed by this situation as I used to be because I now know that there are coalitions working to help women and girls caught in this terrible situation. Yet, I am left with the question. How can we in the Mercy world add our voice to this growing awareness? How can the Mercy voice be heard in stakeholder meetings of multinationals, making them aware that offering sex tourism is abhorrent?

One way is to join the "Coalition against Trafficking in Women" by signing their statement which recognizes that trafficking is not based on the consent of the victim, but is "the recruitment within or across borders, purchase, sale transfer, receipt or harboring of a person for the purposes of prostitution, sexual exploitation without the consent of the victim."

You can signal your willingness to sign this statement by emailing jraymond@wost.umass.edu or by writing to the Secretariat of the Special Committee for the Convention Against Transnational Crime, United Nations, Vienna, CICP, and PO BOX 500 A_1400 Vienna, Austria. Your efforts could help to free the 1-2 million girls per year caught up in this system.
T. Geiger rsm

Global Economy

Gender discrimination remains pervasive in many dimensions of life-worldwide. The nature and extent of the discrimination vary considerably across countries and regions. But the patterns are striking. In no region of the developing world are women equal to men in legal, social and economic rights. Gender gaps are widespread in access to and control of resources, in economic opportunities, in power, and political voice. Women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities. In the current climate of globalisation it is the women in the poorest countries whose livelihoods are most threatened. Their contribution to local and global economies is not recognized and acknowledged. Their needs and rights are not represented at the decision-making tables. Very often policies are made by "left-brain economists." The result for these women is often that cheap imports forced on a country are in direct competition to the goods they produce, and they lose their livelihood. In countries where women have been given access to education and wealth the whole economy has improved. One way to resolve this is to pay attention to "gender budgeting", which acknowledges the different but equally important contributions of both men and women to the local and global economies.

What I learned from my visit to the United Nations at the meeting of the Commission on the Status of women is that it is no longer possible to exploit the poor for profit and then give aid that is sufficient only to keep them poor. Trade and Gender and Poverty are interlinked. Governments need to know that women are not one voice we are many. We are Northern. We are Southern. We come from the East and from the West. We are inside negotiating. We are outside on the streets. This is our strength, our diversity and our flexibility. We want our voices to be heard.
Mary Dennett rsm

Mercy Global Concern and East Timor

During the first week of the meeting of the UN commission on the Status of Women, MGC provided orientation and support for two women from East Timor, one of who, Maria Domingas Fernandes, will be advisor on gender equality issues to the Prime Minister when East Timor becomes an independent country on 20th May 2002.
W. Flannery rsm


Proposed Multi-Year Programme For the Work of the CSW 2003-2006


  • Participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women.
  • Women's human rights, and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls as defined in the Beijing Platform foe Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.


  • The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.
  • Women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution, and in post-conflict peace building.


  • Review of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.
  • Current challenges and forward-looking strategies for the advancement and empowerment of women and girls.


  • Enhanced participation of women in development; an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and for the advancement of women, taking into account, inter alia, the fields of education, health and work.
  • Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels.
  • The CSW event usually takes place at the same time each year around International Women's Day
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