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CSW concludes with new commitments on digital information and education for sexual and reproductive health

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21 March 2023 Tags: #GenerationG, Commission on the Status of Women, CSE, CSW67, New York, sexed, Technology-facilitated gender-based violence, UN

A reflection of Rutgers Advocate Karin van der Velde on the 67th Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Looking back on a jam-packed Commission on the Status of Women, I am really pleased to see that digital tools have been recognised as a way to provide sexual and reproductive health information and education. Because whether we like it or not, all young people will at some point encounter potentially harmful (mis)information and images online. Preparing and supporting them to navigate these spaces safely and ensuring that they get the right information is paramount.

Member States committed to take legal and criminal action to combat the use of tools such as social media and online platforms for the purpose of a.o. hate speech, harassment and any non-consensual sharing and manipulation of personal, sexually explicit content.

The pressure is now on for civil society to continue to lobby for the inclusion of digital learning in sexuality education curricula and methods in schools, as well as for the development and moderation of platforms where evidence-based and scientific information around sexual and reproductive health including being safe online is shared. The pressure is also on for Member States to put their money where their mouth is and put measures in place to prevent, address and criminalise technology-facilitated gender-based violence. If that doesn’t ring a bell: think of cyberstalking, upskirting, grooming, coerced sexting and cyber flashing (more commonly known as dick pics).

The pressure is on for Member States to put their money where their mouth is and put measures in place to prevent, address and criminalise technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

New theme requires new commitments

The theme of the Commission on the Status of Women this year focused on innovation and technological change and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we followed the negotiations closely.

For Rutgers it was important that the conclusions of the negotiations would include references to education about sexual and reproductive health, particularly linked to online communications and technology-facilitated forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

When young people learn about these types of violence through sexuality education, they will know better how to cope with them and who to talk to when they get exposed to certain content or when they are harassed online. For many Member States it is contentious to talk about comprehensive sexuality education. However, these types of violence will only be prevented if we teach children and young people that they exist and how to deal with them.

The negotiations itself were particularly tough to navigate because the priority theme was being discussed for the first time. This means that the consensus reached in previous years did not include any language that we could build on. To draft new language with almost 200 different Member States in the room is understandably tough. The negotiating teams have to quickly get up to speed on terminology that may sound very foreign to them. To some extent they were able to respond to the needs and challenges that in a living digital age bring about. We expect the negotiations during the CSW of 2024 to build on the new elements that were included this year.

What we will bring home from the CSW

As we continue Rutgers work in the Netherlands we will see what elements of these negotiations we can pick up into our national advocacy on improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people at home. Because every word is so carefully weighed, what comes out of these resolutions does not necessarily lend itself to being used at national or other advocacy levels to hold governments to account.

But when you study them closely you’ll be able to distill how some of these paragraphs translate into policies and laws. For example: in the Netherlands we want the core objectives for primary and secondary education to include more on online communications. For example sexting because this is an inevitable part of the lives of young people and they learn and socialise online.

This CSWs agreed conclusions shows that the Netherlands also wants to commit to expand on that as they agreed that digital literacy is important for girls and that information and communications technologies and applications can create new ways to enhance education, but also on media literacy, online safety and mental health.

But the CSW is much more than language negotiation

In parallel to the negotiations a whole other world unfolds as thousands of people from across the globe fill the hallways and streets of New York speedwalking their way to different venues to share their experiences and stories through equally many events that are hosted at the UN and at nearby premises. For the first time since the COVID-pandemic people flooded the UN premises and I saw many blissful reunions of people who had not seen each other in years, truly a pleasure to witness.

The Commission of the Status of Women gives people from all walks of life, regions of the world the opportunity the share their insights, research, experiences and voices. A much needed dynamic in the otherwise diplomatic space that is the UN headquarters.

Why is Rutgers at the CSW?

Rutgers is in these spaces because negotiations set an example across the globe on what Member States find important in relation to women’s rights and gender justice. They provide room for conversations across cultures and countries on how to work towards gender justice.


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