56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

The Australian Government Office for Women completed the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56), which took place in New York between 27 February and 9 March 2012. The closing meeting was held on 15 March 2012.  This year, the Commission considered:

  • Priority Theme: The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.
  • Review Theme: Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women (agreed conclusions from CSW 52)
  • Emerging issue: Engaging young women and men, girls and boys, to advance gender equality

The Australian Government co-sponsored three side events related to the priority theme on:

  • education and pathways to employment;
  • rural women with disabilities; and
  • impacts of domestic violence against rural women

Overall there was good attendance at the Australian Government side events, fostering interesting discussion.


The Australian delegation to CSW 56 included the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls and representatives from the Australian Government Office for Women, AusAID, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Penny Williams, delivered Australia’s Country Statement on 29 February 2012.

NGO Participation on the Australian Government delegation

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) sought applications to participate in the official Australian Government delegation to the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56) which was held from 27 February to 9 March 2012.

In 2012 the Government fully funded two community sector delegates and one Indigenous delegate to participate on the Australian delegation.

These delegates are funded to:

  • ensure a broad range of women’s views are represented on the delegation
  • provide advice from a non-government perspective
  • act as liaison points between Australian non-government organisations and government officials on the delegation
  • inform interested individuals or non-government organisations about their experience at CSW, and
  • engage their networks in the CSW process in future years. 

The Government also funded Ms Catherine Smith and her support person, Ms Vickie Howard, to speak at a side event on rural women and domestic violence.

The event on violence against women was preceded by a screening of The Courage of Her Convictions, the recent Australian Story episode about Catherine Smith at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. This provided a valuable opportunity to share with Catherine Smith and her daughter Vickie Howard.

On the first evening of CSW, the Australian Human Rights Commission invited NGOs from Asia and the Pacific to join the Australian NGO debrief.

The Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York also hosted a reception for Australian Non-governmental representatives attending CSW 56 on 1 March 2012.

Resolutions and Agreed Conclusions


The Commission adopted six resolutions and one decision at CSW this year. Australia co-sponsored the following three resolutions:

  • Gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters, put forward by Japan.
  • Eliminating maternal mortality and morbidity through the empowerment of women, put forward by the United States.
  • Indigenous women: key actors in poverty and hunger eradication, put forward by Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Bolivia. This is the first time a stand-alone resolution has been agreed at CSW.

The other adopted resolutions were:

  • Ending Female Genital Mutilation.
  • Situation of and Assistance to Palestinian Women. Release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts.

The substantive resolution on Women, the Girl Child and HIV and AIDS was not agreed. In response, the Southern African Development Community put forward a procedural motion.

Australia did not co-sponsor this but spoke to express its deep disappointment that a substantive resolution had not been able to be agreed.

These resolutions are contained in the Report on the fifty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women available on the CSW 56 website.

Agreed Conclusions

The Australian delegation participated in negotiations over the two weeks of CSW. Negotiations continued the week after the official close of the session (9 March). Despite the best efforts of delegations to reach consensus in what were protracted and difficult negotiations, the Session concluded without any Agreed Conclusions.  

During the negotiation process, Australia advocated for the inclusion of language on:

  • women with disabilities;
  • unpaid work, multiple disadvantage;
  • trafficking and violence against women;
  • sex disaggregated data;
  • access to technology and access to services; and
  • the role of NHRIs, Indigenous women and gender responsive policy.

Unfortunately, it was not possible for delegations to agree on language in a number of key areas.

At the conclusion of the negotiations, Australia made a short final statement expressing its concerns at the lack of Agreed Conclusions.

The following are links to some of the statements that were delivered at the conclusion of the negotiations:

Further UN press releases can be found on the UN Press website.


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