Amid concerns over the global spread of the coronavirus, the United Nations has decided to significantly scale back one of the largest annual meetings on gender equality and women empowerment at the world body's headquarters here this month. With the United States reporting six deaths due to COVID-19 and over 90 confirmed cases with one in New York where the global agency in based, the UN Commission on the Status of Women decided to scale back its 64th session (CSW64) to just one day from the originally scheduled March 9-20 session.
The annual gathering takes place at the United Nations Headquarters and thousands of representatives from 193 Member States, UN entities, and non-governmental organizations accredited by the United Nations Economic and Social Council from all regions of the world arrive in New York to participate in the session.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 89,527 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,056 deaths reported globally in 67 countries.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had suggested to the Bureau of the Committee on the Status of Women that they hold a scaled-down meeting, limiting participation to New York-based representation in light of the evolving situation regarding COVID-19, and the need to balance the UN's critical work and public health concerns. Following Guterres' recommendation, the Commission debated alternative formats and dates and explored several possibilities for this year's session.
The Commission decided its 64th session will convene on March 9 for a procedural meeting that will include opening statements, followed by the adoption of the draft Political Declaration and action on any other draft resolutions. The session will then suspend until further notification. No general debate will take place and all side events planned by Member States and the UN system in conjunction with CSW 64 will be cancelled, it said.
When asked at the daily press briefing whether there were any discussions to postpone the annual high-level UN General Assembly session in September due to the Coronavirus, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UN is looking at meetings on a “case-by-case" basis.
“That's why the Secretary-General made the recommendation to the Bureau of the CSW. The situation around COVID-19 is fast evolving. It's very fluid. I think all these questions will be looked at. I am not aware of any substantive discussion to postpone UNGA. Again, we are looking at meetings as they come up on a case-by-case basis,” he said, adding that the decision to cancel, postpone or alter any intergovernmental meetings lies with member states.
“The Secretary-General cannot and did not make the call to postpone or change the upcoming CSW. It was a recommendation that he's made as the administrator of this building in an effort to always balance the need for the UN's critical work to go on, and especially, on issues of gender and the need to protect public health. But, the calendar of meetings is one that is firmly in the hands of member states,” Dujarric said. He added that the goal is to make sure that the UN's work goes forward and that people are safe.
The UK mission to the UN said in a tweet that CSW without civil society is no CSW at all and it must be ensured that “full and inclusive” CSW64 discussions take place later this year.
On the decision to scale back the CSW session, the International Women's Health Coalition said it supports the decision to prioritize global health and the safety of participants and is “heartened to see that Members States are listening and envisioning a resumed CSW later this year.”
“The outbreak of the Coronavirus forced a difficult choice for the Commission on the Status of Women,” Françoise Girard, President of International Women's Health Coalition, said.
“The global feminist movement has been clear that a one-day, New York-based diplomat only session on March 9 would be inadequate and would shut the voices of women's groups out of the world's largest annual meeting on gender equality," Girard said.
"We are therefore heartened to see that Members States are listening and envisioning a resumed CSW later this year. CSW is too important — particularly this year as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and work to drive commitments to a new, urgent and bold agenda for gender equality — to continue without centering the voices of the feminist movement,” she said.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock has released USD 15 million from the Central Emergency Relief Fund to help fund global efforts to contain the virus.
This funding has been released to the WHO and to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for monitoring the spread of the virus, investigating cases and the operation of national labs, among other essential activities.
China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing has heard from the UN Secretariat about the arrangements of various meetings in the United Nations, including that of the forthcoming CSW.
Zhang said it is a “pity” that the UN has to rearrange the meetings.