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UN cuts women's conference over coronavirus fears

United Nations Secretariat building, UN headquarters, New York City.
United Nations Secretariat building, UN headquarters, New York City. AFP/File

Curtailing a major United Nations meeting on gender equality over coronavirus fears could be a blow to progress in women's rights and needs to be rescheduled to include diverse voices, participants and observers said on Monday.


The annual two-week U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) promoting equality and women's empowerment was scaled back on Monday to just one-day next week due the global outbreak.

In its abbreviated version, the CSW will hold a procedural meeting on March 9 - the day after International Women's Day - to adopt a draft political declaration marking 25 years since the historic women's rights declaration signed in Beijing.

But there will be no general debate, and dozens of side events were canceled, leaving it New York-based and freezing out attendees and civil society groups from around the world.

A full two-week meeting needs to be rescheduled to include civil society groups and diverse voices to tackle such issues as the global gender pay gap and low political participation rates by women, participants and others said.

"CSW without civil society is no CSW at all," wrote the British Mission to the United Nations in its official Twitter feed after Monday's announcement. "We must ensure full & inclusive #CSW64 discussions take place later this year."

A full meeting of the commission would be held at a later date, U.N. officials said.

But rescheduling a two-week meeting for 12,000 civil society participants may be difficult, said Vanessa Jackson, the U.N. Representative for CARE, an anti-poverty and social justice organisation.

The CSW is key to building momentum ahead of two huge forums to advance women's rights and spur progress towards gender equality to be held by U.N. Women in Mexico in May and in Paris in July, she said. The forums are seen as critical to meeting the U.N.'s global goal of achieving gender equality by 2030.

"The CSW is a critical milestone that was intended to help us get on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, but today's decision puts this in jeopardy," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

On Twitter, We Effect, a Swedish development group, concurred, saying: "In solidarity with women's movements across the globe We Effect joins the demand to #postponeCSW. #CSW64 on #genderequality can't be held without safe, meaningful and informed participation of women."

The flu-like coronavirus that emerged from central China late last year has spread to about 60 countries and killed more than 3,000, mostly in China. So far 10 U.S. states, including California and New York, have confirmed or presumed cases.

The CSW joins untold numbers of events being postponed or canceled around the world, with travel, air transport, hospitality, retail sales and global supply chains all hit.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Monday that the outbreak is seen plunging the world economy into its worst downturn since the global financial crisis.


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