The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women and in mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities.

During the Commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York. They discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women. Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. 

Methods of Work

The Commission adopts multi-year work programmes to appraise progress and make further recommendations to accelerate the implementation of the Platform for Action. These recommendations take the form of negotiated agreed conclusions on a priority theme. At each session the Commission:

  • Engages in general discussion on the status of gender equality, identifying goals attained, achievements, gaps and challenges in relation to implementation of key commitments;
  • Focuses on one priority theme, based on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly;
  • Holds a high-level roundtable to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices on the priority theme;
  • Evaluates progress in implementing agreed conclusions from previous sessions as a review theme;
  • Convenes interactive panel discussions on steps and initiatives to accelerate implementation, and measures to build capacities for mainstreaming gender equality across policies and programmes;
  • Addresses emerging issues that affect gender equality;
  • Considers in closed meeting the report of its Working Group on Communications;
  • Agrees on further actions for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women by adopting agreed conclusions and resolutions;
  • Contributes gender perspectives to the work of other intergovernmental bodies and processes; and
  • Celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, when it falls within its session.


The sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women is currently taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York until 22 March 2019. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from all regions of the world are expected to attend the session.

This year the priority theme is “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.

When infrastructure, public services and social protections are lacking, women and girls are often the ones that feel the greatest impact. Their needs must be factored in when policies are designed. Their voices must shape the decisions that affect their lives.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we are interested in the South African government’s promise to roll out specialised sexual offences courts across the country so that all rape survivors have access to the support they need, when they testify against rapists in court. The infrastructure required in these courts can be extensive and include separate entrances, waiting rooms and bathroom facilities for survivors so that they do not interact with the accused rapist and become distressed before they even enter the court room. It also includes Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in court rooms together with a separate intermediary room from which vulnerable rape survivors such as children, survivors suffering extreme trauma and survivors with mental disabilities can testify. Private consulting rooms for rape survivors to meet with a court supporter before they testify must also form part of this court layout. Many courts will need rebuilding to accommodate this kind of infrastructure. Our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) is designed to make sure our government provides the infrastructure required.

Read our next blog on why CSW63 matters to all of us and join us and share your experiences and ideas about specialised sexual offences courts to make sure that #CSW63 knows and understands this issue. We have put together a social media package to help you.

Social Media Package

  • Check out the RSJC webpage and social media pages on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about this important campaign.
  • Your experiences and ideas matter on social protection, public services and infrastructure. Tell the world how you want to make a difference using #CSW63. Find our selection of Tweets on sexual offences courts in South Africa below and post them throughout the week.
  • Check out CSW’s Facebook Live broadcasts from United Nations HQ at UN CSW.
  • Head over to see CSW’s Instagram Stories at @unwomen for a behind-the-scenes look and interviews.

Social Media Tools

You can copy and paste this selection of Tweets or Facebook posts in support of improved sexual offences court infrastructure into your Twitter feed this week:

  • Sexual offences courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to get more convictions and send more rapists to jail. We need the #SouthAfricanGovernment to roll out the necessary infrastructure for these courts now! @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63
  • We advocate for specially trained court supporters to be available to rape survivors when they testify. We need the South African government to provide rooms at courts for court support to take place in private. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @CSW63
  • #SouthAfrica has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. This needs to change! We need a strong criminal justice system with specialised courts. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @RapeCrisis
Written by Kathleen Dey

Feminist Leadership

Anyone can be a leader, whether they hold the title of a leader in an organisation or not. But what does it mean to be a feminist leader?  This is a question that we at Rape Crisis have been thinking deeply about from the time the organisation was founded in 1976. We have not always made this thinking clear or visible to others, but a recent grant from the African Women’s Development Fund has allowed us to explore the topic more and to be more open about exploring the question of power in our organisation.

We all know that women’s rights are under threat in South Africa because of violence, poverty and inequality. This affects us in our homes and in our communities, but most of all in our work because we work for an organisation that:

  • Offers services to rape survivors 
  • Educates communities about the harmful norms and stereotypes that promote violence against women  
  • Advocates for change that will improve the criminal justice system for rape survivors.
Our RSJC volunteers advocating for change

Because we do this work we know that, well beyond the scope of our own endeavours, South Africa needs leadership that encourages individual women to work at understanding and shifting the oppressive power dynamics that keep harmful and oppressive systems in place. By oppressive we mean harsh, authoritarian treatment of others by powerful people, making sure that less powerful people are kept down. These dynamics appear in ourselves, in the people around us and in society.

Oppressive power dynamics are the things that make us feel that because we are women we are less than men, and that we deserve less than men when it comes to pay, holding positions of power, sharing our opinions and making decisions. As a result we accept poor wages, do not apply for powerful positions, remain silent when others give their opinions and hesitate to make certain decisions. 

We need to shift these thoughts, feelings and ideas about ourselves because they are not true. Women deserve to be paid well, to be leaders, to voice our opinions and to make decisions. 

It is harmful for us to believe that this is not so because it makes us believe that women are submissive and subservient to the needs of men. The harm that comes from this, is men’s ongoing violence against women, the fact that we are not kept safe from this, that we are often blamed for this and that our recourse to justice is filled with so many obstacles that in the end not enough rapists are punished.

That is why it is important that we not only work to bring about this shift within ourselves but also to lead in a way that brings about a change in larger and larger numbers of women so that they feel empowered to bring about change at every level of the systems that influence the way we live our ordinary everyday lives.

How do we lead in ways that empower other women? Make sure to Read our next blog on “The Roles of Feminism“.

Written by Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town

The Roles of Feminism

In our last blog Feminist Leadership we describe our definition of Feminism and what that means in 2019. But understanding the roles of feminism seem just as relevant, as feminist start to own the spaces of leadership.

Leadership means providing others with clear direction, establishing standards of behaviour for others and motivating and empowering individual people. It also means creating and developing cohesive teams that have clear goals and objectives.

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust Director, Kathleen Dey

To do this a person should be able to delegate work appropriately and fairly, share relevant information, hold people accountable, clarify roles and responsibilities, involve teams in decisions and actions, and motivate and empower others, recognising and rewarding their contributions while trusting them to perform too.

But what lies beyond this written definition of leadership? I asked some staff members to share their thoughts with me to see how they view feminist leadership. Here are some of the things they said:

  • A feminist leader is someone that is for women, who leads women to believe in themselves, strong in the knowledge that that they are equal to men in status, respect, rights and achievements. And also equal to one another.
  • A feminist leader is someone who is deeply perceptive, who sees beyond people’s individual strengths and weaknesses, beyond their social roles to who they really are and brings that out. It’s all about meeting people where they are.
  • This person leads from the back of the room and pays a lot of attention to power and the power disparities in the room. 
  • A feminist leader displays emotional intelligence and always tries to be aware of the balance between power and love. Even if she does not always succeed.
  • A person whose learning is always growing, and who expands the learning of any team they work in to make sure that everyone in that team develops regardless of their background, is a feminist leader.
  • A feminist leader is able to cultivate a sense of sisterhood even within a very diverse group.
Thuthuzela Care Centre counsellors discuss feminism at Rape Crisis.

Not everyone in the organisation wants to wield power. Many people prefer to be passive, to take instruction, to keep their opinions to themselves. They allow others to make decisions for them, even decisions that are about them, or that affect them very closely. These people tend to work at their tasks content to be far removed from the centres of power in the organisation.

A feminist leader must acknowledge the power of others even if they are on the periphery of the power structures, or even actively power averse. At the same time, feminist leaders should also know and display their own vulnerability, to dispel the myth that leaders are always powerful and that power only lies with those that have been given positions of leadership.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave your definition of a feminist leader in the comments below. 


Kathleen Dey

Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town

Get Involved Now.

A new year always provides the opportunity to take on new challenges. Perhaps you are inspired to be more active in bringing about social change, but don’t know how. Our social media followers often ask us how they can get more involved with the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC), so we have drafted an easy step-by-step guide:

Ways to be more politically and socially active

  1. The next time you are with family or friends, instead of letting conversation drift to idle chatter or celebrity gossip, discuss a particular cause that is close to your heart or that you feel strongly about.
  2. Stay focussed on one cause. It is fine to take up many causes, but always recognise your main cause.
  3. Find a political magazine, a local newspaper or an online blog and write for them on issues relating to your cause.
  4. Organize a group of four or five people and attend protests together.
  5. Talk to people that are different from you as a way to challenge stereotypes.

(Most of these ideas are from The Activist’s Handbook: 1000 Ways to Politically and Socially Activate Your Life)

Ways to support the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign

  1. Join our social media platforms by hitting “Like” on our Facebook Page and following us on Twitter @RSJCampaign.
  2. Share the posts, tweets and articles with your friends on your own social media platforms and tell people why you support this campaign. This way, our message reaches a wider audience.
  3. When we have public protest actions, join us physically or by sharing our message on social media.
  4. Consider donating to the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign to help us continue to do this work.

The RSJC believes that the South African Government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court across the country. By supporting us in one or more of the above ways, we can do this together.