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Statement Of Outrage And Resistance From The Coalition Of African Lesbians [CAL] At The 59th Session Of The Commission On The Status Of Women [CSW]


The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL], [i]a women’s rights organisation with members in 19 African countries, salutes all those states and civil society actors who contributed to and shaped the powerful outcomes at this 59th Commission on the Status of Women [CSW], 20 years since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Platform has been a powerful standard and influence in shaping the way that women’s rights has been thought about and actioned.  We further commend the efforts of those who have worked consistently to ensure meaningful participation and engagement of civil society in the multiple UN processes. We particularly note and commend the space that has been created and expanded over the years to enable this participation at the Commission on the Status of Women.

 We bring to the attention of state and non-state actors the factors that have led to the deepening hostility of the women lives and women human rights defenders. These factors include, militarization, cultural and religious fundamentalisms, economic and social inequalities and geographical and environmental contexts.   The goal of advancing women’s rights and gender equality cannot become a reality unless these systemic conditions are recognized and systematically addressed. We demand that states take urgent, accountable and sustained measures to confront these systems of subjugation that continue to oppress all people, especially women and women human rights defenders.

This March 2015 at the Commission on the Status of Women, a number of alarming trends have come to our attention and we hereby place on record our deep disappointment and outrage at the process of decision making for this Session and hereby:

  1. Raise alarm at the way space for genuine inclusion, engagement, resistance and expression of women’s rights, including women human rights defenders and others from civil society concerned with the human rights of women, has been shrinking in recent years at the Commission on the Status of Women.
  2. Bring urgent attention to  states and civil society everywhere the deliberate exclusion of civil society organisations and social movements concerned with social justice in the process of developing the Political Declaration; a document which should reflect the lived realities of all women as well as the hostile contexts – social, political and economic – that women are confronted with daily. The Commission on the Status of Women is aimed at advancing gender equality. The lack of participation by women and women’s rights activists and women human rights defenders makes a mockery of that aim as the process and content of this Political Declaration has not been inclusive of civil society. We believe that the truths, the struggles, the politics and the realities of women is largely absent from the document as a result of this exclusion. This exclusion is unacceptable.
  3. Call attention to and expose the tokenism with which civil society is engaged with at the Commission on the Status of Women. While engagements at the Commission on the Status of Women require that there be representation of non-governmental and civil society organisations, as well as member states input, there is very little genuine interest from states to engage, whether locally, regionally or internationally with civil society organisations and to partner and work towards the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and related standards such as the Beijing +20 Review.
  4. Condemn the removal of critical language which demonstrates the reluctance of states to acknowledge and confront the issues that women have been and continue to mobilise. This includes the exclusion of language on human rights; women human rights defenders; sexual orientation and gender identity and expression; feminism; sexual and reproductive health and rights; sex work. States have excluded this language as though this act erases the realities women face everywhere. We cannot be made invisible. Our issues and the ideas we have built over decades and even centuries cannot be erased by any institution and/or group and certainly should not be erased by a body set up to advance gender equality and the rights of women.
  5. Disturbed at the exclusion of and failure to recognise in 2015 the right to autonomy of women over our bodies and lives and further at the demonstration of the lack of commitment to gender equality in the very act of excluding this language.
  6. Notes with dismay and challenges states and others who have enabled and created the increased investment in organising men to speak on behalf of and for women and our rights. We also condemn the exclusion of and failure to invest in the diversity of women, including women organising and working in grassroots contexts.


The Coalition of African Lesbians therefore demands:

  1. That the Commission on the Status of Women return to its primary ethos [ii] founded in the radical and transformative coming together of diverse women, and the recognition of the intersection of struggles, established twenty years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
  2. That the Commission on the Status of Women ensures the meaningful participation of women from civil society organisations and movements in contributing to and influencing the decisions and commitments expressed through the language of key documents at the Commission on the Status of Women. Including to reflect the daily struggles, the politics and the realities of women which should be informing our work.
  3. That states operating to advance gender equality at the Commission on the Status of Women and elsewhere, recognise that such advancement is not compatible with the culture of treating women like minors, possessions and as needing protection. We demand that states begin to understand and accept that women are human beings with rights, including the right to freedom and dignity and autonomy over our bodies and lives. Neither states nor men can own us. Both states and men must relinquish their oppressive power over our bodies and lives and get on with the work of ensuring accountable, transparent and participatory democracy both as individual states and as collectives in these intergovernmental spaces. This applies to both the economic/global north and economic/global south states.
  4. That states ensure that UN Women be empowered to fulfil their true role in acting to advance women’s rights and gender equality across the globe for all women in all contexts and that constraints by state and non-state actors on the role of UN Women and others be removed.



Sheena Gimase Magenya
Media, ICT and Communications
Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] Skype: gimase
Alternative email:
Tel (South Africa): 00 27 11 403 0004/7 Cell: +27 744 587 870
Tel (Kenya): + 254 708 779 111
Office: 33 Hoofd Street, Braamfontein Office Park, Forum II, Old Historical Building


[i] The Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] is network of organisations working to transform Africa into a continent where lesbian and bisexual women and gender non-conforming people enjoy the full range of human rights, secure in the knowledge that we are recognised as full persons and citizens, with rich and diverse cultures, and enjoy a significant and respected presence in all spheres of life.

The Coalition subscribes to the philosophy of Radical African Lesbian Feminism [RALF]. 

The work of CAL is shaped by an African feminist understanding, informed by research, and strengthened by the claiming of social, political and economic power, and the disruption of hetero-patriarchal structures of control and oppression. Our understanding of feminism is dynamic and evolves as it emerges in feminist practise and reflects on its meanings. We embrace a feminism that condemns, makes visible and challenges oppressive power against people on the basis of race, sex, (dis)ability, age, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation and expression and that excludes on these and social, political and economic grounds.

[ii] Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action [Beijing, China – September 1995: Mission Statement-Point 5]: The success of the Platform for Action will require a strong commitment on the part of Governments, international organizations and institutions at all levels. It will also require adequate mobilization of resources at the national and international levels as well as new and additional resources to the developing countries from all available funding mechanisms, including multilateral, bilateral and private sources for the advancement of women; financial resources to strengthen the capacity of national, subregional, regional and international institutions; a commitment to equal rights, equal responsibilities and equal opportunities and to the equal participation of women and men in all national, regional and international bodies and policy- making processes; and the establishment or strengthening of mechanisms at all levels for accountability to the world’s women.