Policies affecting girls and women are at the center of attention this week during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59/ Beijing+20)

As the United Nations crosses the 15-year timeline on one set of millennium development goals, it prepares to launch another set. The year 2015 marks a significant milestone – the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – which will be the focus of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59). The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which drives the U.N.’s agenda for women’s empowerment, is celebrating 20 years with events, meetings, and reports that are being released in over 600 of the official and sideline gatherings all around NYC. All this activity is tied to the annual March 9-20 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women’s 59th session.

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Things got started on Sunday, March 8th, on International Women’s Day, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC. The women of the world gathered in a consultation that began with a march for gender equality and women’s rights; beginning in Harlem where African drummers set the tone, and soldiers presented yellow ribbons to patrons exiting the Apollo Theater, as the women set off to the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the United Nations where they marched to Times Square.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is executive director of UN Women, the secretariat for the Commission on the Status of Women. While the meeting provides a time for her to hail major milestones since 1995, Mlambo-Ngcuka is also seizing the chance to flag stalled progress and disappointments. With the support of campaigns like the He4She, United Nations campaign for gender equality, a difference can be made.

This is a critical year of taking stock.”

-Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

With an eye to the new set of 15-year development goals launching this year, she called for “Planet 50:50 by 2030”, and urged member states to achieve measurable progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action within the next five years and to commit to definitely ending gender inequality within the next 15.

At the same time, she said member states must redouble their funding commitments to meet the target of $500 million in annual voluntary contributions to UN Women.

At a 2014 pledging conference 15 member states pledged just under $79 million for UN Women. Of these, only six countries committed $1 million or more while five contributed between $1,000 and $10,000. Denmark was the only country to pledge $10 million, a target Mlambo-Ngcuka would like to see at least 10 countries meet.

Last week, at a kickoff press conference for this week’s annual gathering, Mlambo-Ngcuka also flagged countries’ failure to implement laws to protect women from violence in nations where discriminatory customary laws prevail on a collective failure of leadership.

She asked countries to “step it up”, by recommitting themselves to meeting the targets and rethinking the implementation strategies that haven’t proven successful. She called on all governments to study the newly released 20 year-review and embrace its recommendations. Those include closing gaps between legislation and implementation, reducing the prevalence of violence against women, remedying insufficient sex-disaggregated data, increasing funding for action plans, redressing the low participation of women in the labor market and the disproportionate and negative effect of the financial crisis on women.

The first week of CSW59/ Beijing+20 was an overall success. The high level women of the world will continue to gather all over the city until March 20th. To get involved visit the UN Women official website at www.unwomen.org.