The Commission on the Status of Women has been indefinitely postponed in the rapid outbreak of the coronavirus. The conference was supposed to take place this week and was to include a number of side events and panels on such topics the general meetings would discuss.
In all honesty, postponing the Commission on the Status of Women is the best decision delegates of the member states could have made. Per the official email, the delegates do not want the virus to be spread by people flying in from other countries:
“In the light of the current conditions regarding coronavirus (COVID-19), CSW64 will suspend after one procedural meeting on 9 March. There will be no general discussion. All CSW side events on UN premises and all NGO parallel events have been cancelled. NGOs with valid annual grounds passes will be able to attend the procedural meeting on 9 March. There will be no issuance of CSW grounds passes and CSW64 confirmation letters are no longer applicable. We advise organizations to follow the Secretary-General’s strong recommendation that capital-based delegations and other stakeholders refrain from traveling to UN Headquarters.”
The meeting to decide to suspend the event came at an informal meeting held March 2. The procedural meeting agenda will only include “opening statements followed by the adoption of the draft Political Declaration and action on any other draft resolutions,” per another email.
If the event is suspended until further notice, all we can do is wait.
Before I go any further, I want to make it 100 percent clear that I think the delegates are making the right choice to suspend the conference. The risk is just too high to have the conference while the coronavirus is live in Manhattan. Though I am sure everyone flying in is aware of the disease and is taking proper precautions to protect themselves, it is still wise to be careful. Even if no one is currently sick, the virus typically takes a few days for symptoms to manifest. They could be lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike–a giant conference in the largest city of the United States could be the perfect, and most dangerous, opportunity.
However, what happens to the guests already here? Having just received the email Monday night, March 2, I am lucky to live in New York City already. I do not have to make travel plans or book a hotel or figure out living arrangements. In light of all this, what happens to the people who have already flown across the country, or world, to be here? The commission was not supposed to start until Monday, March 9, but people who are hosting side events are sure to have already arrived or even just bought plane or train tickets. Now with President Trump’s new emergency travel bans, will they be able to return home?
Here is an even bigger question: if people leave the United States because of this cancellation and return to their own countries, where the coronavirus may be an even bigger threat, and should the virus become more serious in the coming months, will they even be allowed back into the U.S.?
While I completely agree in that cancelling the commission was the best course of option for the immediate present, I strongly urge the United Nations officials to think beyond today’s danger and about tomorrow’s plans.