The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) took place recently from 4th-15th March. The theme this year was ‘Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls’. Here Sr Pat Kenny reports on her experience of being there with Sr Suzette Clarke (an Australian RSC).
The CSW57 met to discuss the relentless epidemic of violence against women and girls. Not only have one in three women worldwide been subjected to violence in their lifetimes, but many will endure multiple consequences from a long list of violent acts perpetrated against women and girls throughout their lives. This violence is rooted in the social system referred to as patriarchy in which men have the central roles in society and family and women and girls’ options are restricted and their lives often less valued. This gender inequality is embedded in and reinforced throughout the social, cultural and religious practices of a society.
This year’s theme is based on the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA 1995) which identifies violence against women as one of the twelve critical areas of concern requiring urgent action if the avowed goals of equality, peace and development are to be achieved. Likewise the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW 1979) clearly defines the legal obligations of Member States of the United Nations to prevent violence against women and girls.
The Consultation Day which preceded the CSW was, as usual, a great preparation for all attending, especially those coming for the first time. This year 7,000 participants registered for the CSW. Not all attended the Consultation Day, thank goodness! To open the day we had a performance from Girl be Heard a group using theatre as a vehicle to empower young women to become brave, confident, socially conscious leaders while exploring their own challenging circumstances. Their theme was Human Trafficking and their message very clear.
We were welcomed by Soon-Young Yoon, Chair of CSW/NY and then by Michelle Bachelet, Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women. Michelle’s message was ‘The time for action is now!’ She spoke of violence against women and girls as undermining sustainable development. We need to say no! to violence including forced marriage; no! to gender inequality; no! to violence against women in conflict situations! Domestic violence is still not seen as a crime in many countries. CSW is the largest gathering to speak out against violence against women and girls. It is unacceptable to scratch the surface of the Millennium Goals. It is vital that we engage young men and boys in the fight. It is the role of UN Women to approach governments to raise awareness of this violence.
The keynote address was given by one of the NGO CSW Women of Distinction Awardees – Bineta Diop (Senegal) Chair of the Board of Directors, Femmes Africains Solidarite. The other Awardee, Tawakkol Karmen (Yemen) was, at 32 yrs old, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, was unable to be present. Bineta, who works to create a platform for women at elections said ‘No to violence. Yes to the ballot box not the bullet’. Senegal’s last elections were peaceful – Kenya’s would be the following day – what would be the outcome? Women pay the price of conflict and their rights are compromised. Beijing calls on us to be vigilant! Women have no part in peace processes. We need to advance women’s rights globally.
A panel on Trafficking of Women and Girls followed. The participants, all highly qualified, stated that while legislation is present, trafficking persists. We are dealing with consequences not the root cause. Women’s rights = human rights. All humans have a desire for fairness therefore women must be seen as equals. Achievement of women is not acknowledged. They are marginalised by hierarchy of men. Pain is an important trigger of aggression. Poverty, in the light of progress, triggers aggression and this can be displaced onto others.
Another panel on The Role of Men represented the people of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and included Ambassador Garcia-Gonzalez of El Salvador. These emphasised among other points the need to create gender equality at school; that there should be a national awareness of both men and women; that a media strategy is needed to control advertising; policies around alcohol consumption and a restriction on arms.
One point raised was the need for bystander involvement and Malika Dutt (India), CEO and founder of Breakthrough described with the aid of a video, her project ‘Ring a bell’ where bystanders seeing or hearing violence would ring the doorbell and let the perpetrators know they and their behaviour are known. This has taken off well in various states in India and further afield through networking. The video showed that the most dangerous place for a woman can be in her own home!
The rest of the week, for Suzette and I, was taken up attending the various side events of CSW57 held around New York at the UN Church Centre, the Salvation Army, the Armenian Convention Centre and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre so there was plenty of walking and of course, by now, we have mastered the local transport system! The choice of subject and venue allowed us to hear about community-based solutions to violence from all continents and the hopes of many for change in attitudes towards the plight of women and girls.