CSW: Why do we fight?

By Julia Diprose  fromYWCA of Australia. Julia is currently attending the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Since I found out I was coming to the Commission on the Status of Women #CSW (and bragging about it on Facebook) people have invariably reacted to the news with combinations of “That’s amazing! So, what is it exactly?”

To my chagrin (I am after all a communications professional) I have found answering this question rather difficult. It is only here in New York, deprived of real caffeine and sleep, and spending 16 hour days at the UN, that I have found myself able to answer the most basic of questions – what am I doing here?

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Julia Diprose

The CSW Commission on the Status of Women is an international forum attended by delegations from 45 UN member states at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Commission is the ultimate policy-making body on gender equality and the advancement of women. It meets annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. The theme for the 58th Commission is: “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.”

Ok, great. Now what does that mean?

At the end of the CSW a document of Agreed Conclusions is produced – it contains commitments that governments around the world make to ensure that the world tomorrow is a equal place for women. The Millenium Development Goals expire in 2015 and we are here to talk about what comes next.

The world’s not so bad, you think. I’m a clever, capable woman. I take care of myself and the idea that I can’t is fundamentally offensive. Beyonce exists. Tina Fey is killing it. We got this.

We forget, in our selfishness, in our loneliness that there is no better time in the world to be a woman than today. That’s true and it should be celebrated.

But.

A girl is born to a family with four children. There is no access to contraceptives and her mother cannot afford to feed four hungry mouths let alone one more No matter. She is born.

I won’t tell you what country she is from because she could be from anywhere. 222 million women around the world have no access to contraception. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,  Executive Director of UN Women: When women have unwanted pregnancies they sign a contract with poverty.

Because food is tight and her brothers are prized, the girl grows up hungry. Her mother falls pregnant twice more and means get even more scarce. The costs of school uniforms is such that only two of the six children can be sent to school. The boys go.

It is difficult to make certain claims about womanhood, about sexuality, about feminism. Being a woman today is tremendously complicated and capturing the nuances of our experiences is fraught. Making generalities about men, about culture, about patriarchy and tradition is equally problematic. Everywhere good men stand with us.

But I want to state this explicitly.

Around the world today, women are prized as playthings. Their virginity defines them. Do not doubt that the idea that women could or should enjoy their own body is offensive to many. The plague of female genital mutilation is testament to that. The power and ownership of others continues to define women.

This little girl won’t go to school – won’t learn how to spell or how to count or how to play.

How can she develop the ability and wherewithal to flourish?

I look at my boyfriend’s nieces – teeny, lovely little things who have the utter confidence that comes from only ever being loved. Their beauty and innocence and shining promise is a delight.

How many little girls have never had that love?

And this little girl . She will not be taught about her own body. About what she deserves, about how it should be treated. About how it should be touched. Or not. About respect. All these things will make her vulnerable to abuse in the future.

Can there be a better argument for age appropriate sex education? To save one little girl trauma and invasion and violation.

And this little girl. Will she be subjected to violating and degrading practices? Will her sexuality be controlled by others? Will she be free of harm?

1 in 3 women around the world experience violence – being raped. Being beaten.

Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV.  An estimated 150 million young women and girls under 18 years suffered some form of sexual violence in a given year.

So this little girl gets her period at age 12 – a frightening and confusing experience for her as she has never been taught about her body.

And now she is a woman.

She is married – to a man ten, twenty, forty years older than her. A man not of her choosing. A man who sees her as property.

I write this and I cannot begin to fathom the terror of that first night. Maybe of every night.

She falls pregnant. A lifetime of malnourishment means that she has acute anaemia. A lifetime of hunger means that her growth has been stunted, her hips too slim.

She is a child. In no way equipped to support a pregnancy. There is no medical support. There is no support from family.

Giving birth is an excruciating process.

I am terrified of giving birth in the best medical facilities and with the best care money can buy. I cannot begin to fathom what these girls go through.

If she survives the pregnancy, and the birth, if she does not develop an obstetric fistula and the baby survives – the cycle will be perpetuated. We are letting girls and women slip through the cracks.

We are not doing enough, not nearly enough, for girls. For women.

I tell this story conscious of perpetuating a narrative that suggests violence against women is something that happens elsewhere – to other women in an other place.

Violence against women happens everywhere. 35% of girls and women around the world have experienced it. It is insidious. For some, it is having their genitals cut. For some, being burnt and beaten and whipped in the home. For some its the terror of a volatile, controlling partner. For some it’s a life of slavery – slavery that we thought we had eradicated.

Trafficking is in the top three most profitable industries in the world. Buying people is flourishing.

We cannot capture all their voices. But for all of those who cannot, or did not speak, I stand and weep with you. And I fight for you.

A document cannot ensure the end of violence. Only people can. But this document, that holds governments accountable to do more, is a part of something bigger. One piece in a vast puzzle.

I want to be a champion for women and girls at home and around the world.

And that’s why I’m here.

Mon expérience au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme à l’ONU – 24ème session

De Maëlle Rabilloud, YWCA Mondiale du bénévolat.

Maelle Rabilloud

Maelle Rabilloud

Bénévole à la YWCA Mondiale depuis le 1er juillet 2013, je n’envisageais pas de rester à Genève en septembre. Mais après avoir passé deux mois fantastiques ici, lorsque l’on m’a parlé de la possibilité d’assister à la 24ème session du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, je n’ai pas hésité une seconde pour donner ma réponse : un grand OUI ! J’avais déjà eu l’opportunité d’assister en juillet à la 55ème session du Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination à l’égard des femmes, qui s’occupe  de suivre la mise en œuvre de la Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes (CEDAW – 1979) et j’avais déjà été impressionnée par le niveau des débats et les rencontres que j’avais faites. Cela m’a ouvert les yeux sur tellement de sujets dont j’ignorais la profondeur, comme par exemple l’ampleur de la violence et de la torture faites aux femmes en République Démocratique du Congo. J’ai aussi été profondément choquée par différents récits.

Suite à cette expérience, mes collègues m’ont proposé de participer au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Donc me voilà prête, le 9 septembre, pour assister à cette 24ème session à l’ONU, dans la fameuse salle XX. La première chose que l’on remarque est le gigantesque plafond sculpté et coloré qui surplombe la salle, œuvre d’art de l’espagnol Barceló. Il est absolument impressionnant dès la première minute où l’on rentre dans la pièce. Cela permet aussi de repérer les « habitués » du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, et les « nouveaux » puisque, évidemment, les nouveaux ont tous la tête en l’air alors que les habitués n’y prêtent plus attention.

Main room

(Copyright UN Geneva Information Service)

Le premier jour, pour l’ouverture, il y avait énormément de monde, il était difficile de se trouver une petite place ! Ensuite, cela s’est calmé, on a pu avoir accès aux places assises et à la traduction. Des discours très prenants se sont enchainés sur les situations des droits de l’homme les plus critiques à l’heure actuelle (le cas de la Syrie était très souvent cité, mais aussi sur l’Égypte, le Bahreïn, Israël/Palestine…). L’après-midi du jour d’ouverture, le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme recevait la première ministre thaïlandaise, Mme Yingluck Shinawatra cela montre la renommée et l’importance de ce Conseil des Droits de l’Homme.

Tout était nouveau pour moi, je regardais partout, j’ai observé la façon dont les diplomates se comportent, comment ils communiquent entre eux ou négocient informellement, ou encore comment certains viennent juste au moment de lire leur texte et repartent aussitôt. Et j’ai trouvé ça assez frustrant que chaque État n’ait le droit qu’à 3 minutes de parole, ils ont à peine le temps de s’exprimer en profondeur sur un sujet. Les différentes sessions se déroulent quasiment toutes de la même façon.  Elles commencent par un exposé de la situation en question ou l’explication d’un rapport qui intéresse les droits de l’homme par un expert, et sont suivies d’un « débat » que je qualifie plutôt de « commentaires » de chaque État et parfois de certaines ONG. Les États n’ayant la parole que pour 3 minutes, peu de choses sont vraiment dites, et tous veulent parler donc il est difficile d’avoir vraiment un dialogue interactif et un débat. Il faudrait réfléchir à une solution pour rendre ce dialogue plus « vivant » mais ayant un temps limité et un très grand nombre d’États, cela me semble compliqué.

En plus du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme « officiel » dans la salle XX, il y avait tous les jours des réunions informelles ainsi que des « side events » organisés par certaines missions permanentes auprès de l’ONU ou diverses ONG. Je dois reconnaître que ce sont ces réunions qui m’ont le plus intéressées lors du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Les « side events » duraient en général 2h et abordaient un sujet précis, présenté par des experts en la matière ce qui était particulièrement intéressant. Habituellement 4 ou 5 panelistes expliquaient leur point de vue, leur propre expérience dans leur pays, et ensuite la présentation était suivie de questions/réponses avec les personnes qui assistaient à l’événement (des membres de missions permanentes d’un État, des membres d’ONG…). Lors de ces side events, on avait vraiment la possibilité de présenter son point de vue, de réagir à certaines présentations, et certains échanges et sujets étaient très captivants. À titre d’exemple, je peux citer certains de ces side events que j’ai particulièrement appréciés : “Human Rights and armed conflict” ; “The International Criminal Court 15 years after the Rome Statute: Prospects for the future” ; “Decriminalizing abortion”; “ State practices and challenges in human rights education for women”; “Women defenders in conflict zones”…

De plus, j’ai eu la chance d’assister aux négociations de certaines résolutions. La résolution que la YWCA Mondiale a particulièrement suivie concerne « Child, Early and Forced Marriage ». J’ai beaucoup appris lors de ce processus. C’était une opportunité géniale pour moi de pouvoir être plongée au cœur même des négociations, de suivre la création du droit dès le début. Il faut y voir pour y croire, je ne pensais pas que l’on pouvait réellement débattre pendant des heures sur l’utilisation de tel ou tel mot employé, je comprends maintenant toute l’importance du moindre mot, suivant la définition propre qu’en ont les États. C’est un processus vraiment particulier et je suis heureuse d’avoir pu en observer le fonctionnement, de voir quel rôle une ONG peut jouer, comment les États s’influencent entre eux, la façon dont ils essaient de négocier encore après, dans les couloirs… Et je suis encore plus ravie de savoir que la résolution a été adoptée à l’unanimité, prenant en compte une de nos remarques (l’ajout de la notion d’inégalité homme/femme comme l’une des causes principales des mariages forcés pour les jeunes filles).

En conclusion, je remarque que j’ai été effectivement bien plus impressionnée par le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme que par mes précédentes expériences. Je ne regrette vraiment pas ma décision, ça a été une opportunité formidable. Je dois ajouter que j’ai eu la chance de ne pas être seule et d’avoir beaucoup appris grâce à une fervente défenseuse des Droits de l’Homme, Marie-Claude Julsaint. Elle a été une excellente professeure ayant un vrai don pour expliquer les choses simplement. Elle est vraiment passionnée par ce qu’elle fait, ce qui donne encore plus envie de s’y intéresser ! Enfin, cela m’a permis de mettre un sens « pratique » à tous mes cours théoriques, de mieux comprendre le fonctionnement du droit international, de découvrir beaucoup de choses, et surtout, cela m’a confirmé mon envie de travailler dans le milieu des droits de l’homme.

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women

By Laurie Gayle, Board member of the YWCA of Great Britain shares your experience of the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women).

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Laurie Gayle

To paraphrase a lady who’s been getting quite a lot of press in Britain this Summer[1], it is a truth universally acknowledged that Government will always fight its corner…even if the room they find themselves in is round.

Such was the case in July, when I attended the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) session and the UK examination at the United Nations in Geneva on behalf of YWCA Great Britain. To the casual observer, only a troglodyte of a country would not comply with the treaty which many have labeled the International Bill of Rights for women. Of course, the devil is always in the details and the cause of concern for the United Kingdom, whilst less overt than that of the country which had been examined the previous week (Democratic Republic of Congo), is marked by subtlety and intersection.

The examination came after a year of immense struggle. Recent policy changes, namely the introduction of the Equality Act, austerity measures and the Welfare Reform Act have had a regressive effect on the rights of girls and women in the UK.

Even more unsettling are members of the current government, led by Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equalities, stating that they are currently looking at options to repeal the Human Rights Act and also leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Seeing that CEDAW is the Human Rights treaty for women, the above directly contradicts the Government’s repeated statements during CEDAW55 that they take the treaty ‘very seriously’.

The Government was asked over 100 questions and participated in the dialogue with the United Nations for the better part of 6 hours. By UN standards, the examination was a damning one and the formal recommendations proposed by the UN and published at the end of July solidified this.

No bones about it, the UK CEDAW report card isn’t great for a country which has always considered itself ahead of the proverbial curve where women’s rights are concerned. The Committee did not prevaricate where recommendations were urgently needed. Issues borne out of the Universal Credit system (one of the major elements of recent Welfare Reform Act), were exposed as not having undergone a gendered assessment and as such, the Committee urged the Government to adopt measures to prevent manipulation of the system by abusive male partners. Further recommendations related to economic policy focused on ensuring that government spending reviews continuously and wholly focus on balancing the impact of the austerity measures on women’s rights.

And it wasn’t just benefits that felt the brunt of the war on welfare. Access to legal aid was cut as well and here, the UN strongly rebuked the Government and implied that reforms must be looked at again to assess the impact on how women are protected.

Further to this, the Committee requires the UK to now unequivocally provide access to justice and healthcare to all women, regardless of their immigration status or nationality whilst they’re in the United Kingdom. Part and parcel of this, the UN also want to see the establishment of a framework to nationally address trafficking and urges the ratification of the Istanbul Convention to criminalise forced marriage – both of which are rife in the UK.

But the recommendations that were most localised to the UK context revolved around the more subtle nature of patriarchy and sexism at work in the country. The Committee now calls for measures to work with media outlets to eliminate stereotyping and objectification of women in the media, with express emphasis on the advertising industry. On top of this, they’re calling for implementation of a regulator to intervene in matters such as this and of discriminatory, sexist reporting. This is a first.

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UN UK reporting

In all, the UN’s full recommendation list is 11 pages, and interestingly is largely based on the direct input from the NGOs involved in the process.[i]  Proving again that NGO participation is crucial for a democratic process like CEDAW to be more than just two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

For the process to work further, those who want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire must to do the following (as individuals or as part of an organisation):

  • Contact their MPs and ask what they are doing to address the CEDAW recommendations in your constituency
  • Use CEDAW ‘language’ in any lobbying or advocacy materials
  • Raise general awareness about CEDAW with your networks and encourage them to share with theirs
  • Embolden others to get involved in shadow reporting  for the next examination

The UN now requires the UK Government to report on their progress within a year’s time as well as the year following. By then – July 2015 – an election will have taken place in Britain and we’ll know if the Government really takes its obligations under International Law seriously or if they just know how to take a punch.

Young Women’s Voices Taken to Heights

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Madam Amina J. Mohammed, special advisor of the Secretary- General on the Post-2015 development planning and Kgothatso Mokoena

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate.  Kgothatso recently attended the consultation meeting on the High Level Panel 2015 held at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Below she shares her experience. 

A Discussion on the Post -2015 Agenda on High level Panel Report

In partnership with the Post -2015 Development planning team of the Secretary General , UN –non-governmental liaison services is facilitated a   civil society consultation in Geneva to  take a critical analysis  from their  perspective on four reports submitted to the  UN Secretary General;

1.    High level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post -2015 Development agenda (Post-2015 HLP)
2.    UN Sustainable Development Solutions network (SDSN)
3.    UN Global compact (UNGC)
4.    UN development Group (UNDG) “ The global Conversation begins”

These reports will serves as the Secretary General’s input to the UN Secretary report to the September 2013 General assembly special event on the Millennium development Goal (MDG’s) and the Post -2015 Development agenda. It was thus an official platform for civil society to provide analysis of the findings of these reports and to propose alternative approaches.

World YWCA was part of this consultative meeting on the HLP 2015 , which discussed the following issues intensively
•    Allocation of Resources
Questions : the participants raised  questions about the  heavy focus on private sector and how will  the new development agenda be financed given the  on-going global economic crisis  . Another question was the criteria for resource allocation and implication for regions such as sub Saharan  Africa, where 90% of poverty is anticipated, and who   have limited access to global markets. The last was a concern about the increasing reliance of the UN on High Level Panel which don’t include CSO , making the  inter-governmental processes  out of reach for  marginalised and excluded groups..
•    Private Public Partnerships.
Civil societies were encouraged to strengthen their linkages between the Private Business sector and  the development  agenda, and though the  various  initiatives exist ,  to develop a coherent strategy for including all as the  slogan for process is leave no one behind.. It was suggested there’s  a urgent need for good innovative programmes which can influence PP partnerships contribute ahuman rights perspective to the post-2015 agenda. A specific  intervention would be the strengthen and expand work being  done ,  with a particular focus  on  social accountability and  increasing opportunities of employment and investment for all citizens in economically unequal countries  .
•    Climate Change
Various questions were raised on how  to  combat climate  change.  It was also noted that  social and environmental  indicators  were weak and there was no direct link to their implication  for peace ,in countries where conflicts are driven by  limited access to resources such as water and carbon fuels.

The answer was there is commitment  for capacity building of CSOs in these contexts to be more involved in linking peace building to sustainable development . There will be a conscious allocation of resources to an ecosystem based approach to disaster management and investment in local adaptation capacities to counter climate change and conflict driven by social exclusion from natural resources.

Being one of the very few young women in the meeting, I was rather disappointed that less was said on Women’s human rights  and nothing on youth , in particular young women in poor urban settings,  rural  villages and conflict zones . I had hoped that at this stage HLP report will put emphasis on;
•    Investing in young women’s education and training particularly the over 15 million that are out of school and already married.
•    Measures to be taken to protect the  economic and social rights  of these young women , particularly  rights to  identity and property , without which they cannot vote , open a bank account or own land , this defeats the  objective  of the HLP  Report of  ensuring  that no one goes hungry no more.
•     Climate change and  environmental  degradation has a profound impact on these young women as they are responsible for  providing water  and fuel for the household , and are often  caught up  in the conflict  for natural resources ,  raped and abducted  forced to be wives of combatants .
•     Efforts must be made to include their voices in any discussion on sustainable development, peace building and climate change.

The UN Women paper advocating for a transformative stand-alone goal on  gender equality, women ‘s rights and women’s empowerment   was  as key resource for the Post-2015 HLP report 2013, and provided critical content for the gender goal , which highlights the importance of ending child marriages , but in  conclusion  I believe that much still needs to be done before September, to include the needs and voices of all young women  and particularly those  who are already married or are in difficult  circumstances and socially excluded  at community  level.

I felt it was my responsibility as an activist and Young women Champion to share on the World YWCA “the Future Young Women Wants” document , which captures the voices of young women from our movement  which is in 120 countries and reaches young owmen in over 22,000 communities, I highlight some of the key  recommendations  suggested for inclusion in  the Post-2015 agenda:
•    Women access to land/ Natural Recourses
•    Women and young women participation in decision making
•    Recognition on the roles and responsibilities of women participating in Peace processes
•    Women and young women’s role in development and policy review dialogue
•    Youth development:  employment, training and education opportunities.
•    Special attention to be given on Climate change and Justice Issues.

Copy of the “Future Young women wants” was then handed to Madam Amina J. Mohammed, special advisor of the Secretary- General on the Post-2015 development planning.

Would like to thank the World YWCA for their continuum efforts to provide  spaces for young women to participate  in such high  level policy making platforms and their commitment to support care and nurture for  us as future Leaders

YWCA of Fiji: a long-time fighter for women, justice and peace, says Pacific activist Anne Walker

Ann Walker, member of YWCA of Fiji and co-founders of the International Womens Tribune Centre ( IWTC)

Ann Walker, member of YWCA of Fiji and co-founders of the International Women's Tribune Centre ( IWTC)

Anne Walker spent 11 years with the YWCA of Fiji that marked the beginning of her long career with grassroots women. Walker is one of the founders of the International Women’s Tribune Centre ( IWTC) and has participated as an activist and organiser in all four UN world conferences on women and NGO Forums in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

In this interview with World YWCA, Walker provides a history of the YWCA of Fiji and calls on the UN to take responsibility in bringing peace to the women of Fiji.

The Pacific YWCAs, especially Fiji, have always made peace a priority in their work. How do you think this current situation will affect the work of the YWCA of Fiji and other women’s movements?

The early history of the YWCA of Fiji, certainly in terms of the work around current and public affairs in the 1960s, was very focused on the Fiji independence struggle and the fight against nuclear testing in Mururoa, French Polynesia. The YWCA took a leading role in both of these major events, joining forces with other community groups and, in the late 60s, with students from the newly established University of the South Pacific.

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