The World is Watching!

Raechel Mathews is from YWCA Australia (YWCA NSW). She represents the young women of her community and the movement at CSW 2013

At 10am, Monday, 4 March, 2013, the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations, New York, was officially opened! This year’s theme is ‘Elimination and

Raechel Mathews

Raechel Mathews

Prevention of Violence for Women and Girls’, involving negotiations between 45 member states of the United Nations, to come to a set of agreed conclusions about policy changes to be adopted in their home country in support of the advancement of women’s rights.

Commencing with a passionate address from the Chair of the Commission, HE Ms. Marjon Kamara from Liberia, stated that ‘the words we speak here in condemnation of violence will be transformed into new and systematic actions on the ground that create real and meaningful change in the lives of women and girls’. Ms Kamara also emphasized that the Commission participants must have a commitment to ‘enhance accountability from stakeholders about promises made’. As well as highlighting successes achieved, obstacles faced and outstanding challenges that the delegates are expected to share during their country presentations, Ms Kamara acknowledged the panel and side events which are to be held outside of the negotiations during the next two weeks; encouraging her colleagues to participate in interesting exchanges, and embrace ‘the vibrancy of side events and inspiration you get from the stories’ to ensure CSW will be a valuable experience.

The Chair, on behalf of the Bureau,(other members include Ms. Ana Marie Hernando (Philippines) of the Asia-Pacific States Group, Vice-Chair; Ms. Irina Velichko (Belarus) of the Eastern European States Group, Vice-Chair; H.E. Mr. Carlos Garcia Gonzalez (El Salvador) of the Latin American and Caribbean States Group, Vice-Chair; Mr. Filippo Cinti (Italy), Western European and other States Group, Vice-Chair) stressed that due to the disappointing collapse of last year’s agreed conclusions, globally, ‘all eyes are on us’  and full participation is required for a productive session.

The proceedings continued with an address by the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Elisson, who in his rousing speech, also highlighted the significance and importance of CSW, and reinforced the collective feeling in the room from delegates who share his passion about breaking the cycle of violence.

He acknowledged that ‘Women’s empowerment is picking up speed… but we need to do more’ and that ‘Ending violence against women is a matter of life and death’; describing it as ‘global scourge’.

He stated that knowing about violence against women is not enough, and that as a global body, it is imperative for member states to change minds and laws; mobilising forces to ‘create a culture where shame around these crimes is solely directed to the perpetrators’. The Deputy Secretary General stressed the importance of encouraging men to break gender stereotypes and to take an equal share of responsibility in their homes and families; and that ‘you do not have to be a politician and policymaker’ to eliminate violence against women.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, opened her speech to the Commission with athe clear statement that ‘the world is watching’ and in the wake of violence in India and Pakistan, the priority theme of CSW is timely. Ms Bachelet recounted several stories of violent attacks from around the world, including a young woman from the US who took her own life after being raped by men she thought were her friends; to a woman from Northern Mali who was raped for 2 nights by 7 men whilst her arms were chained to avoid her fighting back. She also talked about slavery, trafficking, economic abuse, female genital mutilation, and early and forced child marriage. Ms Bachelet credited the bravery of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousazfai, who was shot in the head for advocating girls’ right to education; received applause for reinforcing the importance of gender mainstreaming to be featured in the Millennium Development Goals; and identified the need for more women on the justice frontline (police, lawyers, judges) to encourage more women to report crime and receive assistance. Ms Bachelet conveyed that implementation of laws, policy and programmes must be accelerated, stating ‘Prevention of Violence AgainsftWomen requires acceptance from all members of society, including men and boys. Words need to be matched by action’.

Other speakers included the Chair of the Committee of the Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Ms Nicole Ameline, as well as the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Ms Rashida Manjoo, who spoke about disability and  institutional abuse.

This was an encouraging way to begin CSW 57, and to hear all speakers expressing their personal and their respective organisation’s desire for sustainable change. Let’s hope over the next two weeks this momentum and passion continues as the negotiations over policy language begin!

Hearing about UN Women’s commitment to eliminate early and forced child marriage is a positive step forward towards the World YWCA’s own campaign, which you can support here:

Reflecting on the Impact of CSW 2013

Alexis Warth of YWCA USA and is an active participant from the YWCA movement at the CSW 2013. Alexis sheds light on the issues concerning governments and laws pertaining to the issue of violence against women.

Alexis Warth

Alexis Warth

For the next two weeks, government delegates and representatives from over 6,000 organisations from across the world will be meeting in New York for the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW meets annually to assess the progress of gender equality in countries around the world and to develop standards and resolutions to promote the equality and empowerment of women. The CSW theme for 2013 is the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls,” making this year’s focus particularly relevant to the YWCA. As a representative from the YWCA USA, this event provides a meaningful opportunity to join together with women’s organizations from across the world to discuss how violence touches lives in every community and every country around the world and what movements and tactics have been effective in addressing this widespread issue.

What has been striking so far in these events and discussions with representatives from across the globe is the commonality of the issue of violence against women (VAW).  This violence can manifest itself in countless ways, from intimate partner violence, to sexual assault, to the restriction of sexual and reproductive health and education, to sex trafficking, to discrimination in the workforce and the political system.   Communities and countries may be at different points in the development of support systems and services, government laws and policies and public awareness around the issue, but violence against women is still at an epidemic level on every continent.

How is it possible that despite differences in economic development, culture, religion, history, government structures, etc., women in every community are still experiencing so many forms of violence?  How is it that 1 in 3 women globally, including in countries like the U.S. who have significant federal laws concerning VAW, will still experience physical violence, sexual assault and/or stalking by her intimate partner in her lifetime?

A common reaction is to turn to the legal and political systems in each country to pass and adopt laws to protect women from violence, prejudice and discrimination.  But as the Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet so eloquently put it at a CSW opening event over the weekend, “policies and declarations aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if there’s no implementation and accountability.”  While the formal consideration of violence against women in the governmental and legal spheres may vary from country to country, even in countries that have extensive laws and policies in place that address the safety and equality of women, a person’s gender is still a significant risk factor for violence and often a barrier to equal participation in society.

Already, there have been many discussions at this CSW about the underlying issues that allow VAW to continue to plague societies across the world, including issues around implementation of laws and policies; ongoing patriarchal structures; allocation of power, control and resources; dehumanization; and entitlement and privilege.
As one of the largest women’s organisation in the world, these discussions of how to not only address the crisis of violence in individuals’ lives, but also the underlying structural and societal causes of violence against women is essential to inform the ongoing work done by the YWCA across the globe.