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.

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