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.

What next after the bride price?

Nelly Lukale, from the YWCA of Kenya,  and was a World YWCA Programme Associate in 2012. Nelly has been championing young women’s SRHR in Kenya and interned at the World YWCA in Geneva in to contribute her experience into global and regional advocacy.

Yeah!!  It’s another year, another month, and another time when all eyes, ears and minds are set on the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), one of the biggest women’s event of the year held annually by the United Nations in New York. So what are we going to discuss this year? Oh wow, it’s about the greatest monster in  society today, Violence against Women!!!

My only concern is about child marriage. How many survivors of such marriages will be at the CSW? And to the few who will be privileged enough to go, who will give them the pla

tform to raise their voice and share their life experience with rest of the world? And who will help stop this monster from affecting our sisters and daughters?  Is it me

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Nelly Lukale

and you,

or is it the big files neatly arranged in the offices of our governments, INGO and NGO offices, together with loads of recommendations, commitments and solutions?  These are some of the questions we should keep asking ourselves as we prepare to participate in the CSW this year.

There are universal rules for marriage and rules against child marriage. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states

 “that men and women of full age are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with free and full consent of the intending parties”.

Who said marrying me off as a young girl to a man who is older than my own father and getting lots of money and animals as bride price will change the life of my family? This is just a temporary solution. If I was given a chance to study, get a good job and marry when, where and who I want, I would make the lasting change I want to see in my family and society at large. Education is therefore the only way to prevent child marriages. Early marriage, together with its relation to low levels of education, high levels of violence and abuse and severe health risks results in increased vulnerability to poverty for girls.

For many communities and families in my region, poverty is the main cause of child marriage and the reason why parents choose to marry their girls off, as they are regarded as an economic burden. What we don’t know is that by doing so we deprive this girl of her basic rights to education, health, development and equality. It pains me to see girls regarded as a commodity that a family can trade to settle debts or  a family who believes that marrying their young girls off is the best way to ensure the   economic safety of their child and the whole family. The issue of virginity still remains a major concern for many families in today. Girls are expected to maintain their virginity till marriage and are considered a shame to the family if they lose their virginity before marriage, so many girls are married early to ensure their virginity. The big question that remains in my mind is “who on earth checks whether a man is a virgin at marriage or not”? Isn’t this pure discrimination? And how long are we going to sit back and watch while this happens?

 As parents we MUST consider the consequences of child marriage before we make a decision to send them off to that very old man. We must know that these girls have not developed fully and their bodies will strain during child birth which might cause obstructed labor. As young mothers, they may also face severe complications such as heavy bleeding, infection and anaemia. These girls lack freedom of movement so they are not able to negotiate access to health care because of fear, lack of money, distance or permission from their spouse. And did you just forget that HIV/AIDS has its arms wide open ready to grab any innocent blood? Young girls suffer vulnerability to HIV/AIDS as these older husbands may already be infected from their previous relationships. They are unable to negotiate safer sex and use of contraceptives, such as condoms, to prevent them from HIV infection.

 My message to the governments, stakeholders, Civil Society and the International community is: let’s realize the rights of the girl child and develop programmes aimed at eradicating child marriage; let’s also improve access to education and eliminate gender gaps both in the health care services and education as well.

Remember, a wise choice today will lead to a better tomorrow. We have the power in our hands and will, so let us stand up and use it wisely!

 Over 30% of women in the world were before the reached 18 years of age and every year. 10 million CHILDREN  are forced into marriage!

You could truly make a difference at CSW 2013.

By signing this petition your voice will be loud and clear to the leaders, ambassadors and law makers of nations, that this practice can not be allowed to take place anymore in the world!