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.

Child Marriage: Enough is Enough

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Communications Officer. (Original Source first published via Girls Globe)

Child marriage remains one of the most horrific human rights violations that exists today. It is estimated that globally 14 million girls are married off before the age of 18, robbing them of their childhood and leaving them vulnerable to violence, poverty, domestic slavery, sexual assault and HIV/AIDS. Child marriage is a human rights violation that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicity.

The recent news coverage of the 8-year-old girl who was married off to a 40-year-old man in Yemen, poignantly highlights the desperate need to outlaw child marriage. After their wedding night, the 8-year-old girl – identified as “Rawan” – died from torn genitals and severe bleeding in the northwest city of Hardh. According to media accounts, the fatal injuries were incurred through sexual intercourse. Let me emphasize that it was NOT sexual intercourse. It was rape and it should be clearly understood as so.  Rawan’s tragic story is sadly not unique and millions of girls die every year from injuries incurred from sexual violence.

Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Furthermore, as a result of child marriage, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yemen has a high maternal mortality rate of 370 deaths per 100,000 live births. Reproductive health studies show that young women face greater risks in pregnancy than older women, including life-threatening obstructed labour due to adolescents’ smaller pelvises. The shortage of prenatal and postnatal healthcare services, especially in Yemen’s rural areas, place girls’ and women’s lives at risk. An overwhelming majority of Yemeni women still deliver at home, often without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant capable of handling childbirth emergencies. Girls who marry young often have insufficient information on family planning or worse, none at all. As young wives they find it difficult to assert themselves against older husbands to negotiate family planning methods.

Human Rights Watch reports that 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, with 82% married before age 18. Child marriage is in fact legal in Yemen; however, in light of the recent cases and international media attention, Yemen Parliamentarians are calling for new laws which ban child marriage, set the minimum age for marriage at 18 ,and implement strategic measures to effectively enact the law. Speaking in an interview with CNN, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s human rights minister stated,

Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It’s time to end this practice.”

In order to fully eliminate child marriage, awareness raising of the negative impacts of this human rights violation must be conducted. There are a magnitude of elements that contribute to child marriage including lack of awareness and understanding. One father who married off his young daughter spoke to Human Rights Watch and declared that if he knew then what he knows now he would never have married off his daughter.

In many cases, the reality of poverty plays a big role in the decision to marry off a daughter. Here are a few examples of how poverty impacts child marriage:

  • Marrying a girl child means one less family member to feed, clothe and educate.
  • The bride’s family receives a hefty dowdy/bride price for a young girl, or in those instances where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated. Sometimes the daughters are actually sold to pay off debts.

Another huge determinant of child marriage is tradition. Child marriage is a traditional practice in many countries and cultures around the world, and breaking tradition can alienate families from the rest of the community. However in the words of Graca Machel, member of The Elders and a major contributor to the founding of Girls Not Brides,

Traditions are made by us – and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.”

One 11 year old Yemeni girl decided to break away from tradition and challenged her own parents when they arranged for her to be married to an older man. Nada al-Ahdal caught the attention of the world when she uploaded a three minute video on YouTube after she escaped from your family and took refuge at her uncle’s house.

The world needs more Nada al-Ahdal’s but can we really leave eight, nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds to defend themselves? Nada is one of the rare and lucky girls’ who successfully avoided child marriage but there are millions who are not so lucky. Hence, we need to make a change and advocate for child marriage to be fully outlawed and recognised as a human rights violation. Thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, women and girls have been advocating to end child marriage for years and, although change will not come over night, we must keep on and remember the Rawan’s of the world.

Take Action:

Girls Not Brides

Every Woman Every Child

Other Useful Websites:

Human Rights Watch

UNFPA

Human trafficking is a crime of a global scale

By Lauren Shannon Shaw, young woman from the YWCA of Ireland.

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organised crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery” – Barack Obama

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Lauren Shannon Shaw

Human trafficking is a crime of a global scale. It affects every country in the world whether as an origin, transit or destination country. Human trafficking is a heinous crime and a serious violation of human rights. In today’s globalised society it is easier than ever to transport people through countries and across borders and the rapid advance of technology means a buyer can select their purchase at the click of a button.

The International Labour Organization estimate that there are 2.4 million people in the world at any given time who have been trafficked for forced labour or sexual exploitation. In fact, human trafficking is believed to be the second largest global crime today, generating approximately 31.6 billion USD every year. The reasons for trafficking are numerous and complex but universal factors include limited migration opportunities, lack of effective legislation/enforcement, political and economic instability and war or fear of conflict. Woman and girls are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking due to deep rooted social inequality. This includes gender discrimination within the family and community, a tolerance of violence against women, unequal access to education and the subsequent lack of employment opportunities available. The means by which a victim is entrapped include threats, deception, fraud, abduction and sadly some are sold by their own family.

The majority of women who are trafficked are exploited in the sex trade which is believed to be the most common form of trafficking. Many survivors speak of being offered well -paid jobs abroad as waitresses, dancers or au pairs but instead find themselves forced to work in brothels, often unaware of their location and unable to speak the language. Some are led to believe that they owe a debt to their trafficker which they must work to pay off, but in reality the debt will never be paid. Studies have shown that 70% of victims of sexual exploitation meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder in the same range as victims of torture. Last year Stop the Traffik launched a video campaign to raise awareness of the reality of sex trafficking. The video shows a group of women dancing in a window in Amsterdam’s red light district while spectators gather to enjoy the free entertainment.  The cheering turns to stunned silence when the slogan appears “every year thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe, sadly they end up here.”

Of course the current publicity around sex trafficking should not distract us from the other forms of slavery that exist today which include forced labour, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. These crimes are equally deplorable and also prey on the vulnerability and desperation of others. Whether it’s the child labourer working long hours on a cocoa farm in West Africa or the factory worker subjected to dangerous conditions and an unfair wage to provide us with cheap clothes, it is the same denial of equality and dignity that is intrinsic to our common humanity.

While the statistics can be overwhelming and create a sense of helplessness, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan compares the work to be done to that of the abolitionists during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and appeals that:

“We must approach today’s abuses in the same spirit- each of us seeking not to blame somebody else, but to think what we can do to hasten their end.  There is no evil so entrenched that it cannot be eradicated. Inspired by the abolitionists of two centuries ago, let us fight against exploitation and oppression and stand up for freedom and human dignity.”

A first step to take to help prevent human trafficking is to be informed of the signs of trafficking, talk to local politicians about it and participate in local anti-trafficking initiatives. Secondly, be a responsible consumer- enquire about the labour policies of companies you shop in to ensure they are free from forced labour or other forms of exploitation. Finally, if you suspect someone to be a victim of trafficking report it to an organization dealing with trafficking in your area.

More information on human trafficking can be found at:

http://www.stopthetraffik.org/

http://www.ungift.org/

http://www.thea21campaign.org/

Advances, challenges and ways forward

The review of the ICPD in Asia Pacific kicked off with a civil society (CSO) forum; Advances, Challenges and Ways Forward: Asia Pacific CSO forum on ICPD beyond 2014,  in advance of the Sixth Asia- Pacific Population Conference (APPC). Below Yadanar and Sureka share their experience:

Asia Pacific CSO forum on ICPD beyond 2014 was organised by the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) from 12-13 Sep, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Sureka from YWCA of Sri Lanka and Yadanar from YWCA of Myanmar participated as World YWCA representatives for this forum.

Sureka is the youth co-ordinator of YWCA Sri Lanka and the project co-ordinator of the young women lead change.” My vision for young women is to be more educated about the Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and according to the vision and the strategic frame work of the world YWCA which empowers the young women throughout the world, especially the excluded communities.”

Yadanar is the young women’s coordinator from the National YWCA of Myanmar. “My vision for young women is that we are equipped with leadership skills, have the opportunity to grow, our voices are heard, our sexual and reproductive health and rights are respected.”

Asia & Pacific CSO

Yadanar and Rajini Sureka

 13 organizations from 5 regions participated in the forum. Among the 120 participants, 30% are youths.

During the forum, we actively discussed about SRHR, education, comprehensive sexuality education, access to safe and legal abortion, poverty reduction and sustainable development, ageing and migration. The participants are grouped according to the regions and have to map and prioritize issues, obstacles and challenges in each region and share evidence based best practices in addressing the challenges in policy making and other advocacy efforts and then all the participants have to discuss about developing the CSO statement and recommendations to 6th Asia Pacific Population Conference.

50 young leaders from Asia and the Pacific gathered in Bangkok on 14th -15th September 2013, prior to the 6th Asia Pacific Population Conference, and formed the regional platform to ensuring that the rights of young people are met, respected, and protected. The young people came up with recommendations for five thematic areas: (1) Education, (2) SRHR’s for adolescents and young people, (3) Comprehensive Sexuality Education, (4) Abortion, and (5) Young people and Migration.

After these 2 forums, the draft statement and recommendation is done to submit for 6th Asia and Pacific Population Conference which will be held from 16-20 Sep, 2013. We really look forward that the statements and recommendations are accepted with significant change for the future.

Our gratitude goes to World YWCA for giving this wonderful opportunity to participate in these forums, make new networks and share our experiences. We are really looking forward to and determined to make significant change for young women in our country and for our countries.

Talking about sex at CSW 2010

By YWCA of Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Pathfinder International in coalition with a few other organisations such as the Youth Coalition and Population Action International hosted a side event here at CSW on March 1, 2010 looking at Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive rights. It was great to link with other young women working on issues such as HIV and AIDS and other reproductive rights issues.

We heard from two young women leaders. Ishia Chaudry, founder of the Youth Parliament Foundation in India reminded us all that “you don’t need qualifications to be an activist and believe in something.” Maria Ines Romero from the Youth Coalition called for greater realisation of the fact that “young people should be able to exercise their right to education and information – and this is more than a simple biology lesson.”

Young women need to be involved in discussions and decisions about reproductive rights around the world, especially due to their current knowledge and experience. At the most recent YWCA Regional Training Institute held in the Asia-Pacific YWCAs in the region recognised the link between violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV – and looked to engage with partners and others to speak and advocate for women’s education, economic justice, sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, HIV and AIDS and human rights, through the leadership of women and young women including at international campaigns and celebrations. CSW is an important forum to do this advocacy and remind many leaders from around the world of the role of young women in tackling the HIV and AIDS pandemic.