More Than Just a Theme: Violence Against Women and Girls

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women began earlier this week with Member States coming together to discuss and reach an agreement on this year’s theme of “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls” and on the review theme of “the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”.

Civil society organizations, inter-governmental bodies, and human rights activists are here to observe and advocate with Member States to do the right thing and make concrete conclusions that will respond with due diligence toward violence against women and girls, domestic and intimate partner violence, and will ensure that all women and girls have access to health services and have ownership of their bodies and reproductive rights.

In observing the statements made by Member States these past few days, I have heard a lot of repetition of support for the theme. Almost all Member States support comprehensive work on this theme. Many have spoken about major gains their countries have made in expanding the rights of women, especially in terms of protection and support services in the cases of rape, HIV/AIDS, domestic and intimate partner violence, and reproductive health. The truth of these statements is not clear because data collection and monitoring and evaluation in most countries is weak or severely lacking.

It is shocking that all of these Member States support the elimination of violence against women and girls when they are at the UN table, but in every region of the world, many women vulnerable to violence and discrimination continue to live on the margins of their communities. In order to change this negative state, governments must first honestly engage with the problem by identifying its root causes of patriarchy, economic inequality and lack of access, harmful traditional practices, and use human rights based solutions. They must remember that violence against women and girls is not just a theme to consider for two weeks, but that it is a lived reality for women and girls across the world.

Something that has stuck out is the number of states and regional organizations that have indicated the family as the center of resolution of violence against women, failing to consider that in many cases, violence against women begins and ends within the family. European, Central and Latin American, South East Asian, and North American countries are some that have spoken of reproductive health and rights. Beside the European Union countries, there hasn’t been impressive verbal support calling for an end to discrimination and violence against LGBT communities nor for women’s reproductive rights, especially abortion. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) have been completely left out of the conversation, save for the statement made by Ireland for the European Union, and the civil society organization Latin American and Caribbean Committee for Defense of Women’s Rights.

As the CSW57 enters its second and final week, there will hopefully be not only a set of agreed conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, but that we will have real and substantial support for implementation measures on access to health and reproductive rights and services, protection from honor, culture, tradition as an excuse for violence against women and girls, protection of women human rights defenders from state and non-state perpetrators, a steadfast resolve to end impunity and ratify and implement CEDAW, UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions, and other human rights agreements. 

by Zarin Hamid, Consultant, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

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As the global coordinator of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership is doing its part at the 57thsession by working in solidarity with likeminded national and international groups fighting for an end to gender based violence, an end to impunity enjoyed by state and non-state actors, fulfillment and protection the human rights of all people, and an end to the culture of militarism that reinforces gender inequalities and violence in our communities around the world. We have submitted our written statements to the CSW57 directly urging Member States to act through substantial means to protect, prevent, and promote.

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