As the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women dedicated to the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls begins, the political climate around the United Nations Headquarters in New York is focused on assessing the possibility of reaching agreement on key issues.
The CSW is one of the main UN processes mandated to make policy specifically on the advancement of women’s rights.[i] During the yearly two-week conference, “Member States gather…to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide,”[ii] focusing especially on social, political, civil and economic barriers.[iii] The objective of the process is for member states to agree on a set of conclusions on the thematic discussion; this year’s theme is on the elimination of violence against women and girls. The recommendations are made to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the six principal bodies of the UN and the body mandated to address social, environmental and economic concerns.[iv]
The political pressure around CSW57 to reach agreement is especially high after member states were not able to reach agreement during last year’s session on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. Additionally, the last time that the Committee addressed the elimination of violence against women and girls, during its 47th session in 2003, agreed conclusions were also not reached.
As the Center for Women’s Global Leadership notes, challenges blocking meaningful conclusions at the CSW47 included issues of religion, sexual and reproductive rights, and ending impunity (especially impunity for violence suffered during armed conflict).[v] Some other issues in dispute included development rights and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).[vi] Additionally, those following the CSW47 were not only discouraged by the lack of political will to reach agreed conclusions, but also were somewhat at a loss about the purpose and significance of proposed resolutions and follow-up mechanisms.[vii]
Ten years later, in the margins of the 57th session, issues of religion, sexual and reproductive rights, and impunity continue to remain relevant. In November 2012, the 67th session of the General Assembly Third Committee adopted a resolution on the Intensification of Efforts to Eliminate All Forms of Violence against Women where references to impunity, the ICC, and the role of tradition, customs and religion, resurfaced.[viii] Additionally, the two-day Stakeholder’s Forum hosted by UN Women in December 2012 reinforced the role of CEDAW as an instrument to combating violence against women; raised questions about more complementary between CEDAW and the work of the Commission; and highlighted issues like combating impunity, the challenge of religion, increasing safety for victims of sexual violence and improved judicial systems for women.
But among all these issues and challenges, from our perspective, the security component is essential to eliminating violence against women and girls, whether in a pre-conflict, conflict, or post-conflict setting. At Global Action, we promote a robust, stable and reliable security sector where the flow of illicit arms is eliminated, instances of mass atrocity crimes are detected and addressed at early stage, gender-based violence is prevented and/or rigorously prosecuted, and women’s participation is promoted at all levels of society. With that in mind, we recently organized a two-day workshop in Guatemala City addressing Security and Justice for Women in Guatemala, where the recommendations on prosecuting cases of violence against women, establishing adequate measures to ensure women’s access to justice, and addressing how international instruments can play more effective roles in the advancement of women’s rights at the local level were core aspects of our workshop agenda.
Some security issues were raised in the Third Committee resolution, through references such as ensuring that officials who implement prevention and protection policies and provide assistance to victims are adequately trained and “sensitize them to the different and specific needs of women and girls,” and more specifically to avoid the re-victimization of women and girls “when seeking justice and redress.”[ix] Additionally, it calls for establishing national action plans as mechanisms “for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of national measures” as well as calls on the media to take on the issue of gender-stereotypes.[x] Furthermore, reference is made to women’s empowerment through equal access to economic, employment, land, property, and education.[xi] Reference is also made to the need to have educational opportunities and materials that promote non-stereotypical gender relations and calls for access to justice for women through effective legal support and adequate remedies.[xii] Finally, the resolution calls for the appropriate training of police and judicial personnel and other relevant stakeholders on how to identify and prevent instances of violence against women.[xiii]
While such references are of course extremely relevant and important to eliminating violence against women, the security issues that are associated with meeting this challenge are also important. Women’s empowerment across religious and cultural communities, and the protection and elimination of violence against women and girls, can be associated with the prevalence of the illicit flow of small arms. As laid out in our policy brief on Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and the UNPoA, the illicit flow of arms and illegally diverted arms can be one of the most pervasive threats to a strong and reliable security sector and can contribute to violence and conflict.[xiv] They can affect women as victims of violence, domestic or otherwise, and can impact women’s participation by being a source of intimidation against them and their families.[xv] Creating and maintaining a stable security sector can be a way of preventing violence against women and ensuring that women can safely participate across different communities and traditions.
Different UN processes and instruments have addressed different aspects of women’s empowerment, prevention, and protection of women against violence. The challenge moving forward is to bring together these processes and instruments and build on existing measures to eliminate violence and promote participation. At a time when resources are scarce, concerns are grave, and challenges identifying and addressing instances of violence are hard, complementarity amongst relevant stakeholders can be a great way to ensure that the different steps taken by different entities build upon already-existing measures throughout the UN system.
It is with this in mind that we hope the agreed conclusions from CSW57 reflect on some of the following issues:
- Emphasis could be placed on women’s active participation in the design and implementation of various protection and prevention strategies at all decision-making levels; women’s participation and empowerment therein can be an essential tool to combating violence against women and girls.
- The agreed conclusions could reflect on the need to control the flow of illicit arms as a way of preventing violence against women and ensuring for secure spaces for women to actively participate in disarmament discussions and activities at all levels.
- The role of the media, especially digital media and technology, as a tool for early warning, detection and prevention of instances of violence against women, should be emphasized. The importance of digital media and technology was highlighted during GAPW’s informal event with the World Pulse in September 2012 featuring presentations from women in diverse regions of the world sharing their stories about how they used digital media and technology to escape the security concerns they faced within their own communities.[xvi]
- As was highlighted by our seminar in Guatemala, the agreed conclusions could reflect on the availability of education materials and programmes that increase awareness among women in rural and urban areas about the rights allocated to them by international law and the instruments available to them both at the national and international level to exercise their rights.
- Security and judicial personnel should receive training on the different types of violence against women in order to adequately record and report instances of abuse and effectively meet the legal standards of evidence necessary to support prosecution. Our recommendations from indigenous communities in Guatemala affirmed that collecting and recording evidence, in addition to being aware of the different types of violence and abuse women can be (and are) subjected to, are essential components to successful prosecutions of cases of violence against women.
Overall, while the pressure is high to reach political agreements, a balance must be reached between the competing interests of reaching consensus and ensuring that the conclusions are practical and effective in combating violence against women across communities worldwide. Any conclusions reached during the two-week session should lay the groundwork for further deliberations on opportunities for follow-up in future sessions where this Committee re-examines the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.
Program Director, Women Peace & Security, Global Action to Prevent War
[v] Center for Women’s Global Leadership, No CSW Agreed Conclusions on women’s Human Rights and Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls, available at http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/component/search/?searchword=csw+agreed+conclusio&ordering=newest&searchphrase=all
[vi] Center for Women’s Global Leadership.
[vii] Center for Women’s Global Leadership.
[viii] See A/C.3/67/L.19/Rev.1 (2012) OP. 11, 20, and 10.
[ix] See, OP. 15.
[x] See OP. 18(h) and 18(e).
[xi] See, OP. 18(q).
[xii] See, OP. 18(m) and 18(t).
[xiii] See, OP. 18(v).
[xiv] Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and the UNPoA: A Poliy Brief, p.1, available at: http://www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/gender-and-disarmament-update-sept-2012.pdf
[xv] Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and the UNPoA: A Poliy Brief, p.2.