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.