By Alexis Warth
YWCA of Western Massachusetts
For the next two weeks, government delegates and representatives from over 6,000 organizations 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 in countless ways: intimate partner violence, sexual assault; the restriction of sexual and reproductive health and education; sex trafficking; and even discrimination in the workforce and in 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 myriad 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 one in three 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 solution to this epidemic 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 it is 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 the largest provider of domestic violence services in the U.S., these discussions of how to not only address the crisis of violence in individuals’ lives but how to also address the underlying structural and societal causes of violence against women is essential to inform the ongoing work done by the YWCA across the country, in our programs and advocacy efforts.
As we continue to participate in sessions and keynotes at the UN this week, the YWCA is also advocating for specific priorities for countries attending the CSW, including the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to sexual and reproductive rights and services, the end of forced childhood marriage, increased intergenerational leadership and the elimination of discrimination against women. We will be posting again next week with the major takeaways and accomplishments of CSW this year.
To keep up with CSW in real time, follow the #CSW57 hashtag on Twitter, and follow the World YWCA’s Twitter and Facebook updates to see photos and posts from YWCAs around the world. You can also sign the World YWCA’s petition for a special UN resolution to end child marriage. We are proud to stand in solidarity with our global YWCA sisters!
Alexis Warth is the Communications and Training Coordinator at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts. Her main focuses include program and staff support, community and organizational communications and supporting local and state level advocacy.