By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Advocacy, YWCA USA
On Friday, March 15, United Nations officials from 130 member states adopted their agreed conclusions, a 17-page document setting global standards for action to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. It was the culmination of two weeks of discussion, work and “coming together” at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57).
By issuing this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century. They have reaffirmed their commitment and responsibility to take concrete actions to end violence against women and girls, and to promote and protect women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, as Michelle Bachelet, former UN Women Executive Director, outlined when the document was presented.
The adoption of these agreed conclusions provides concrete steps for all nation states to address what we know all too well here in our own country. In the United States, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in a year, and, on average, more than three women will be murdered by their partners every day. 500 women are sexually assaulted each day in America. Globally, as many as seven out of every 10 women will experience violence in their lifetimes. 67 million girls are forced into marriage before the age of 18, according to the U.N. Population Fund. Unfortunately, many cases of rape and violence of women and girls in every country never make the news, but there is consensus now that they must be addressed so that victims can find safety and protection.
I would be remiss if I didn’t underscore that the negotiations were fragile and the conversations were contentious at points. Some conservative nations and entities, like Russia, the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, Iran, and the Holy See, seat of the newly elected Pope Francis, opposed the global standards. Some of the chief objections were around the term “marital rape,” and language on sexual health. Similar to debates in the United States, access to reproductive and sexual health raised concerns from some regions around the world who equate access with emergency contraception, or abortion. Despite the objections, the conclusions included comprehensive language in various sections that all women should have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, AND that violence has consequences on the reproductive and sexual health of women and girls.
With all of these important deliberations, I was proud to attend the CSW57 on behalf of the YWCA USA, joining more than 90 YWCA delegates from 21 countries. The World YWCA played an active role in CSW since 1948 – YWCA women from Zambia, Australia, Palestine, Canada, Sri Lanka, Japan, Scotland, South Korea and many more were in attendance. Joining forces allowed us to collectively advocate for a number of key priorities outlined here:
…[C]hild, early and forced marriage, insecurity and conflict, trafficking, sexual violence, reproductive and sexual health, discrimination and much more. There were several YWCA parallel events during CSW57, discussing human rights, female political participation, education as prevention of violence, UN Security Resolution 1325, young women’s leadership, climate change, the role of media and communication. CSW57 also saw the launch of the World YWCA global report- The Future Young Women Want and the World YWCA petition for a special resolution to End Child Marriage. (Via the World YWCA)
This year, because of our dedicated advocacy efforts around the country on VAWA, the YWCA USA hosted a panel on Grassroots Mobilization and the History of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). We provided history of the grassroots movement, when women first broke their silence about abuse in the early 1970s and how that gave rise to our establishing services like battered women’s shelters. The activism of these women led to increased accountability in the criminal and legal system to address domestic and other forms of violence. The YWCA also shared the latest news on the passage of the VAWA (which, at that time, was headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law) and highlighted our advocacy around inclusion of LGBT, immigrant and Native women in a final version of VAWA. Various participants from countries across the globe reviewed their own histories, laws and best practices to work to end violence against women and girls.
Looking ahead, it is interesting to note that one of the hot topics at CSW57 was the fact that the United States has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As advocates who are committed to ending violence against and further empowering women and girls, one of the most concrete actions we can do now that the CSW57 has concluded is to urge the Obama administration to ratify the CEDAW. The United States is one of only seven nations that have yet to ratify the treaty, considered by some to be a “bill of rights” for women around the world. As the only developed nation that has yet to ratify CEDAW, it behooves us to follow the example set by so many countries and to continue our vigorous campaign to end gender discrimination.
Learn more about the YWCA’s advocacy work and programs.