In 1946, the United Nations Economic and Social Counsel established the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and in February of 1947, an all female delegation of 15 government representatives met to discuss the issue of gender inequality and how to promote women’s rights worldwide. Since then, the CSW has continued to meet every year to further this discussion, and the 57th Session recently concluded in New York City on March 15th.
Every year the CSW names a priority theme, and this year it was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. Given the daily newsfeed of violence, rape, and brutality committed against women worldwide, it is about time this issue was named a priority, and the Session concluded with a 17 page Agreed Conclusions document that “condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls”. This document is the culmination of months of lobbying and two weeks of intense negotiations, and its very existence is a victory in of itself given that last year’s Session failed to come to any agreement. However, amidst the cheers and celebrations of a hard fought battle by women’s rights activists the world over, CSW’s 57th Session serves as a glaring reminder that while the battle may have been won, the war is far from over.
The language of the Agreed Conclusions document was hotly contested by representatives from Russia, Iran, Egypt, and the Holy See, as many of the more conservative countries balked at the suggestion that women are deserving of sexual and reproductive rights, equality in marriage, and that a husband does not have the right to rape his wife. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt even released a statement during the negotiations decrying the document, claiming that such language, “if ratified, would lead to the complete disintegration of society.” While these countries hid their objections behind claims of cultural and religious tradition, it is clear that they are simply trying to maintain the status quo at the expense of their women.
Despite the objections and negotiations, a document was agreed to that clearly outlines that violence against women will no longer be tolerated at the international level. The conclusions and agreements of this Session can now be used by governments, activists, and lobbyists as a blueprint for policy changes, educational campaigns, and to spread awareness that women and girls have the fundamental right to live without fear of violence. The document is a momentous victory in the advancement of women and girls worldwide, but the fight for equality continues so long as these sobering statistics remain.
*7 out of 10 women will experience violence in their lifetime, often at the hand of a partner or relative
*In a lifetime, 1 out of 3 women will be victims of sexual or physical abuse
*603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime
*Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be killed by violence than by HIV, cancer, malaria, accidents, and war combined
*60 million girls are married off as child brides every year
We should be proud of the agreements reached this year in New York, and I congratulate the government representatives who fought for the rights of their women. However, more importantly, we must make sure that the agreements in this year’s document are used and enforced to enact real and lasting change for women worldwide. As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage”. For the first time in history, the members of CSW are in agreement on this issue, and the time to act is NOW.
Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore