by Sandra Vermuyten, Public Services International
All eyes are upon us! The world wants action to end violence against women now! 6000 participants unite for the largest international meeting on ending violence against women ever!
The Chair reminded all the delegates that expectations are very high this year and expressed her hopes for a resounding success. This would mean that at the end of the meeting, a resolution will be approved that provides clear guidelines on how states can improve their policies and an instrument for civil society to pressure their governments into action! The UNCSW will also discuss the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which will be the main theme for the UNCSW’s next session in 2014. As such, the Commission is focussing on both immediate and longer term goals. All the speakers at the official opening of the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) noted the need to urgently address the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. The Chair of the UNCSW, Ms. Marjon V. Kamara (Liberia) underlined how important the participation of civil society organizations is to the UNCSW and greeted all of the activists that have come to New York for this meeting. The UNCSW is one of the commissions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and holds meetings once a year.
Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson, stressed that women’s rights have become a central issue for the United Nations and are embedded in all action on health, peace, human rights and sustainable development. He clearly stated: “Ending violence is a question of life and death!” It is not acceptable that every day, women around the world are beaten, raped and killed. Brutality and inequality should cease to exist. States must provide adequate counselling and education to change the mentality of people. They must ensure that cases of violence against women are examined by the judicial system and perpetrators are prosecuted when found guilty. “Not everybody can solve everything, but everybody can do something.”
Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, started by saying that it would be an understatement to say that the theme of this meeting is timely. “We need strong commitments from states so that violence against women can end.” More than 6,000 civil society participants from all over the world have registered for this meeting, which effectively makes it the largest international meeting on ending violence against women ever! Mrs Bachelet drew attention to the fact that 70% of women in the world are faced with some form of violence in their life and all too often are blamed or punished themselves. She called upon the UN to lead by example and suggested that ending violence against women be set as an MDG in itself.
“Action is needed to strengthen and accelerate implementation, which is now slow and uneven. More action is required on prevention, which requires the participation of women at all levels. A full range of services should be provided to women with equal access to these services. More women in the police and judicial structures, and reliable data, would make sure that policies will be more targeted and carried out with the right focus. Ten years ago, this theme was dealt with by the UNCSW and no consensus was achieved. Now all over the world change is possible and it is happening. The UNCSW must deliver its contribution.”
The CEDAW Secretariat pointed out that CEDAW has an important impact on European and international courts and already 147 countries have signed this treaty. Implementation should be strengthened so that equality becomes an active principle of humanity. Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa), the special Rapporteur on violence against women recalled that individual and structural forms of violence require a multifaceted holistic approach. She noted the danger of the normalization of violence and the importance of due diligence. She also mentioned her upcoming visits to India, South Africa, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh.
These introductory comments were followed by statements of regional organizations that pledged their support and commitment to this UNCSW. The original “zero” document of 6 pages has grown into 34 pages (including all the amendments by states). Some of these amendments recognize the role of trade unions and social partners, public services and civil society. Discussion points include sexual and reproductive health, sexual education, abortion, LGBT rights, targets and indicators and the definition of harmful “cultural practices” and role of family values.
The UNCSW has now officially kicked off and trade union delegates are making workers’ voices heard!