Women’s Commission Concludes General Debate amid Calls to Challenge Invisibility That Perpetuates Violence against Older Women, Young Girls, Lesbians

14 March 2013
WOM/1951

Women’s Commission Concludes General Debate amid Calls to Challenge Invisibility That Perpetuates Violence against Older Women, Young Girls, Lesbians

14 March 2013
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1951
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-seventh Session

14th Meeting* (AM)

Women’s Commission Concludes General Debate amid Calls to Challenge Invisibility

That Perpetuates Violence against Older Women, Young Girls, Lesbians

 

Civil Society Groups Urge Holistic, Rights-based Approach

To Combat Ongoing Impunity, Protect Vulnerable Women, Girls

The Commission on the Status of Women wrapped up its general debate today amid calls from civil society groups to focus more substantively on protecting the women and girls whose rights were most often under-represented — or excluded — from the very international human rights instruments intended to protect them.

Throughout the brief morning meeting, speakers told the stories of women whose voices were often lost in global efforts to improve gender equality and create more respectful societies:  older women, adolescent girls, lesbians, female writers and women human rights defenders to name a few.  Some, especially those seen to be “outside” so-called gender norms, were assaulted in the name of honour or tradition — violence that often remained hidden.  As with other forms of gender violence, collecting data was a common problem that must be rectified in the post-2015 development framework.

“This impunity must be ended and the invisibility challenged,” said the representative of COC Nederland, representing the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, including at the Commission’s present session.  Patterns of abuse included brutal extrajudicial killings, gang rape and bullying.  Lesbians often did not report violence because of distrust of the very people who should be protecting them, and for fear of recrimination.

Casting light on the situation of adolescent girls, a representative of the Public Health Institute — herself a teenager — said many of her peers could be found working in someone’s home without the ability to leave.  They had an opinion but rarely the opportunity to share it.  Some 14 million of them were married before the age of 14.  They were made pregnant while their bodies were still developing, and dying as a result.  “Adolescent girls must be included in programming and measures of success”, she said, pressing States to collect and share the data that told their stories. “We count,” she declared.

The same was true for older women, said the representative of HelpAge International, who stressed that many older women lived with the cumulative impacts of a lifetime of discrimination against them.  Data was rarely collected on women after age 49, and thus, the forms of violence that older women experienced were excluded from the debate on — and responses to — gender violence.  Further, the international human rights system did little to shed light on the issue.  But she praised the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its general recommendation No. 27, on the protection of older women’s rights.

Drawing attention to the links between the arms trade and gender-based violence, a representative of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom pointed out that negotiations for an arms trade treaty would soon be held.  That exercise should result in the adoption of a strong instrument that included legally binding gender provisions, as well as an obligation for States to deny arms transfers to countries where gender-based violence persisted, especially rape.

Also today, the representative of Fiji, on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, introduced a draft resolution, entitled “The situation of and assistance to Palestinian women”.

Closing the meeting, Chairperson Marjon V. Kamara (Liberia) said there was much to be done in negotiating the agreed conclusions before the fifty-seventh session could be called a success.  But she was confident delegates would work hard to unite in a common effort to agree on the final text, set to be adopted tomorrow at the conclusion of the annual two-week gathering.  “The world is watching”, she said, and there was nothing more important than agreeing on how to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Also speaking in the general discussion today were representatives from the following organizations:  Femmes Afrique Solidarite; Young Women’s Caucus; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Association for Human Rights and Development; International Indigenous Women’s Forum; Soroptimist International; International PEN; Defence for Children International; and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, and the Forum for Women and Development.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 3 p.m. Friday, 15 March, to conclude its work, with action expected on several draft resolutions, as well as on the agreed conclusions, on its priority theme.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met today to hear the introduction of a draft proposal.  It was also slated to hear a number of outstanding speakers and conclude its general discussion segment ahead of the closure of its fifty-seventh session tomorrow (For more information, see Press Release WOM/1938).

Introduction of Draft

This morning the Commission began its work with the introduction of a single draft resolution, on “The situation of and assistance to Palestinian women” (document E/CN.6/2013/L.4).  Introducing the text, ELIESA TUILOMA (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the draft described the “harsh and tragic reality” facing Palestinian women and girls living under Israeli occupation.

Among other things, it endeavoured to support their economic, political and social empowerment, including by increasing access to employment, protection and justice systems.  He said that the draft also highlighted ways to improve the effectiveness of United Nations system bodies, and outlined the important role that Palestinian women could play in peace and security, decision-making and other key areas.  One of the draft’s recommendations was to call upon Governments, the international community and civil society to take “strategic actions” regarding all critical areas of concern, and to create systems of accountability.

Statements

The Commission then continued its general discussion on the follow up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, known as “Women 2000”.

SUSAN SOMERS, HelpAge International, said “population ageing” was defining the twenty-first century and, as the number of women increased around the world, so would the violence committed against them.  Many older women lived with the cumulative impacts of a lifetime of violence and discrimination against them.  Data was rarely collected on women after age 49, and thus, the different forms of violence that older women were exposed to were excluded from national plans.

Further, the international human rights system did not shed light on violence against older women, she said.  One achievement was the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s general recommendation 27, which marked a major step forward in covering relevant issues.  Indeed, elder abuse was preventable with coordinated action to improve policy responses, education and awareness campaigns.  In sum, she urged that data on violence against older women must be collected, disaggregated and disseminated.

HARRIETTE WILLIAMS BRIGHT, Femmes Afrique Solidarite, reaffirmed States’ commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action, Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and its supporting texts, and the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.  She urged States to match those pledges with national action plans, evidence-based research and time-bound targets.  Discrimination and inequality must be addressed through the engagement of men and boys, as well as traditional and community leaders.

She went on to urge that information on prevention of violence be integrated into school curricula, and further, that multisectoral services be strengthened to prevent violence against girls — including to secure their sexual and reproductive rights.  She called on States to ensure that perpetrators of violence against women and girls were brought to justice, and that protection for women’s human rights defenders was enhanced.  Most importantly, violence against women must be reflected as a priority in the post-2015 development framework.

NEEMA LANDY, of the Young Women’s Caucus, said violence against young women and girls included, but was not limited to, physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and economic violence.  Moreover, occupation was another form of violence against women and girls.  They were also doubly vulnerable due to discrimination based on both their gender and age.  The Caucus was gravely concerned about the high level of discrimination perpetrated by the media, including social media, which had led to the rise of cyberbullying.  Unequal gender roles, which were ingrained in societies, impacted the ways that young women and girls understood violence.  In fact, many girls and young women accepted it and even condoned it, she said.

Against that backdrop, the Caucus called for sustained and increased investments in support of women and girls.  It also urged that culture, tradition and religion should never be used as an excuse to justify violence against women.  Economic empowerment was a key tool in the prevention of violence, allowing women to have more choices.  She also called for increased efforts to decrease poverty, and called on the United Nations system to ensure that the post-2015 development agenda included a strong focus on preventing and ending violence against women and girls.

GEETHA LAKMINI FERNANDO, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, speaking on behalf of 43 civil society entities, said that the groups recognized progress in legal standards and policy-making undertaken by some Governments.  At the same time, they were concerned that such progress was uneven, ad hoc and under-resourced.  The groups were also concerned that relevant programmes were developed without input from civil society.

With those thoughts in mind, she made several recommendations, which, among others, called for support collaboration from autonomous women’s movements, which was needed in policy and program development to address violence against women, as evidenced by comprehensive research. The international community was also urged to recognize that prevention must primarily be about dismantling power, resource and wealth inequalities between men and women, as well as between rich and poor, especially with the negative impacts of globalization, militarization and fundamentalisms.  It must also recognize that violence against women undermined development and its eradication was a condition for development.

HELEN HAKENA, Association for Human Rights and Development, said human rights defenders were being targeted around the world.  They were women and men defending gender-related rights.  Many were at risk because of who they were.  They worked on the frontlines to prevent women from experiencing violence, both in the private and public spheres.  Those working on sexual and reproductive rights were particularly at risk.  Offices had been raided, organizations had been shut down and human rights defenders had been arrested.

Against that backdrop, she asked how Governments were working to protect and promote women who defended against State and non-State human rights violations.  In that context, she defended women’s rights to food land and water, and to make independent decisions about families.  States did not prevent or punish such attacks and human rights defenders were often denied the right to due process.  In sum, she said States must guarantee conducive environments for women to undertake their human rights defence.

ROSE CUNNINGHAM, of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, reaffirming her organization’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action and to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that indigenous women were particularly exploited and affected by domestic and institutional violence, among other forms.  There was therefore a need to carry out studies related to identity and patriarchal systems.

In that vein, she called on the Commission and Member States to:  promote policies with an intercultural and intergenerational approach, including for the collection of data and disaggregated statistics; ensure that the reports submitted to the United Nations entities included impacts on indigenous women; consider the impact that the destruction of the environment had on indigenous women and girls; implement budgetary measures in defence of the rights of women and girls; and strengthen relevant national legislation.  Rejecting all forms of violence, she stressed that “we are strong agents for change” who sought to exercise their rights and preserve their ancestral knowledge.

ANUSHA SANTHIRASTHIPAM, of Soroptimist International and speaking on behalf of a number of organizations, said that the coalition was alarmed by the fact that femicide was growing substantially all over the world and often remained unpunished.  The organizations recognized that femicide was a form of gender-based killing, and emphasized that traditions and culture could not be used to justify the violation of women’s human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to be free from violence.

Her coalition reaffirmed its commitment to work together towards putting and end to femicide, in full compliance with national and international legal instruments.  It further encouraged the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN-Women and other relevant United Nations entities, among others, to conduct relevant research on femicide, particularly data collection, analysis, and evaluation of existing programmes and effective policies to facilitate efforts to eradicate femicide.  It also recognized the key role of civil society organizations in that pursuit.

Ms. MYERS-LEÓN Public Health Institute, on behalf of the coalition of adolescent girls, said she was an adolescent.  She was no longer a child but not yet a woman.  Adolescent girls might be out of school and working in someone’s home without the ability to leave.  They had an opinion but rarely the opportunity to share it.  All violence against women diminished adolescent girls’ ability to realize their rights and become active members of society.  Institutions tasked with caring for adolescent girls often failed.  Adolescent girls were often sold or traded.

She went on to stress that 14 million adolescent girls were married before the age of 14.  They were made pregnant while their bodies were still developing, and they were dying as a result.  Not many had information about their sexual and reproductive rights.  “Take care of us,” she said, urging that men, boys, cultural and traditional leaders get involved.  “We count.”  Adolescent girls must be included in programming and measures of success.  “We want to learn,” she said.  “Educate us.”  Adolescent girls were not invisible.  She urged States to collect and share the data that told their stories.

ANNIE MATUNDU MBAMBI, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said that in her country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many actors — including State security forces and armed rebel groups — perpetuated with impunity armed violence against women and girls.  Noting that negotiations for an arms trade treaty would soon be held, she urged the creation of a strong treaty that would reduce gender-based violence.

A strong arms trade treaty must include legally binding gender provisions, she continued, as well as an obligation requiring States to deny arms transfers to countries in which there was gender-based violence, especially rape.  Finally, she demanded States to include a reference to arms in the Commission’s outcome document.  Women must have a space at all negotiating tables.  It was time to address the links between arms and violence against women.  She called on the Commission to take that opportunity.

LUCINA KATHMANN, of International PEN, said that, too often, women writers were subject to violence at the hands of State and non-State actors seeking to stop them from carrying out their important work.  She noted particular cases ranging from the Russian Federation to Pakistan — where Malala Yusafzai had been shot for blogging and otherwise advocating for women’s rights — to Mexico, where an investigative journalist was attacked, raped and forced into hiding for exposing child trafficking.

Although the contexts in which such brutality was perpetrated varied widely, in all of those situations women had been targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.  Such violence was intended to have a “chilling” effect on that right, she said, adding that protection for women working in the field was often too limited.  She therefore called on the international community to support protection efforts, including by offering effective security measures, and to combat impunity for violence against female writers.

NOELENE NABULIVOU, of COC Nederland, said that around the world, many with diverse sexual identities were subject to harassment, assault and discrimination, too often under the guise of tradition and honour.  Such violence remained invisible.  “This impunity must be ended, and the invisibility challenged,” she said, including at the present session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Patterns of abuse included brutal extrajudicial killings, assaults, bullying and others.  Lesbians often still did not report violence because of distrust of the very people who should be protecting them, and for fear of recrimination.

In addition, activists and human rights defenders were harassed, killed or imprisoned around the world.  That violence and discrimination must be prevented and denounced.  Within the United Nations system, she said, there was an undeniable trend towards addressing all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Six United Nations treaty bodies had adopted such language, and, in 2011, the Human Rights Council had approved a resolution on violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

AVIS SRI-JAYANTHA, Defence for Children International, said corporal punishment, the most common form of violence against girls, was rarely included among efforts to end all forms of gender-based violence.  Corporal and other cruel punishments violated girls’ rights.  It violated girls’ rights to legal protection from assault, yet, was legally sanctioned in the majority of States worldwide.

She said that where sentencing was based on sharia law, girls could be mandated to undergo punishments such as flogging.  The Secretary-General had recommended that States carry out programmes that included skills-building and counselling for children exposed to such violence.  However, the Commission’s draft outcome document did not explicitly outline the need to end corporal punishment and she urged that it be included.

ISABEL PHIRI, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, recalled that, in a statement prepared for the Fourth World Conference on Women, her organization had pointed out that institutions — such as Government and churches that should stand in solidarity with women — had often responded with resolute action.  It had stated that “empowerment is not possible as long as women live in contexts of violence, often exacerbated by cultural and religions tradition”.

Her organization also had drawn attention to the liberating power of religions, she said, affirming the positive and supportive role that churches and other religious institutions could play in standing in solidarity with women who must make decisions regarding their sexual reproductive rights.  Of equal concern was increasing religious extremism in all faiths, and the deleterious impacts that had on women’s legal, political and social rights.  Those positions — outlined two decades ago — were relevant today.  Traditional values or religious beliefs could not be used to justify violence against women, she said, urging States to agree upon strong international frameworks to protect women.

JOSÉ LUIS DIAZ, of Amnesty International, said that the millions of women and girls who were subjected to violence on a daily basis were turning to the Commission to put an end to their suffering, to ensure accountability for violations of their rights, and to prevent violence in the future.  “The multifaceted nature of violence against women and girls requires holistic and comprehensive responses,” he said.

Amnesty International would therefore remind the Commission of promoting a rights-based approach, and would call on the body to ensure that its Agreed Conclusions contained several key aspects.  First, that they acknowledge that gender discrimination was a cause and consequence of violence, and recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment was an important part of the solution; that they acknowledge and respond to the lived realities of all women and girls, in all their diversity; that they ensure full human rights scrutiny and accountability; that they craft effective prevention and response measures with sexual and reproductive rights at the heart; and that they protect women human rights defenders.

LINDA MACDONALD, of the Canadian Federation of University Women, said that, while many States had put in place plans and strategies to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls, many of those plans were not well coordinated and lacked sufficient resources to ensure their success.  It was clear that much more must be done in all States to strengthen legal frameworks and expand access to justice, among other things.  She expressed support for the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report on violence against women and girls, and, beyond that, urged Member States to include in their relevant efforts:  distinct strategies to prevent and respond to all forms of violence; access to services for victims; and access to safe and affordable housing in order to allow women choices and help them escape violent situations.

At the same time, she said, the Secretary-General’s report did not specifically mention persons with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities.  She urged States to make the elimination of violence against women and girls priority for international cooperation, including by contributing to the relevant United Nations Trust Fund, and to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), as well as related measures on women and peace and security in conflict and post-conflict settings.

MAGNUS HOLTFODT, Forum for Women and Development (FOKUS), spoke on behalf of half a million women from 75 organizations in Norway, saying that States often lacked specific legislation addressing violence against women, including female genital mutilation and forced and early marriage.  In States that did have such laws, implementation was often ineffective.  Moreover, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women addressed violence against women only in a cursory manner.  As such, he called for a specific treaty on violence against women, which contained legally binding standards to combat it.

He went on to stress that sexual exploitation was the most prevalent form of human trafficking, which had “dramatically” increased.   Sweden, Norway and Iceland had criminalized the purchase of sex and he called on all States to adopt similar measures and send a clear message to criminals that their country was not “open for business”.  Finally, he said States must adopt a holistic approach to violence against women as well as ratify all human rights treaties and protocols without reservations, and tackle gender inequality, among other factors, that produced violence against women.

* *** *

__________

*     The 13th Meeting was closed.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.