Just back from the first week of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. This is a two-week period each year where the 193 member countries of the UN are required to come in, and report on what they're doing to improve the status of girls and women in their country. It's about intergovernmental negotiations, although since the governments are there, so are the women. Some 8,500 women representing 1,000 NGOs world-wide are there this year. So while governments negotiate, there are also “Side events,” with “high level” government representatives that are held in the UN building, and “Parallel events,” held in the UN Church Centre across the street plus other locations. This is my sixth time in eight years, and I love it. Here’s a brief overview of some of the many things going on.
Theme this year, Beijing Plus 20, celebrating The Beijing Declaration and platform for action, and assessing where we go from here. Today, the phrase "Women's rights are human rights" is so widely recognized that we tend to forget how difficult it was to establish that concept a mere 20 years ago. The fact that so many women’s groups come, as NGOS CSW/NY chair Soon-Young Yoon said Sunday, shows not only important civil society has become to the UN but also how the UN has become an extraordinary avenue to raise women's issues on the global stage
Photo 7 - Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the CSW with a review of progress since 1995, and called it unacceptably slow, with stagnation and even regression in some cases. There are five countries in the world w/o a single woman in parliament; eight w/o a female Cabinet minister. He wouldn't name them - they know who they are. In his report, the SG said that progress has been particularly slow for women and girls who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. He called for greater participation by men. "Truly powerful men are those who work for the empowerment of women." A synthesis of the SG’s report on the 20-year review and appraisal of the implement of the Beijing Platform for Action can be found here. http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2015/02/beijing-synthesis-report
CEDAW and Gender-based Violence: Progress and Challenges 20 years after Beijing. Interesting panel discussion moderated by Japanese Association of International Women’s Rights Board member Professor Mitsuko Horiuchi. One of the panelists reminded us that Canada has been found “in grave violation” under CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination Against Women) for its treatment of Aboriginal women and girls. A report out of Geneva on March 6th found that the Canadian police and justice system have failed to effectively protect Aboriginal women, to hold offenders to account, and to ensure victims get redressed. CEDAW made 38 recommendations to correct the situation; Canada has accepted 34. The US is one of the few countries in the world that has never been a signatory to CEDAW.
Monday afternoon, Status of Women and YWCA Canada co-sponsored a session on cyber violence, and the list of speakers was excellent. It included Glen Canning from Nova Scotia, Canada, whose daughter Rehtaeh Parsons was a victim of cyber violence; Diane Woloachuk from the Canadian Teacher's Federation; speakers from YWCA New Zealand, OurWatch.org in Australia, Microsoft and the McGill Research Centre on emotional intelligence. SWC Minister Kellie Leitch opened the session by pointing out that 84 percent of victims of cyber violence are women under the age of 24. "It's as powerful and painful as any other form of violence," she said. Woloachuk from the Teacher's Federation noted that the safety zone for girls is getting smaller and smaller. Students receiving mean messages through social media take them seriously, become unable to learn and fall into depression, she said. Excellent speakers, lots of good strategies, information and resources.
Tuesday March 10 - Canada and Plan International co-sponsored a session on Tuesday on "Ending child, early and forced marriages.” 700 million women in the world were married off as children, and the consequences are disastrous: early pregnancy with resulting health problems; no education; lost opportunities; childhoods denied. GirlsNotBrides is a worldwide partnership of organizations trying to end it.
Photo 13 – Canada’s Status of Women Minister Dr. Kellie Leitch gives her report to the General Assembly.
Wednesday, attended a session organized by the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons on “What’s Changed, What needs to change since Beijing.” Statistics on Human Trafficking continue to worsen – HT is the fastest growing crime in the world, after drugs and guns, a $150 billion industry – there are nonetheless good examples of work being done to stop trafficking and rescue women and children who have been victims. One is girlbeheard.org, which gives voice to young women through video. Another is ungiftbox.org, an innovative project created by STOP THE TRAFFIK and the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking launched during the 2012 London, England Olympics. GIFT boxes are walk-in pieces of public art used to educate people about human trafficking.
A cross-cutting issue addressed in many of the sessions is violence, defined broadly: domestic violence; rape and sexual assault; child, early and forced marriage; FGM; honour killings; cyber violence; prostitution; human trafficking; rape as a tool of war ... and the list goes on. A common theme, the increasing need to engage boys and men. As a speaker from the Nordic Network said Wednesday, "We put all our energy into helping victims ... We talk to women about escaping and taking care of themselves. We need to talk to boys and men because among them, we'll find the perpetrators." Attended a session Thursday sponsored by Promundoglobal.org, an NGO that "works globally to achieve a culture of nonviolence and gender equality by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls." Founded in Brazil in 1997, the group is supported by the UN, World Bank and World Health Organization. It is implementing a program called MenCare+ in four countries. Another program is HeforShe.org, which encourages men around the world to stand up for gender equality, and which was launched at the CSW a few years ago. Still another program for men is breakthrough.tv/ringthebell/, which is a grass-roots movement that encourages men to actively interfere when domestic violence is occurring. I like this one, although not sure about the safety of it in the Canadian context. We need to start thinking more about this in Canada.
One of the “good news” pieces from this year’s CSW is that the daily de-brief by the NGO-SWC/NY committee is now back in the UN building. I’ve been going since 2008, and we’ve always been across the street at the UN Church Centre. But civil society participation is now so large, that they’ve given us conference room 1 in the UN building. As Chair Soon-Young Yoon said, we’re back! And we’re not leaving!
Photo 19, with Mary Scott, head of Canada’s National Council of Women delegation (of which I was a member).
Photo 20, Always great to see friends again, with Lucina Kathman, vp of PEN International from San Miguel, Mexico.