Powerful UN CSW57 Document on Ending Gender-Based Violence Created

On March 14, I wrote a blog entitled “The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence.” I talked about an alliance between the Vatican, Iran, Russia and a couple of other countries that were attempting to eviscerate the comprehensive plan being created at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements). These previous agreements include the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).

I am happy to say that this didn’t happen.  Thanks to the bloggers, news media, Tweeters, NGO’s attending CSW57, and several official Member States, the amendments to the document were voted down on Friday during the final day of the 2-week convention.

Iran was the only country that voted against the final, comprehensive document. The Vatican did not get to vote because of its status as a “Permanent Observer State” rather than as a voting “Member State”. And Russia backed down and voted for the final document along with all of the remaining UN Member States.

People around the world heard about these attempts to deny women and girls safety from all forms of violence.  We spoke out and acted.

As a result, unlike last year, we FINALLY have a strong document that

“condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response.” (Source)

This document has a strong prevention focus since the best way to end violence against women and children is to stop it BEFORE it happens.  It also addresses inequalities in the political, economic, and social spheres that engender violence. And it takes action to provide services and justice for victims of violence around the world.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women summarized the comprehensive coverage of this powerful statement to end this type of human rights violation in her closing statement of the conference:

During the past two weeks, discussions centred on matters of urgency to people around the world — eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ending impunity for perpetrators, fully engaging men and boys, and advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality to prevent and end these human rights violations….

Important and timely matters were addressed — ending child and early forced marriage, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and providing justice and critical services for survivors of violence.

There were debates on ending sexual violence in conflict, tackling human trafficking, protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and on the role of culture, religion and the family.

You had many intense late-night negotiations, going over every single word and paragraph, debating long and hard in order to come to [this] strong agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after CSW57, released a statement showing the commitment of the United Nations to fully implement this new document. It says, in part:

Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.  No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear.  She has the universal human right to be free from all forms of violence so as to fulfill her full potential and dreams for the future.

States have a corresponding responsibility to turn that right into reality.  The Secretary-General hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The United Nations system is fully committed to leading this global effort.

So now I say, THANK YOU! Thank you for creating this statement. It is one more step  towards realizing the rights, dignity, and humanity of girls and women throughout the world.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change to End Gender-Based Violence (in English y españoles)

From March 4-15, advocates are gathering at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City to urge governments to fulfill commitments to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Over the next week and a half, advocates are supporting this conference via the use of social media—including blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest to name a few—to spread the word about both the CSW meeting and to call for an end to gender-based violence.

Since today is International Women’s Day, thousands, if not millions of people are participating in this call to eliminate global gender-based violence by participating in a global Tweet-a-Thon.

Advocates who are Tweeting and who are participating at the 57th CSW session are documenting the incidence and impact of all forms of violence against women and children to [bear] witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide,…”  This documentation “also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that [countries, advocates, and service providers] may be more effective in stemming [all forms of violence] through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

Blogs are also focusing on this issue. One of them, originally published by IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region, states that documentation and research on violence is all its forms  can then be a catalyst for change.

As a policy analyst and advocate for civil and women’s rights with a research background in work and family issues I fully agree.  So I thought you, my reader, would like to see what Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion at IPPF/WHR has to say.

In an effort to make this as accessible as possible, I am presenting this blog in both English and Spanish.  First, here’s the reblog of the English version:

How Can Research be a Catalyst for Change?

Jimena Valades, Program Officer – Safe Abortion

If an act of violence is perpetrated, but is never reported or documented, did it happen at all?

Of course the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. There are many reasons why survivors may not report incidents of violence, including fear of retaliation, stigma, or disillusion with law enforcement. Surveys from Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru show that up to 20% of women experience sexual assault, yet few to none report it to police. Many of the survivors who do report incidents of violence are met with ineffective judicial systems that parlay impunity or data monitoring systems that act like black holes, swallowing up the evidence of the tragedy they have endured. Either way, we know that whatever statistics we do have about gender-based violence reflect just a fraction of its harsh reality.

Yet, the larger point remains: there is critical importance in documenting acts of violence against women and girls – systematically, carefully, and over time. Collecting data on the issue not only bears witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide, but also helps to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that we may be more effective in stemming it through laws, policies, and prevention and response programs.

While numerous country-level studies on gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean exist, there is a need for more current and comprehensive national prevalence data, as well as qualitative research into causes, and risk and protection factors. In short, we need to do a better job uncovering the full picture of gender-based violence in order to most effectively address it. Further, a persistent lack of comparability between national studies in the region has hampered the ability to draw broader, meaningful conclusions.

How do we zoom out to the bigger picture to understand violence regionally? How can we share successful prevention and response strategies across countries and globally?

A new study released in January by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attempts to answer these questions by re-analyzing studies from 12 countries in the region. For the first time, data reveals a broader and more in-depth picture of both the prevalence and nature of violence region-wide.

While globally it is estimated that one in three women will experience physical, sexual, or psychological violence in her lifetime, this rate is both higher and lower across different areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. For instance, more than half of women who have been married in Bolivia reported having experienced some type of violence by their intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate of intimate partner violence reported was lower, just 17%, in the Dominican Republic. Emotional abuse of women by intimate partners is also common in the region, and is closely linked to the incidence physically abuse. Nearly half of women in Nicaragua reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner in their lifetime.

While more information is needed, we are just now beginning to uncover a picture of the complex root causes and risk factors for violence against women in the region. After controlling for a number of factors, PAHO researchers found that the risk factors most closely associated with violence by a partner include being divorced or separated, having a high number of children, and if a woman’s father was abusive to her mother. This seems like an odd grouping, but it’s a key finding because it can help direct our attention father up the causal chain of violence, to focus our programming efforts on critical risk factors.

Documenting the stories of women who experience various forms of violence, qualitatively, is also important. Last year, the Nobel Women’s Initiative led a fact-finding mission to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to document violence against women – in particular sexual violence perpetrated by the state and the mining industry against women’s human rights defenders. Women from these countries stepped forward courageously to provide testimony, oftentimes at their own peril, of their experiences of violence – with their sisters bearing witness – enabling new nuanced documentation of this epidemic.

There have also been other efforts across Latin America to support increased reporting of violence among survivors, such as through the increased establishment of all-women police forces and courts specialized to address violence against women issues.

There are many reasons to be hopeful that increased data can help catalyze meaningful change, though there are reality checks left and right. While 97% of countries in the region have laws on domestic violence, fewer than half include explicit references to marital rape. In November, after decades of advocacy, the Law Against Violence Against Women was passed in Nicaragua. Yet, the country recorded 85 femicides in 2012, and new instances of sexual violence across the region make the news every day.

Despite the persistence of these abuses, the importance of documenting violence against women and collecting sound data remains. As data collection improves and more studies are done about this epidemic at the country and regional level, we may actually see something that seems like an uptick in violence against women. This may or may not actually be the case. Since gender-based violence is so hidden and often under-reported, the more we dig, the more we will find. An accurate picture is essential and pivotal to the achievement of our end goal: eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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A partir de marzo 4-15, defensores se reúnen en la 57 sesión de la Comisión de la Condición Jurídica y Social de la Mujer (CSW) en Nueva York para instar a los gobiernos a cumplir los compromisos de eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres y las niñas.

Durante la siguiente semana y media, los defensores están apoyando esta conferencia a través del uso de medios sociales, incluyendo blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn y Pinterest para nombrar unos pocos, para difundir la palabra acerca tanto a la reunión de la CSW y para pedir el poner fin a la violencia de género.

Como hoy es el Día Internacional de la Mujer, miles, si no millones de personas están participando en esta convocatoria mundial para eliminar la violencia de género mediante la participación en un mundial Tweet-a-Thon.

Los defensores que son Tweeting y que están participando en la 57 ª sesión de la CSW se documenta la incidencia y el impacto de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y los niños “testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.”.

Los blogs también se centra en el tema. Uno de ellos, publicado por la IPPF / Región del Hemisferio Occidental, afirma que la documentación y la investigación sobre la violencia en todas sus formas es entonces puede ser un catalizador para el cambio.

Como analista político y defensor de los derechos civiles y los derechos de las mujeres con antecedentes de investigación en el trabajo y la familia estoy totalmente de acuerdo. Así que usted cree, querido lector, le gusta ver lo que Jimena Valadés, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro en la IPPF / RHO tiene que decir.

En un esfuerzo para hacer esto lo más accesible posible, les presento este blog en Inglés y Español. La siguiente es la versión en español de este blog.

¿Cómo puede la investigación ser un catalizador para el cambio?

Jimena Valades, Oficial de Programas – Aborto Seguro

Si un acto de violencia es perpetrado pero nunca reportado ni documentado, ¿pasó en realidad?

Desde luego que la respuesta es sí. Hay muchas razones por las cuales los sobrevivientes pueden no reportar incidentes de violencia, incluyendo el miedo a las represalias, estigma, o desilusión con los agentes del orden. Encuestas de Costa Rica, Paraguay y Perú muestran que hasta el 20% de mujeres han sufrido un ataque de índole sexual, pero pocas a ninguna lo reporta a la policía. Y muchos sobrevivientes que reportan incidentes de violencia, se enfrentan con sistemas judiciales ineficaces que apuestan a la impunidad o sistemas de monitoreo de datos que actúan como agujeros negros, tragándose la evidencia de la tragedia sucedida. De todas maneras, sabemos que las estadísticas con las que contamos en términos de violencia basada en género representa solo una fracción de la dura realidad.

Aun así el punto más importante sigue vigente: hay una importancia crítica en documentar los actos de violencia contra las mujeres –sistemáticamente, con cuidado, y con continuidad en el tiempo. Esto es necesario no solo para actuar como testigos ante los abusos de derechos humanos que demasiadas mujeres experimentan en el mundo todos los días, sino también para entender la prevalencia, naturaleza y raíces de estos abusos para poder lograr una mayor efectividad en detenerlos – a través de leyes y políticas y a través de la prevención y programas de respuesta.

A pesar de que existen numerosos estudios sobre VBG a nivel país en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, hay una necesidad de obtener datos más actuales y de prevalencia nacional, así como investigaciones cualitativas en las causas, los riesgos y los factores de protección. En suma, necesitamos hacer un mejor trabajo para tener un panorama más claro y amplio de la VBG para poder responder mejor ante ella. A su vez, la falta persistente de comparabilidad entre estudios nacionales en la región ha disminuido la capacidad de sacar conclusiones más amplias y significativas. ¿Cómo alejamos el zoom para poder ver todo el panorama completo y entender la violencia a nivel regional –sus causas, lo que ha sido efectivo en prevenirla, sus costos, etc.? ¿Cómo compartimos estrategias de prevención y respuesta entre países?

Un nuevo estudio publicado este mes por la Organización Panamericana de Salud (PAHO) ha intentado re analizar investigaciones de 12 países de la región, y, por primera vez, revela un panorama más amplio y profundo sobre la prevalencia y naturaleza de la violencia en esa parte del mundo.

Globalmente se estima que una de tres mujeres experimentará violencia física, sexual o psicológica en su vida, pero este número es –al mismo tiempo- alto y bajo en las diferentes áreas de Latinoamérica y el Caribe. Por ejemplo, más de la mitad de mujeres que nunca contrajeron matrimonio en Bolivia reportaron haber experimentado algún tipo de violencia de parte de sus parejas en el curso de sus vidas. Este mismo índice es más bajo, un 17%, en la República Dominicana. El abuso emocional por parte de la pareja es endémico en la región y está estrechamente vinculado con el abuso físico. Casi la mitad de las mujeres en Nicaragua han reportado abuso emocional de parte de sus parejas durante sus vidas.

Aunque es necesaria más información al respecto, recién ahora estamos desentrañando un marco de las raíces y los factores de riesgo de violencia contra las mujeres en la región. Después de controlar un número de factores en la región, investigadores de PAHO encontraron que los factores que se asocian a la violencia de parte de una pareja incluye estar divorciado o separado, tener muchos hijos, o si el padre de la mujer era abusivo con su madre. Esto puede parecer como una mezcla rara de factores, pero es un hallazgo clave porque nos ayuda a dirigir nuestra atención más arriba en la cadena de causales de violencia, y enfocar nuestros esfuerzos programáticos en los factores de riesgo críticos.

Es también importante el documentar las historias de las mujeres que experimentan las varias formas de violencia de manera cualitativa. El año pasado, la Iniciativa Nobel de Mujeres lideró una investigación en México, Honduras y Guatemala para documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y en particular la violencia sexual perpetrada por el Estado y la industria minera en contra de las defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres. Mujeres provenientes de estos países se acercaron con mucho coraje a dar su testimonio – la mayoría de las veces bajo riesgo de vida- de sus experiencias de violencia, con sus hermanas como testigos, desarrollando nueva documentación sobre esta epidemia.

Ha habido otros esfuerzos en América Latina para apoyar el incremento de reporte de violencia entre sobrevivientes, a través de un aumento de fuerzas de policía exclusivamente compuestas por mujeres y cortes especializadas para atender los temas de violencia contra las mujeres.

Hay varias razones para mantener la esperanza que al incrementar los datos estadísticos podamos ayudar a catalizar un cambio significativo, aunque seguimos teniendo chequeos de realidad en todos lados. Mientras que 97% de los países de la región tienen leyes contra la violencia doméstica, menos de la mitad hace referencia explícita a la violación dentro del matrimonio. En noviembre, luego de décadas de trabajo de incidencia, la Ley de Violencia contra las Mujeres fue promulgada en Nicaragua. Sin embargo, el país mantiene un record de 85 femicidios en 2012, y nuevas instancias de violencia sexual salen en las noticias de la región todos los días.

A pesar de la persistencia de estos abusos, sigue siendo de vital importancia el documentar la violencia contra las mujeres y compilar datos de solidez estadística. A medida que la recolección de datos mejora y se incrementa el número de investigaciones que documentan esta epidemia a nivel nacional y regional, podríamos suponer el estar frente a un aumento de la violencia contra las mujeres. Esto puede, o no, ser así. Como la VBG es usualmente escondida y con bajo nivel de reporte, cuanto más escarbemos más vamos a encontrar. Pero el tener un panorama completo es esencial y crucial para llegar a nuestro objetivo final: prevenir y eliminar todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres y niñas en Latinoamérica y el Caribe.