Enough Is Enough: CSW 57 Takes on Violence against Women
Kimberly Weichel, Peace X Peace CEO
As always, my week at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) annual meeting, held each year in March at the United Nations, was breathtaking both in the breadth and depth of issues explored and in the commitment, passion, and talent of 6,000 community leaders meeting together from all over the world. CSW is the lead champion of the global campaign for women’s equality and empowerment, and it includes both government gender ministers reporting progress on women’s advancement in their own countries and NGO leaders sharing their challenges and lessons learned. It was an honor to be there with such remarkable women.
The theme of the 57th CSW, continuing this week, is Violence against Women and Girls (VAW), a complex, multi-faceted, and pervasive epidemic. This was the largest gathering ever focused on violence against women, and shows the importance of understanding the complexities, devastating impact, and critical need for more services, training, education, and reform.
Violence against Women involves a complex series of interrelated issues. Violence occurs because of power differences between men and women, a culture of patriarchy, subordination of women, a culture of impunity, a tactic of war, poverty, alcoholism, drugs, exposure to violence, and many other factors. It is a crime whatever the reason, and cannot be excused due to culture or religion.
The Scale of the Challenge
VAW knows no borders. It does not discriminate according to nationality, ethnicity, social class, culture, or religion. It includes rape, torture, abuse, sex trafficking, beating, abduction and more. It involves women and girls of all ages: the average age for trafficked girls is 13. I heard horrific personal stories of girls who were trafficked at the age of 2 ½ and have worked their entire lifetime to overcome the shame. Rape devastates women, and in some cultures survivors are ostracized by their families and even killed to “restore the family’s honor.”
I was astounded to hear the magnitude of the problem―that the majority of women in ALL cultures experience violence or abuse of some kind. I heard that 1 in 4 women in the US experiences domestic violence, and that in New York City alone, 3 women are raped every day and over 260,000 cases of domestic violence are reported each year. In Nigeria, 65% of women have experienced domestic violence. In India 22 women are killed each day over dowries. I heard similar stories and statistics from country after country. Violence particularly affects poor, marginalized women, including ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, older women, young girls, and women who live under repressive regimes. It affects women overwhelmingly in places like the DRC and Mali, where rape is widespread as a weapon of war.
I would say this is the most under-reported, growing, and pervasive epidemic of our time. Many reasons were given for this rise. Women and girls often don’t know their rights and don’t have access to shelters or services. There may be no laws prohibiting violence, no punishment for perpetrators, rising poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism, ongoing war, and patriarchal cultures. Yet even where there are laws, policies, and punishment, domestic violence and rape are widespread.
A World of Solutions
Much of this CSW focused on addressing the problem with a variety of practical solutions. Education needs to begin in the public school system for both boys and girls, with courses on healthy relationships, how to express anger, how to resolve differences, and the human rights of both girls and boys. We need to challenge masculine norms that fuel violence against women. We need strict laws that punish perpetrators, making all forms of violence criminal offenses. We need more shelters and services to support women victims of violence, including mental health services. We need to train teachers, judges, hospital workers, hotel staff, and others about signs of violence and what to do when they suspect someone is a victim.
We heard about innovative applications of mobile phones to fight violence. There are now applications for women to find the nearest shelter, for medical personnel to evaluate domestic violence, for girls to assess whether a relationship is turning violent and to report abuse. In Afghanistan they are now teaching literacy on cell phones. This was hopeful, since mobile phones are ubiquitous.
We also heard about a campaign to protect public spaces, so that women can safely ride a bus, girls can walk or ride their bikes to school, women can collect water, and people can congregate in public areas. The campaign includes positive messaging on public billboards, in the media, and in training courses.
We need to involve men and boys in eliminating violence. The MenEngage Alliance is a global network of more than 300 NGOs and UN partners working to engage men and boys in gender equality and in violence prevention. They are working on gender equality curricula for schools, public education efforts about existing laws on VAW, mass media and communications campaigns, support for men and boys who have witnessed or experienced childhood violence, and to decrease alcohol consumption, restrict access to guns, and train parents.
Most importantly, we need to end the culture of impunity in our organizations and countries. Violence is a crime and perpetrators must be punished. We must all insist on the protection of the rights of women and girls to live in dignity, free of violence and discrimination. Enough is enough.
We all left CSW with a renewed commitment to shine light on this issue and work to eliminate this most insidious crime. The peace and well-being of our world depend on it.
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