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 10 March – 21 March 2014: 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) a Report

by Tsung Su

The  58th Session of the CSW  convened in New York City  from  March 10th to  the 21st ,  focusing  on the priority  theme of  “Challenges and developments  in  the implementation  of  the  Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls”.  MDGs,  with an  8-point  programme ,  was  initiated by the  UN in 2000  as a direct  outgrowth of  the  Millennium  Declaration.

Though the agenda of the MDGs targets  many  key  issues  of  women’ rights,  rights advocates  from  the  onset  view the programme  as  somewhat  flawed  as it fails  to pinpoint  the  essential  interconnectedness  of  all women’s  rights issues.   Poverty, lack of education, gender discrimination  and  lack  of  resources and services are all  integral  parts  of  certain overall  social  milieu  which  is  conducive  to  such  societal maladies.  To see or  single out  individuals  ills  without  looking  at  the totality   is  to  see  the  trees  without   the  forest.  Issues   such  as Violence  against  Women  in various  forms  was  not  even  mentioned.   (  In my  annual  reports  on  CSW  from  2000  to  2006,  I   either  wrote  copiously  or  mentioned  the MDGs.)   For  2015,  the  target  year of  MDGs,  the  priority  theme  of   CSW will  be  a  review  of  the  progress  of  implementation of  the  BPFA of  1995,  20  years  after  the  Beijing  Declaration.  BPFA (Beijing  Platform for  Action),  with its declared 12 critical  areas  for  action,  is  more  comprehensive  on  the  rights  and  well-being  of  women  and  girls.

Of  the 58th Session,  I will  report  briefly  on  the  following  areas: Women  and  Politics, Women and the Media and  Violence  against  Women.

Women  and Politics

A  side  event  organized  by  the  Irish  Government  focused  on  the  trials   and  problems  women  in  politics  face  both  in  work  and  in  life.  The topics  of  the  speakers : “ Violence  against  Women  in  Politics” ,  “Stereotypes  of  Women  in Politics”,  “How  Media  portrays  Women  Politicians”  highlight  some  of  the  problems.   The  antiquated  notions  that  “women  are  too emotional,  too  indecisive,  too  weak,  not  smart  enough  and  not  to  be  taken  seriously”  still  prevail  in  certain  social  mores.  Thus,  “ Women  are  not  naturally  endowed  to  tackle  heavy-duty  jobs  such  as  the  ones  in  politics”.  Thus,  in  certain  regions,  women  are  brain-washed  or  culturally  conditioned  to  be  lacking  in  self-confidence  and  ambition  to  run  for  political  office.   

Also  women  in  “decision-making  positions  face numerous  obstacles  to  being  treated  as  equals  in  politics.”  They  often  struggle  with preconceived  notions  of  how  women  should  look,  speak and  behave.  The  media  covering  women  politicians  tend to  stress   the  Woman  rather  than  on  the  Politician.    

A   pamphlet   entitled  “ Women in  Parliament   in  2013”  gives  some  chilling  facts  about  the  dangers  women  politicians  face  in  life and  in  work :  In  2013,  “ Electoral  violence  includes  threats,  verbal intimidation,  hate  speech, physical  assault,  destruction  of  property, and  other  acts  intended  to  influence  or  delay  an election.”

Women  candidates,  politicians  and  voters  are  speaking   out  more  on  gender-based  electoral  and  political  violence.   Internet  websites  are  exploited  by  some perpetrators  to  intimidate  or  stop woman  political  aspirants.   In  2013   the  new    woman  Speaker  of  Italy’s  lower  house  exposed   the  numerous  emails  of vile  sexual  nature  she  has  received  “threatening  rape,  sodomy,  torture  and  murder”.  

In  Kenya,  violence  against  women  marred  the  2007  election.  A  report   entitled   “Electoral  Violence  Targeting  Women Aspirants  in  the  2013  General  Election  in  Kenya”  revealed  that  women  candidates  were  targeted  by  violence  during  the  party  nomination  stage  (42.2%)  and  during  the  actual  campaign (33.7%).   In  2013    Honduras  experienced  a  sharp  rise  in  women’s  homicide  cases,   this  fact  coupled  with  reports  of  fraud  and violence  leading   up  to  the  election,  made  a  very   threatening  environment  for  women  aspirants  during  the  campaign .

To  help  prevent  gender-based  violence  during  elections, rights  advocates  have  employed  text  messaging  technology and  mapping  tools  to  spot  warning  signs  and  to  identify  and  mitigate incidents  of  violence.  UN  Women  has  supported  the application  of  the  new  methods  in  violence  monitoring  to help  women  candidates  in  Mali,  Senegal  and Sierra  Leone.   

Latin  American   countries  have  made  strides  in  tackling  the  problem  by  passing  laws  to  protect  women  in  politics  from  violence.  In  2012  Boliva  passed  the  Anti-Gender –Based  Harassment  and  Violence  in  Politics  Act  “ to  defend  and  guarantee  the  enjoyment  of  political  rights  by  female  candidates,  incumbents  and  elected.”    In  December  2013,   Mexico  adopted  amendments  to  its  electoral  laws  on  violence  against   women  to  include  cases  of  violence  against  women  in  politics  and   in  the  electoral  process.

On  the  bright  side,  women  across  the  globe have  made  significant  progress  in parliamentary  politics.   2013  was  a  record year .  The  global  average  of  women  in  parliaments  is  now  at  21.8  percent ,  up  from  20.3  percent  in  2012.  In  2013,  quotas  were  used in  39  chambers  holding  elections  in  30  countries .  In  total,  women  secured  3036  seats,  accounting  for  26.4 percent  for  all  members  elected or  appointed   to  parliament   in  49 countries.  Of  women  speakers  of   parliament  globally  as  of  January  of  2014,  40  women  speakers  out  of  271  posts  (14.2%) .   Another  record  to note :  Rwanda’s  Chamber  of  Deputies   in  2013  seated   63.8%  women  members.

 Women  and  the  Media

Panel  discussions  on  women and  the  media  in  general  have  agreed  on  the  following  points :  women  globally  are  underrepresented  in  media  houses,  especially  in  decision-making  positions;  women  covered  in  mass  media  are usually  portrayed  from  male  perspectives;  male  chauvinism  in media  work  places  is  quite  prevalent .  The  2006  the  South  Africa  Glass  Ceiling  report  by  Gender  Link  (GL)  and  the  South  Africa National  Editor  Forum  (SANEF)  has  remained  a  definitive  study  of  media  women  in  South  Africa.  There  are  both positive  and  negative  findings  in  this  report. With an  overall  average  of  41 %  of  women  in  media  in  the  region  of  14 countries  surveyed,  Lesotho  and  South  Africa  lead  the  others,  while  Zimbabwe  lags  behind  with  a  pitiful 13%  of  women  in  media.

Of  the  many  findings  of  the  report,  I  will  list  the  following  few :  Men dominate  in  media  workers  in  South  Africa,  especially  in  decision-making  positions;  drastic  gaps  in earnings and  work  conditions  between  the  genders;  in  four  countries  (Mozambique, Malawi,  DRC  and  Zimbabwe),  media  women  are  below  the  1/3  mark;  women  are  less  than  1/4  at  top  management  and  hit  the  glass  ceiling  at  senior  management  level;  male  sexist  attitudes abound:  male  colleagues  and  bosses  expect  women  in  media  “should  know  their  places, stick  to  the  easy  beats  and  stay  out  of  the  boardroom.” Sexual  harassment  remains  a  serious  concern  for  many  media  women;  most  media  houses  do not  have  gender  policies,  even  with  the  ones  claiming  to  have (16%  of  the  surveyed),  no  clear  guidelines  are  articulated.  

Given  the  above mentioned  conditions,  media  coverage  of  women’s   issues   tends  to   have  the bias  and  coloration  of  the  male  perspectives.   Studies  by  Gender Link  (GL) and  other  groups  on coverage  of  violence  against  women found  the  following  facts  :  gender  violence  is  often  treated  as  minor  as  compared  to  other  crimes;  the voices  of  those  affected  are  not  heard;   coverage  is  often  insensitive  with  women  portrayed  as  temptresses;  there  is  a  tendency  to  exonerate  the  perpetrators;  most  gender  violence  stories  are  written  by  men  or  court  reporters.

GL and other  rights  advocates  recommend  the  following  to combat  Gender  bias  in  media  :  awareness  raising  through gender  education  in  schools   and  workshops  in  workplaces;  ensuring  viable   gender policies  in media  houses  with  monitoring  mechanisms  for  implementation ;  sensitivity   training  for  male  media  workers;  leadership  training   for  women  in  media  etc.

 Violence  against  Women

On   the  subject  of  VAW,  I  will  report   on  three  sub-matters :  Human  Trafficking,  Rape  as a  Weapon  and  the  Istanbul  Convention .

 Human  Trafficking   

There  were  discussions  in  both CSW  panels  and  side  events  on  the  subject  of  human  trafficking.  The Council  of  Europe  and  the  NGO Committee  To  Stop  Trafficking  In  Persons  are  both  actively committed  to combat  this malady.  There  are  a  few  points  to  be  noted  before  looking  further  into  the  subject :

1) human  trafficking  is  closely  intertwined  with  the  sex  industry

2) it  is an activity of  well-organized  international  criminal  organizations

3)  human  trafficking  constitutes  gross  human  rights  violations

4) the  majority  of  victims  are   women  and  girls

“Human  trafficking  is  modern-day  slavery”,  one panelist  rightly put  it.  Across  the  globe  there  are  20  million  persons  being  trafficked  into  various  forms  of  servitude .  Beside women  and  girls  being  forced  into  prostitution,   trafficked  persons  also  include  men  and  boys . In addition to  sexual  exploitation,  trafficking  also  involves  forced labor, domestic  servitude , forced  marriage  and  forced  begging.  Cases  abound  of  trafficked  domestic  servants  being  deprived  of  wages,  food,  outside  contact,  freedom  of  movement,  being  subjected  to  sexual  abuse,  beatings  and  harassment.

The  Council  of  Europe, actively  committed  to  combat  human  trafficking, adopted  in  2005 the  Convention  on  Action  against  Trafficking  in  Human  Beings.  The  Convention, ratified  by  41  countries , entered  into  force  in  2008.  Recognizing  gender-based  discrimination  and  gender-based  violence  both  as  the  root cause  and  the  consequences  of  human  trafficking,  the  Convention  seeks  guarantees of  gender  equality  and  gender-mainstreaming  in  the  development, implementation  and  assessment  of  anti-trafficking policies.  The  Convention  also  sets  up  a monitoring  mechanism  known  as  the  Group  of  Experts  on  Action  against  Trafficking  in  Human  Beings  (GRETA)  to  evaluate  policy compliance  and  effective  implementation.

Rape  as  a Weapon

Rape  of  women  and  girls  during  both  peace  and  war  times  constitutes  an egregious  violation  of   human  rights   and  human  dignity.  Rape  used  as  part  of  military  strategies  of subjugation  and  intimidation  manifested  itself  many  times  in many  armed  conflicts,  such  as  in  the  cases  of  Bosnia,  Rwanda,  the  Congo  and  South  Africa .

An  ongoing  case  of  systematic  rape  by  the  armed  forces  as  weapon  of  war  is  the  continuing  atrocities  committed  against  women  and  girls  of   the  Kachin  and  Shan  minorities  by   the  Burma  Army.  Women  and  girls  have been forced  into portering,   sexual  slavery,  gang-raped  and  killed  by  the  Burmese  troops  since  its  armed  deployment against  the Kachin  State  in  2011.  Despite  declarations  of  promised  reforms  under  the  current  Burma  government, systematic  sexual  abuse  of  ethnic  women  is  still used   as  a  weapon  of  suppression  of  the  minorities  by  the  Burmese  Army, according  to  documentation  by  the  Women’ s  League  of  Burma  and  other  NGO groups.  Perpetrators  are  rarely or never  punished.

The  democratic  leader  Aung  San  Suu  Kyi  lamented  thus  in  2011:  “Rape  is   used  in  my  country  as  a  weapon  against  those  who  only  want  to live  in  peace,  who  only  want  to  assert  their  basic  human  rights.  It  is  used  as  a  weapon  by  armed  forces  to  intimidate  the  ethnic  nationalities  and  to  divide  our  country. “

In  May  2012,   The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict  was  launched  by   the collective efforts  of  Nobel   Peace  Laureates,  international  advocacy   organizations  and  grass-roots  NGOs. The  Campaign  calls  for three P's:  to  Prevent rape,  to Protect  the  survivors  and  to  Prosecute  the  perpetrators.  Here  are  some  grim  facts  on  rape  and  sexual violence : 322  women were treated  for  sexual  violence  at a single  hospital  during  Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence;  48  women are raped  every  hour in  the  Democratic  Republic  of  Congo;  200  internally  displaced  women reported  sexual  violence   in  one  camp  in  Darfur  in  five  weeks in 2006; there were 875  documented  cases of  sexual  violence   against  women  and  girls  in  Burma in the period  1989-2006;  250 rapes were  reported  in  the  first  150 days  after  Haiti’s   2010  earthquake;  500,000 of  women  reported  rape in  Colombia  in the period  2001-2009.

 The  Istanbul  Convention  2011

The  Council  of  Europe's  Convention  on   Preventing  and  Combating  Violence  against  Women and Domestic  Violence ,  also   known  as  the  Istanbul  Convention  of  2011 , is   a comprehensive  international  treaty  and  blueprint  for  action  to  tackle the  insidious  problem  of  violence  against  women.  It  requires  states parties  to  criminalize  various  forms  of  violence  against  women,  including  physical,  sexual  and  psychological  violence,  stalking,  sexual  harassment,  female  genital  mutilation,  forced  marriage,  forced  abortion  and  forced  sterilization.  It  defines  the  ‘due  diligence’ legal standard  as  “the  States’ obligation  to  prevent,  investigate , punish  and  provide  reparation for  acts  of  violence  perpetrated  by  non-state actors.”  In  the  international context,  the  Convention  states  that it  shall  apply  in both  times  of  peace   and  times  of   armed  conflict.  It  also  stresses  the  social  root causes  for  VAW  and  seeks  to  change  attitudes,  gender  roles  and  stereotypes  which  tolerate  violence  against  women. The  Convention  also  sets  up  a  watchdog  mechanism  known as GREVIO,  composed  of  a  group  of  independent  experts,  to  monitor  implementation  of  its  provisions  by  states  parties.   

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