Population Matters

A Hard Fought Win at the Commission on the Status of Women

March 20th, 2013

“Violence against women weakens our communities, stunts our economies, and erodes our common values.”  — Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations

Violence against women is a worldwide epidemic. It is estimated that around the world 1 in 3 women will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. The World Bank estimates that more women between the ages of 15-44 are at risk from domestic violence and rape than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined. This past year the world was shocked by high profile attacks on women from the brutal gang rape and murder of a young physiotherapy intern in India to the shooting of 15-year old Malala Yousafzai after she attended school in Pakistan and advocated for the right of other girls to do so. With the world finally galvanized to take action on violence against women ,this year’s meeting of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) came at a perfect time.

However, things are never quite that simple. The negotiations over the past two weeks were long and difficult with disagreements over language up unto the last day of the CSW on Friday. A small block of countries led by Iran, Russia, Syria, and the Holy See (the Vatican who has permanent observer status) fought doggedly to roll back previously agreed upon language on women’s rights arguing that they went against custom, tradition, and religion. Opponents of the draft took particular issue with references to abortion rights and language declaring that rape also includes forcible intercourse by a woman’s husband or her partner.

Fortunately, unlike last year’s CSW, opponents failed to completely derail the consensus document. Countries and NGOs supportive of women’s empowerment and women’s health fought tenaciously to form a strong and viable consensus. While they were not able to get everything they fought for, such as explicit language protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination; the final outcome document was still a victory for women around the world.

The document reaffirmed previous UN agreements, such as the Cairo Program of Action. It included strong language on promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, and the need to stop harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.  Even with it being a particular area of contention in the negotiations the outcome document ensured women’s reproductive rights and their access to sexual and reproductive health services including access to emergency contraception and safe abortion for victims of violence.

With such a hard fought victory let’s hope that it endures. As supporters said at the end of the CSW,  “By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century. There is no turning back.”

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy