New York–Today, the UN Member States resoundingly committed to ending violence against women and girls, including strong agreements on promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, and ensuring reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The Agreed Conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women represent another important step forward, building on the global momentum of the past twenty years, which has created a strong framework by which to end all forms of violence against women, young women, and girls.
Women’s health and rights organizations congratulated the governments who have defended the human right of women and girls to live free from all forms of violence. We have seen two weeks of intense negotiations, in which culture, tradition, and religion have been used to try to deny women their rights.
“Once again, we women have shown we’re an irresistible force. We will not be denied our rights,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “In the context of these difficult negotiations, we have made gains that we can use to protect women and girls from violence when we all go home.”
In this context an important outcome of the Agreed Conclusions is the recognition accorded to women human rights defenders, who often come under attack when they defend universal human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The Agreed Conclusions, available in full here, explicitly call for accessible and affordable health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services such as emergency contraception and safe abortion, for victims of violence. For the first time the CSW Agreed Conclusions have urged governments to procure and supply female condoms. The CSW reaffirmed previous commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development and the key actions for its further implementation.
Governments have also recommitted to important strategies such as comprehensive sexuality education, the need to end harmful practices perpetuated in the context of negative culture and traditions, and the need to focus services based on the diverse experiences of women and girls, including indigenous women, older women, migrant women workers, women with disabilities, women living with HIV, and women who are held in state custody. The links between HIV and violence against women was noted throughout the Agreed Conclusions. The Agreed Conclusions condemned and called for action to prevent violence against women in health care settings, including forced sterilization.
Violence against girls is also a major theme throughout the document. The Commission calls for an end to child, early and forced marriage, which is an increasing problem in many countries. Worldwide, 67 million girls are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Countries also committed to improving safety of girls on their way to and from school, at school, and in playgrounds; ensuring educational opportunities for girls who already married and/or pregnant; and preventing, investigating, and punishing acts of violence against women and girls that are perpetrated by people in positions of authority, such as teachers and religious leaders.
The Agreed Conclusions emphasize the role of men and boys in ending violence against women, and call for national policies to counteract gender stereotypes that present women and girls as subordinate to men and boys. The CSW calls on governments to engage, educate, encourage, and support men and boys to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behavior and become strategic partners and allies in the prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.
The Agreed Conclusions emphasize the need to abolish legislation, policies, and programs that discriminate against women or have a discriminatory impact on women. The CSW also calls for women and girls’ unimpeded access to justice and to effective legal assistance. The Agreed Conclusions also recognize that small arms and light weapons aggravate violence against women and girls.
Importantly, the Agreed Conclusions recognize new issues in the campaign to end violence against women, including the need for strategies to address the role of new media; the impact of climate change on women; the need for measures to encourage businesses to act on workplace violence, but also their responsibility to support workers experiencing violence in the home; and the need for multisectoral responses to end violence against women.
In addition, discussions at this CSW showed high levels of support for governments to address violence against women and girls based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. There was also widespread support for addressing the problem of intimate partner violence. Although Member States at this year’s CSW failed to agree on specific language about these issues, human rights groups are confident that consensus that has been achieved on these matters throughout the UN system and will soon be reflected in Agreed Conclusions of the CSW.
However, civil society groups expressed deep concern over attempts by conservative members to derail negotiations during the CSW. Thankfully, many governments held firm on commitments to women’s rights. A statement signed of concern signed by feminist organizations during CSW is available online at http://cwgl.rutgers.edu/program-areas/gender-based-violence/csw57/statement-on-outcome-document.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women meets annually in New York and in 2013 has focused on the elimination of violence against women. Comprised of 45 Member States the CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women with the sole aim of promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. Its mandate is to ensure the full implementation of existing international agreements on women’s human rights and gender equality.