The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 4 to 15 March. This year, the priority theme was the ‘Elimination and Prevention of All forms of Violence Against Women and Girls’. Leaders from all over the world worked very hard to reach an agreement on this issue and, after two weeks of discussions and deliberations, agreed conclusions were adopted.
“We have assembled here with a clear mandate: to create a world where gender equality is never in question and discrimination and violence against women and girls are a thing of the past. We can make this ambition a reality if we demonstrate the political will and commitment to agree on global solutions and to implement agreed strategies at the national level, to the limit of our resources”, Ms. Marjon V. Kamara, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, declared in her opening statement.
Violence against women is still a widespread problem and impunity is still the norm, rather than the exception. It is undeniable that in recent decades there has been some progress with regard to the proliferation of international agreements and treaties specifically aimed at giving women the respect, dignity and freedom that every human being should enjoy. At global and regional levels, important steps have been taken in this direction, considering that 187 countries have ratified the CEDAW, that the Security Council of the United Nations has recognized sexual violence as a ‘tactic of war’, that 160 countries have laws concerning the violence against women and more than 125 countries have specific laws that penalize domestic violence. In other words, this is a big step forward compared to just ten years ago. However, this gross violation of human rights continues: 603 million women still live in countries where it is not considered a crime and it is estimated that seven out of ten women in the world will suffer physical and sexual violence in their lifetime.
As declared by Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director, “No country can claim that violence against women and girls is non-existent in their nations. It is a horrific reality across all countries, in all strata of society, from the villages to the urban centers. But ending this pandemic is possible, if we all come together and address it through determined leadership and robust policies.”
For this purpose, this session covered historical significance as it was the first largest international meeting on the subject. This is not just one session among others, all the eyes were on this session as the expectations were very high. Ten years ago, Member States were unable to find an agreement on the same theme, this time there could not have been space for disagreement.
The strong message of this 57th session was that violence against women must not be accepted, justified or tolerated anymore. This discrimination can no longer take place in the 21st century as there can be no peace, nor progress as long as women live in fear of violence.
In detail, the document adopted by the Commission strongly condemns the violence against women and girls, and urges States to do the same, arguing at the same time that they should refrain from ‘invoking custom, tradition or religion to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination’. On the contrary, the text adopted calls for a global action and for more attention on some priority areas: first of all since the best way to end violence against women is to prevent it from happening in the first place, a special focus has been reserved for the prevention and it requires the commitment of all segments of society through the implementation of laws, policies, programs, educational initiatives, the promotion of awareness campaigns in order to not only prevent, but also to respond effectively to the problem; secondly, addressing gender inequalities in the political, economic and social sphere; thirdly, putting in place multi-sectorial services for victims of violence, thus providing support and protecting all rights of women, including sexual and reproductive rights; finally, it is necessary to improve the availability of data in order to provide an effective response. The key issue is, therefore, the need for a determined leadership for the prevention, protection and provision of services for victims.
This landmark agreement represents a milestone for women’s rights. The State’s response to violence against women must be holistic and comprehensive; in particular, the achievement will be useless without a stronger political commitment translated into action: prevention and action must be part of a coordinated and effective strategy.
The 57th CSW sent a strong signal based on the unacceptability of violence, the ‘zero tolerance’ approach and the fight against impunity.
Now, words must be followed up by action: it is time to move forward with strong commitment. Implementation and accountability are two key words in this direction.
The hope is that all the partners who were present at this historic session translate these agreements into action.
Antonella Del Prete
– Agreed conclusions : http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/CN.6/2013/L.5
– Opening statement H.E. Ms. Marjon V. Kamara, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women : http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/statements/statement-marjonvkamara.pdf