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UN Commission commits to women’s rights

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UN Women welcomes the outcome of 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, this week

By Team FI

The UN Women today welcomed the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concluded on Friday. In a press release, the UN Women have appreciated the document adopted by the Commission, which not only condemns the pervasive violence against women and girls but also focuses significantly on prevention – “through education and awareness-raising and addressing gender inequalities in the political, economic and social spheres.”

According to the press release, the document has underlined the importance of “multi-sectoral services for survivors of violence, including for health, psychological support and counseling, social support in the short and long term.”

Referring to the outcome as a testimony to the commitment of UN Member States to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls, the UN Women stated that by adopting this document, the respective governments “have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century.”

In 2003, when the Commission took up violence against women and human rights, Member States had failed to reach to an agreement.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday had called the proposed document un-Islamic. According to women’s rights activists, the Vatican, Russia and some Muslim nations had formed “an unholy alliance” to weaken a UN statement calling for tough global standards on combating violence against women.

Women’s organizations across the globe had expressed their alarm at the “constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document”. Women’s human rights are not to be negotiated away, said the press release endorsed by over 200 women’s groups and organizations and more than a hundred individuals, insisting that negotiations should not be re-opened “on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights.”

The 57th CSW had also seen the organizations and individuals of Arab Caucus express their concern over the positions taken by some Arab governments on violence against women. They accused their leadership of “increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence, discrimination and allow the violations against human rights and continue with impunity.”

The Arab Caucus representatives from non-governmental organizations underlined the fact that “the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies.”

AFP news report suggests that western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the agreement after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 UN member states.

Some 6,000 non-government groups were present in New York for the CSW meeting.

Women’s Rights: Divided they Stand

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India stood amongst the conservative governments in opposition to the progressive governments in the debates on women and girls’ human rights issues during the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which ended without any agreed conclusions in March 2012

By Team FI

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held this year at the United Nations Headquarters, New York was one of the most controversial and divided sessions in the history of the commission. The session began on 27 February and continued to 9 March 2012.

The following is an analysis of the session by the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR).

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women witnessed ferocious debates on several issues related to women’s and girls’ human rights. The debates between the conservative and progressive delegations were so polarized, that at the end, for the first time in CSW’s history, the governments could not reach an agreement. Thus, there was no “Agreed Conclusions” at the end of the two-week meeting.

Egypt had a major impact on this final situation, as the Egyptian delegate continuously underlined that he was speaking on behalf of the African group – 27 countries. Caribbean Communtiy (CARICOM) had also a very blocking effect, although it did not express a clear position on many of the issues. Jamaica, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, very often took the floor to intervene on behalf of the conservative block.

Moreover, the delegates could not reach an agreement on the “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” resolution either. Consequently, there was only a “Procedural Resolution” on “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” .

Most Contentious Issues

Opposition of conservative governments to the term “Harmful Traditional Practices”

“Harmful traditional practices,” is a major source of women’s human rights violations and since the Beijing Platform for Action, is mentioned as a women’s human rights violation in many UN negotiated documents. The term had come under attack by some conservative governments at the 2010 CSW meeting. The 2011 CSW witnessed a much stronger and coordinated effort by conservatives to have the term deleted from all new documents, signaling a significant backlash.

Countries that wanted to have the word “traditional” deleted, and instead revise the term as “harmful practices” were the Russian Federation, Syria, Egypt, India and Chile. Those who strongly supported the retention of the term in various resolutions and the conclusions were Turkey, Mexico, Uruguay, EU, Switzerland, South Africa and Israel.

Unfortunately, in the 2011 “Maternal Mortality Resolution,” harmful traditional practices has come to be narrowed down to Female Genital Mutilation, which is detrimental not only because it negates many other traditional harmful practices defined in other UN negotiated documents such honor crimes, early and forced marriages, dowry related deaths among others, but also such a limitation can imply a stigmatization of African cultures.

“Early and forced marriages” vs. “Child marriages”

There was a coordinated effort by Iran, the Holy See (Vatican), Russian Federation and India to delete any references to “early marriages,”. They have instead proposed the term “child marriages.”

The recognition of “early and forced marriages as a harmful traditional practice” has been there since Beijing+5. The term “child marriage” is very confusing, as the definition of the “child” varies a lot based on geography and culture. For instance, states within the US define “child” differently. According to the culture of many Muslim countries, a girl child is one who has not yet had menstruation.  Thus, in many Muslim countries, “child marriage” can be interpreted as the marriage of a girl who has not yet reached puberty. The countries that strongly voiced their support for the retention of the term “early marriages” were Turkey, Switzerland, Australia, the US and the EU.

“Reproductive rights and sexual health” as human rights

Until the very end opposed by the Holy See, supported by Norway, US, Australia, Japan,  Ireland, Uruguay, Australia, Turkey and Switzerland.

“The central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV”   

SADC wanted to insert the term “reaffirming the central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV,” as a main issue in the preambular paragraphs. This was opposed by many countries such as Australia, Canada, US, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which demanded evidence for it – which could not be provided by SADC – and most importantly, because such an assertion would imply that the family should be responsible for the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS, which is very detrimental for women, as women are the main unpaid caregivers in many countries.

“Negotiating safer sex”

Firmly opposed by the Holy See and the Russian Federation.  The Holy proposed “responsible sexual behavior” instead.  Supported by the EU and Canada.

The reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS

Although Iran was the only country that opposed the reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS – accepted by the UN General Assembly – this insistent opposition provided a major obstacle to reaching a consensus on the HIV/AIDS resolution. Strong statements supporting the declaration were made by Australia, the EU, Turkey, the US and SADC.

PETITION

Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD), a network of feminist organisations and women with 180 members representing groups of diverse women from 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, initiated a petition campaign –  “Say NO to safeguarding “traditional values” over women’s human rights!” The campaign which ended on 5th April 2012 has got over signatures from over 5400 organisation and individuals from all over the world.  The petition is to be sent to the governments who participated in the session and to the United Nations.