Slow Road to Beijing

March 9, 2010

United Nations
United Nations

I always find today, International Women’s Day, incredibly inspiring but this year my source of motivation was the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which began on March 1st and runs until March 12th. I had the chance to attend this year and find out what it is all about.

This year, the CSW focused on progress towards achievement of the commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which was adopted by 189 governments 15 years ago.  Over the 12 days, in addition to the official meetings of member states, there are parrellel events hostedby NGOs covering a diverse range of issues from women and climate change to women’s political participation from female condoms to women and the economic crisis.  CSW is a chance to meet and hear participants from around the world speak about their work and their view of progress made to achieving the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s objective to achieve women’s empowerment, the full realization of women’s rights and substantive gender equality.

It was evident that whilst some progress has been made in the 15 years that have passed since Beijing – there is certainly much more to be done.

For instance, the prevention and elimination of violence against women – a Beijing commitment – is far from fulfilled.  Amnesty highlighted the challenges to preventing violence globally during an interesting parallelevent on Obstacles to Justice for Violence Against Women at which the findings of our research on violence against women in Uganda, Cambodia and Nordic countries were presented.  What was evident about these research findings was that regardless of the wealth of the country, the status of women in public life, the religion or the ethnicity of the people, violence against women is a global phenomenonthat rears its ugly head in homes, in schools and on the streets in every country in the world.  The obstacles to justice include stigma associated with reporting crimes and speaking out against what is considered a “private” or “family”  matter.  All of the panelists gave accounts of women who had been laughed out of the police station or shamed into silence.  Too often, police or judicial officials are not aware of the appropriate response to complaints or even the national laws that exist to prevent and protect survivors of violence.  The practice of violence against women is often tolerated  or, worse still, condoned by society which reflects the gender inequality and discrimination against women which is pervasive in many societies.  Gender discrimination in itself creates an obstacle to justice which must be overcome.

Today, Amnesty launches a Six point Checklist on Justice for Violence Against Women which is a valuable resource for activists and advocates seeking to improve the judicial response to violence against women and identify laws policies and practices which need to be reformed.  Whilst the events at CSW demonstrated that more needs to be done to eliminate violence against women, it is also evident that the world over, there are activists working tirelessly to put an end to the violence and dismantle these obstacles.  A young woman activist from Nigeria in the audience at the Amnesty event said that her community creates obstacles “..they point at me for speaking out…” she said.  In the face of such hostility from her friends and neighbors she continues to demand an end to violence against women and she inspired me to do the same.