Debriefing: United Nations 57th Annual Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

The following is a debriefing prepared by Board Secretary Jessica Buchleitner:

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The following is my comprehensive debriefing of the 57th annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

The importance of the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting and the parallel NGO (non-governmental organization) sessions is to bridge the global policy making body of the United Nations with the grassroots efforts of the non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGOs are the ammunition needed to jumpstart UN policy in member nations because they have the most direct grassroots influence on the micro level. What was witnessed at this year’s session was a merger between the micro and macro levels of the United Nations and its NGO consulting partners. This debriefing examines both areas.

The priority theme for 2013 was Ending Violence against Women and Girls. Violence against women persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of human rights and major impediment to achieving gender equality. Violence against women will not be eradicated without political will and commitment at the highest levels to make it a priority locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. Political will is expressed in a variety of ways, including legislation, national plans of action, adequate resource allocation, location of mechanisms to address violence against women at the highest levels, efforts to overcome impunity, visible condemnation of this violence, and sustained support by leaders and opinion makers of efforts to eradicate it. Over the past two decades, there has been significant progress in elaborating and agreeing on international standards and norms to address violence against women. Yet NGOs have a long way to go and a significant amount of work to do.


Microlevel: UN consultative NGOs and current progress at combating violence against women in the global grassroots

There are hundreds of global non-governmental organizations with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Each year at the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting they meet in parallel to the main ECOSOC commission in order to present their activities, research and panels of survivors and experts in order to keep other NGOs informed of their progress and key issues in their country pertaining to the theme of the meeting.

Recurring themes of these NGO presentations for this year’s meeting were armament and militarism, fiscal economic policy, women’s political participation, economic inequality and human trafficking.

The first panel discussion I attended was presented by my sponsoring NGO, Women’s Intercultural Network, on winning strategies at combating violence against women and girls where several experts spoke about municipal and government initiatives.

In a separate panel discussion organized by Global Fund for Women, it was brought to our attention that total military spending around the world amounted last year to 1,738 billion dollars. The United States is a top spender, topping out at 40% of total military expenditure. The other 60% is accounted for with China, Russia, UK and France.

An economist emphasized that the feminist movement should be focused on economic policy, budgeting, taxation and military expenditure as war and conflict situations yield high incidents of violence against women. More women need to participate in the security sector if we are going to reduce violent war crimes. UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, was cited multiple times during the discussions of military and armament. The Arms Trade Treaty, created just last year in order to regulate the sale of weapons, was also cited as a means of controlling the flow of armament and land mines circulating globally. In too many countries around the world, women are too often left out of the peace negotiation process when it comes to matters of military, peace and security. The United Nations and its consultative NGOs are working hard to ensure the inclusion of women in these aspects of governance.

These discussions further continued at a separate panel discussion with invitation from Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison at the US Mission to the United Nations (and older sister of our current Secretary of State, John Kerry). We were presented with a panel of UN experts and US UN Mission personnel to answer our policy related questions about violence against women, military spending and initiatives government entities are undertaking to combat it.

Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison to the US Mission to the UN

Peggy Kerry, NGO liaison to the US Mission to the UN

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Women, War and Economics presentation


In another panel organized by United Methodist Women which represented several NGOs from the Republic of Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Honduras, discussions on military and armament continued. For the Republic of Georgia, the NGO Atinati presented on the amount of displaced persons still remaining in the country after the 1992 energy war with Russia in a region known as Abkhazia. I was fortunate enough to interview the operator of the NGO about its creation amidst a trying time in the country. Although Georgia has its share of improvements to make, she cited recent improvements came in the form of prosecution for individuals who kidnap women as brides and an overall people oriented focus in the police force in recent years. In 1994, the Georgian parliament officially ratified CEDAW, the UN women’s bill of rights and this, she explained, has helped make progress in the country for legal matters concerning violence against women.

An NGO from the Democratic Republic of Congo reported about the 71 million people affected by the 20 years of war and ethnic conflicts happening in the country. It was reported that rebel group N23 was receiving aid from the United States and Europe and were committing 70% of the rape cases resulting from the armed conflict in the country. The presenter described the situation: “We have lost our dignity; our bodies have become a sanctuary for our rebel groups”.

Following the Democratic Republic of Congo, an NGO representative from Honduras painted a grim portrait of the changing sociopolitical circumstances in the country. Currently there are transworld capital investments and organized crime occurring and militarism was cited as one way of controlling the resources, territories and investments pouring into the country. In the current economic crisis, there are an influx of weapons circulating in the country. The presenter stated with great emphasis: “They have made life a commodity itself”.
Due to the 2009 military coup, the country has entered into an arms and drugs race and officially declared bankruptcy. The military coup consolidated all economic interests and started passing laws that systematically made life worse. All labor is temporary and employers pay per hour at a rate they decide, not at one that is regulated by law. As a result of this, the country is also being sold off in bits and pieces where multinational corporations are actually renting parts of the country. 18 provinces are now for sale and the biggest player in this race is the United States. The presence of the US military appears to be justified in the “war against drugs”, yet they are selling and participating in the drug trades. Resource wars, similar to the gas wars in Georgia, are happening all over the country.


I attended another NGO presentation on Wednesday by two Sudanese groups, where we were provided updates on the situation of disputed borders between Sudan and South Sudan. Due to the conflict over natural resources there is unequal power and economic resources, a lack of infrastructure, roads, bridges and hospitals. South Sudan has oil but needs North Sudan to transport it. The peace delegations currently in the country are almost entirely male with a severe lack of female participation. It is currently difficult for women’s rights defenders to operate because many of them are being detained and tortured. Rape as a weapon of war has long since been a factor in this environment. Currently the country is attempting to bridge Sudan and South Sudan in peace talks and a negotiation of their new constitution. Women’s rights groups are grappling to get women a seat at the table, citing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the CEDAW ordinance, since Sudan joins the United States, Somalia, and Iran in refusing to ratify the ordinance.

The last full NGO panel I attended was co sponsored by Women’s Intercultural Network and US Women Connect, where Board representative Ana Maria Sanchez gave a powerful speech about her struggle with Domestic Violence.

In this panel, an engaging discussion was launched on the cellular memory of generations. When a people are oppressed, the scars and burden of that oppression trickle through the generations and are felt by the offspring of the people.

These are just a few select observations that were made in panel presentations in the NGO portion of the meeting.

Macro level: United Nations Policy and the responsibility of its member states
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Two policy tools for combating violence against women

1. The Beijing Platform for action (BPFA) is a 150 page document that was adopted as a result of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It is the agenda for women’s empowerment which fosters women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political –decision making.

2. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) similarly defines the legal obligations of State parties to prevent violence against women and girls. Adopted in 1979, it is an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and thirty articles, if defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end it. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They must submit national reports every four years on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. Currently 187 States have ratified CEDAW. Countries that have not ratified CEDAW include Iran, Nauru, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and the United States of America.

It is necessary to realize that it is the responsibility of the member State to prevent, investigate and prosecute all forms of violence against women and to hold perpetrators accountable.

High level roundtable session of CSW

High level roundtable session of CSW

In attending General Discussions and High Level Roundtable of the Commission on the Status of Women, I observed a review of the (Beijing Platform for Action) BPFA and ways in which each member state is looking to implement BPFA and CEDAW. Some examples of this are as follows:

– Jordan and Slovenia reported on the adoption and reforms of laws and policies to address gender-based discrimination. Kuwait and Sri Lanka took measures to increase women’s political participation, and Sweden took measures to increase women’s access to labor markets and financial resources with a focus on rural and immigrant women.

– Many reporting states, including Denmark, Malta, Mauritius and Slovenia have adopted national action plans to address violence against women in general, or in specific forms.

– Several states, such as Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Mauritius, Mexico, Poland, Spain, and the Sudan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reported on the establishment of coordination mechanisms, including task forces, dedicated units, working and interministral groups or observatories.

– Senegal reported on a national action plan to address poverty as a means to address violence against women and girls, while in Japan, Hungary and Slovenia national action plans on gender also included measures to prevent violence.

– Jordan and Slovenia reported on the adoption and reforms of laws and policies to address gender-based discrimination. Kuwait and Sri Lanka took measures to increase women’s political participation, and Sweden took measures to increase women’s access to labor markets and financial resources, with a focus on rural and immigrant women.

– As a means of challenging gender stereotypes, Mauritius developed a program to promote men’s responsibilities within the family.

Suggestions from the Macro policy level for member states to combat violence against women:

– Implement, monitor and set periodic reviews and revisions of laws in order to punish perpetrators.

– Establish a reliable and consistent form of data collection on violence against women utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods. Many countries lack reliable data and much of the existing data cannot be meaningfully compared.

– Strengthen the awareness and knowledge base of all forms of violence against women in society

– Allocate funding for violence programs.

Agreed Conclusions of CSW 57

The agreed upon conclusions of the meeting have officially been released and are receiving objections by the Muslim Brotherhood. To view them click here.

My takeaways
Once again, I went into this experience a bit naïve. Diplomacy work is an oxymoron in a sense because you go into the experience believing you can make a difference yet what you are met with are many layers of corruption. I think most people assume being a diplomat allots you the fancy ability to make the world a better place. Yet, it can be a very dirty, cold and harsh reality. There are egos at stake of key players and leaders and a constant grappling for resources and power. It can be tricky to balance power with the needs of one’s member state. For example, the United States has been aware of the forced sterilization in China since it began, but is so economically tied to the country it that it is not in our best interest to “step on the toes” of officials to end the practice. Diplomacy is tricky in that sense. My experience at the United Nations proved to be a bit disillusioning. I want to believe that all the work I am doing is making an impact, yet in a delegate role- one observes the intricate layers of corruption present in every nation in the world. It is discouraging and disconcerting. In all truth, I felt like an immense failure when I came home. I was severely depressed for the week following the conference.

On the positive note, it has allowed me to connect with grassroots women from all over the world and gave me the fortunate ability to interview fascinating women from Georgia and from Bangladesh.

Receiving the opportunity to be a player in world diplomacy was a blessing in many ways. I was able to see what the real issues are and where many of the problems lie. To change the world, the key area of everyone’s focus should be economics. Money is where everything begins and ends. It is the source of corruption, of power and of greed. My recommendation moving forward is for activists and humanitarians to make economics more of an area of focus.

Overall, I am grateful for this intense experience. It is difficult work to do because it such a hefty dose of all of the world’s problems. The most inspiring aspect of CSW 57 was the amount of women I met from very impoverished countries. Some of them spent their life savings just to attend that conference and talk about what their NGO does to combat violence against women. That is very uplifting to conceive. I have decided to let that notion be my light.

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