Ahead of 57th Commission on the Status of Women, governments, rights advocates and experts from across Asia and the Pacific gather to unify efforts to end violence against women and girls
Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Governments from across Asia and the Pacific convened in Bangkok last week to unify their voices on ending violence against women (VAW). The high-level meeting, organized by the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) , provided a space for government representatives in the region to discuss key issues, challenges and priorities on VAW, in preparation for the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The next meeting of the CSW, a UN functional commission that meets annually to assess progress, set global standards, and develop policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, will be held in New York on 4-15 March 2013 with a specific focus on VAW.
VAW persists as a human rights abuse of epidemic proportions, cutting across cultures, classes and age groups and with wide-reaching economic, health, and development consequences not only for women themselves, but for their families and nations as well. “Violence is a barrier for women, it’s part of what keeps them out of the mainstream economy. If we want to develop our countries, we have to realize the potential of women fully,” said Bikash Kishore Das, Joint Secretary in Bangladesh’s Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. His Excellency was joined by 12 government officials from the region – China, Georgia, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and Thailand – representing 12 elected member states (out of 45 total) of CSW.
Over the two days, participants expressed grave concerns for the persistence of VAW in their countries, shared challenges and examples of progress, and came up with a common set of recommendations for what next steps are needed for ending VAW. Key themes that emerged were the importance of shifting gender power dynamics and ensuring equality between women and men in public and private life, the crucial role of the media in helping to shift norms and culture, and the need to focus on prevention.
The main outcome document of the CSW is a set of “agreed conclusions,” agreements and action points for governments, civil society and other groups around ending VAW. With no agreed conclusions following the CSW in 2012, ensuring a successful outcome at the 57th session is widely seen as a key priority for global progress in ending VAW. By convening members of governments in the region – who in March will be at the CSW to negotiate and finalize such agreements – this meeting served as an important opportunity to discuss regional priorities, key issues, and recommendations.
High-level governmental preparatory meeting followed on the heels of a two-day civil society gathering, which brought regional women’s rights groups together for similar purposes. The meeting, which was co-organised by Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Asian Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), Fiji Women’s Crisis Center, Disabled People’s International Asia Pacific and made possible by the support of UN Women, resulted in a strong statement which was presented to government representatives, urging them to act courageously and decisively to prevent and eliminate all forms of VAW. During the civil society meeting, key issues emerged around VAW among marginalized groups of women, such as women with disabilities, HIV-positive women, indigenous women and sex workers, among others. Women in these spaces are especially vulnerable to violence, yet also face additional barriers in accessing support and justice services.
Government representatives also heard from a panel of VAW experts, who contextualized and illuminated key issues such as working with men and boys, the importance of ensuring strong budgets to fund survivor services, and engaging religious and traditional leaders to end violence. Suneeta Dhar from JAGORI, an Indian women’s rights and empowerment group, discussed the importance of addressing impunity in cases of VAW. Ms. Dhar has been an outspoken voice on the need for policy reform following the Delhi gang rape case, which has shaken the world. She provided moving testimony of what the episode means. “We have all been implicated, in a way,” Dhar said. While advocates in India have been working for decades to stem VAW, this recent gruesome and highly publicized episode has catalyzed near-immediate action. Following a commission’s in-depth review the country’s rape laws, India’s President signed an executive ordinance that bolsters current laws, including harsher punishments for perpetrators.
“This is the historic moment,” said Dhar. “A lot of work has been done and has been in the pipeline [to end violence against women]. The time has now come.” The 57th CSW has already seen registration from 6,000 non-governmental participants from more than 800 organizations. Governments both elected and not elected to the commission will soon gather in New York as well. With the world watching, there is great hope that with momentum building, governments will accelerate progress to ensure that all women and girls are able to live free of violence and discrimination.