Political Cauldron Boils on U.N. Women’s Rights

Michelle Bachelet, President Ellen Johnson SirleafThe 17-page document produced by the latest global gathering here on women’s rights leaves open what appears to be a long-term fight between conservative and progressive factions within the Commission on the Status of Women.

“It’s turning into a battle ground over women’s rights and that was not the original intention of the Commission on the Status of Women,” said Savi Bisnath, associate director of the Rutgers University-based Center for Women’s Global Leadership, in New Jersey, in a phone interview. “It was supposed to be a forum in which we can discuss and negotiate and advance women’s rights.”

The rights of women are becoming more prominent and contentious at the U.N., as more agencies, offices and initiatives are expected to work together on gender equality, sexual violence in armed conflict and maternal health.

Member nations of the U.N. sit in on the Commission on the Status of Women, a policy-making body of the U.N. Economic and Social Council. They negotiate mostly as regional factions.

The conclusions in the final outcome document say that violence against women has a short- and long-term effect on sexual and reproductive health and that governments should provide survivors and victims with access to related services.

Up to seven out of every 10 women will suffer violence in their lifetimes, according to U.N. figures. And about 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime.

Shannon Kowalski, a director at the International Women’s Health Coalition, hoped for a more progressive document and said more lobbying will be done around sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as reproductive rights, in the lead up to next year’s meeting. That meeting will focus on the “post-2015 development framework,” following the end of the eight anti-poverty U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

The two-week-long meeting routinely attracts thousands of civil society leaders and activists from around the world to participate in back-to-back panel discussions.

Some travel long distances at their own expense or personal risk.

It took Zahara Abdalniem Mohamed, a gender rights activist from North Darfur, Sudan, seven days to reach New York. She took risks in leaving her village. Militants regularly attack and rape women when they go beyond the village’s borders, Mohamed said.

But the opportunity for Mohamed and others to share common experiences in New York and report back to their countries each year is worth the trip, she said. They can also take the outcome document home as a national lobbying tool.

Gender rights advocates are calling the agreement uneven. It’s strong on such issues as providing emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault. The document also condemns gender-related killings, or femicide, and violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings, which drew a statement of commendation from Zainab Bangura, the secretary general’s special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict.

It agrees to protect female human rights defenders and says no custom, tradition or religious custom should stop governments from working to eliminate violence against women.

But the document goes silent on protections for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people. It also does not condemn violence against women in intimate partner relationships.

Last year, member nations did not agree upon any document to reaffirm the meeting’s theme of sexual and reproductive rights.

Excerpted from Women’s eNews. Read the full article at womensenews.org.

Photo of Michele Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, courtesy of Girl Up via Creative Commons 2.0.