Reports: March 24, 2017
Last week, together with Angela Reed rsm, Colleen Cloonan and Bridget Crisp rsm, from our NY office, and more than two thousand women from around the globe, I participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61). This is the principal global intergovernmental body of the UN that deals with the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Established in 1946, CSW is a commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Each year a priority theme is chosen to promote women’s rights and document the global reality of women’s lives. Reports and discussions facilitate the monitoring of global standards on gender equality and the progress made towards the empowerment of women.
This year the theme for CSW is ‘Women and Girl’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work’. The theme underpinned all UN side events and was evident in many of the NGO parallel events, which are held in and around the UN complex, which means that large numbers of women are on the move to attend events in different locations. The vitality, joy and friendliness permeating the CSW, makes it easy to strike up a conversation, resulting in some beautiful and enriching sharings.
Antonio Guterres, the new Secretary General of the UN, led a question and answer session with CSW participants on Friday 17th March. Symbolically a chair was left vacant, for our colleagues who were unable to be physically present, because of the new US travel ban!
Choosing which events to participate in is always difficult because of the huge range of options, so when possible we opted to go to different side or parallel events. What follows are some of the learnings I gleaned from the CSW events I attended this year:
Like many countries it is often very difficult to prove a person has been trafficked. Partly this is due to poor knowledge of the law on the part of the victim but also reluctance by some law enforcement agencies to acknowledge it! Herewith two effective responses from the USA:
1. Minnesota (MN): ‘Court Monitoring of both Trafficking and Domestic Violence Cases.’ In the beginning the initiative was seen as adversarial, later this changed because the monitors were professional and shared their results with the judiciary before going public. Now magistrates and court officials work with the volunteer monitors to attain ‘best practise’ together; resulting in appropriate sentencing and collaborative training sessions.
2. New York: ‘Empowering Women to Address Poverty: NY Anti-Trafficking Network'. The Network lawyers cited education as the most important ‘weapon’ for victims of human trafficking, sharing the case study of a Korean woman. She was enslaved for 12 years taking care of a large family and was on call for a Buddhist Temple. Although free to move in and out of the house, because she didn’t know her rights nor trusted the police, she continued to be enslaved. With the assistance of Network lawyers she successfully sued the family, a long slow process, receiving compensation and a ‘green card’ to remain in the US.
Does Full Decriminalisation Of The Sex-Trade Lead To Women’s Empowerment? This parallel event was organised by Lynda Dearlove rsm, from ‘Women@theWell’, the project she founded in London for women caught up in prostitution, many of whom have been trafficked. Lynda gave a brief, passionate address at the end of the event.
The excellent panel of speakers shared concrete examples of the negative impact of de-criminalisation in countries like Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Turkey and Australia. Concrete evidence indicates that when the sex trade is legitimised by a government, it provides a cover for illegal brothels and in most cases those providing sexual services are not protected! In Australia for example, criminal acts against a woman by a ‘john’ or a pimp are downgraded to an employer versus worker status. In this instance the complaint is taken to an occupational tribunal, thereby downgrading criminal sexual offences to misdemeanours! One of the panellists stated that prostitution is torture; therefore these cases should be tried in courts under this heading, with offenders receiving appropriate and tough sentencing.
Julie Bindell who moderated this event, shared how she participated in a debate in Cambridge University on the topic of de-criminalising the sex-trade. Opposing her was a pimp. Julie shared that a hard left anti-state group of vociferous feminists known as ‘The English Collective Prostitutes’ who were present, actually changed sides on hearing the pimp’s outrageous argument in favour of the de-criminalisation of the sex-trade!
After the panellists had spoken, the response and questions from participants indicated that everyone was in favour of the criminalisation of the sex trade, save for those providing it, who should be de-criminalised. In many countries it is they who are prosecuted!
From MDGs to SDGs: Grassroots Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development. There were significant positive results from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 2000-2015, but they were not as successful as they could have been because women were not involved in formulating them. In terms of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda including the Goals (SDG) 2016-2030 women’s groups were actively involved in the drawing up of these especially SDG 5 and 8 and their ‘voice’ is reflected in others. Additionally, clear targets and a monitoring facility that was missing from the MDGs, is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda. (See Mercy Global Action series of pamphlets).
Other concerns cited in this parallel event were the lack of political empowerment of women in many countries and the slow progress in combatting gender based violence. This is particularly true for rural communities in patriarchal and hierarchal societies, where more funding needs to be allocated for skills training and educational opportunities for young women denied basic schooling. Sadly rape appears to be on the increase in many countries, especially where there are conflict areas, because rape is regularly used as a weapon of war.
The overall hope is that the implementation of the SDGs will lead towards a more holistic approach, thereby helping women claim equality and to become empowered in the process.
Other learnings I gleaned related to the negative impact of tweeting. Women politicians and leaders, particularly of colour, are being hounded in a frightening manner through anonymous tweets, making this ‘space’ very unsafe for them. Sadly many of these tweets are sent by women to women! There is a call for sentencing for those engaged in such practices and an urgent call for greater ‘policing’ by appropriate companies.
Messages to: Denise Boyle fmdm - Team Leader Mercy Global Action