U.N. begins session on violence against women

NEW YORK (UMNS) — An international delegation sponsored by United Methodist Women is joining some 6,000 representatives of civil society to participate in the March 4-15 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.

As Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, noted, “It is an understatement to say that the priority theme of this (commission’s) 57th session, the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, is timely.”

While progress has been made in recent decades in terms of standards, laws, policies and programs, “violence against women and girls remains widespread,” she said in an address to the March 4 opening session of CSW-57.

“It is time for action when up to 70 per cent of women in some countries face physical and /or sexual violence in their lifetime,” Bachelet declared.

She highlighted five key areas for action:

  • Strengthening the implementation of laws, policies and programs for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls
  • Placing more focus on violence prevention
  • Addressing prevention and response together as part of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy
  • Establishing comprehensive and accessible multisectoral services and responses
  • Compiling reliable data, analysis and research to inform the development of laws, policies and programs

Women and conflict

Years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have led to both violence against women and displacement from their communities, says the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, a clergy member of the United Methodist North Katanga Annual (regional) Conference in that nation.

Musau, part of the UMW delegation to CSW-57, is pursuing a doctor of ministry degree focused on children and poverty in the globalized world from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.

During a March 2 presentation to members of the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in New York, she noted that Congo has been called “the rape capital of the world.”

But, both the United Nations and the DRC government are “making an effort to strengthen laws on sexual violence,” she said. Efforts also are being made to educate women about their rights. “It’s a process, but it’s coming along.”

The United Methodist Church has supported the Congo peace process and Musau said she prays that a U.N.-drafted peace accord signed by 11 African nations Feb. 24 in Addis Ababa will have the desired effect of stabilizing eastern Congo.

Her simple message, which she likes to repeat for emphasis: “People need peace.”

CSW is a ‘champion’

The Commission on the Status of Women, part of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council, is a global policy body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women.

At its annual meetings, representatives of member states gather in New York “to evaluate progress on gender quality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

In his remarks at the opening session, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called the Commission on the Status of Women “our lead champion of the global fight for women’s equality and empowerment.”

“I can already feel the passion in this room for getting things done,” he told the delegates.  “Many of you are veterans of this struggle. You have been on the frontlines of discrimination for years.”

The United Nations now is systematically beginning to place gender equality at the center of its work of human rights, peace, sustainability and development, he said.

Eliasson himself has met women who have suffered from violence in places such as the refugee camps in Darfur and, most recently, the villages of northern Mali, as well as through advocacy groups and meetings.  “Their stories are graphic and heartbreaking, but their spirits are never broken,” he added.

Survivors of violence need concrete assistance that allows them to reclaim their lives, but also must be empowered to help societies tighten laws, prosecute perpetrators and fundamentally change minds, Eliasson pointed out.

“We have to create a culture where shame around these crimes is solely directed to the perpetrators,” he said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or [email protected].

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