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UN Dispatch is pleased to announce that Feministing’s Vanessa Valenti will join the Dispatch team and offer posts on global women’s issues. Welcome aboard Vanessa!
As Saturday marks International Women’s Day, there are numerous efforts happening to increase awareness around the status of women across the globe. One of these is the “Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls” a new publication released today by the UN Refugee Agency that is designed to promote gender equality using a rights — and community — based approach.
Replacing the UNHCR’s 1991 “Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women”, this document acknowledges and condemns “a massive culture of neglect and denial about violence against women and girls,” develops strategies to address the challenges that women and girls face as well as sets out international legal standards in the area.
Perhaps most importantly, the handbook not only lays out strategies to ensure the protection of women and girls, but also pushes for gender equality “through targeted actions to empower women and girls in the civil, political and economic sectors.”
Click here for the handbook in full.
–By Vanessa Valenti
We’ve known for a long time how bad the situation in the Central African Republic is for women and girls there. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which has an open investigation into crimes committed during CAR’s 2002-2003 civil war, has even said that the number of suspected rapes far exceeds the number of extra-judicial killings during that war. Still, it is a shock to the conscience to see a statistic like this:
Over 15 per cent of women and girls in the violence-ridden north of the Central African Republic (CAR) are victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.
Reports coming in on a weekly basis describe such incidents as two 12-year-old girls being raped while searching for firewood in the bush and a 13-year-old girl assaulted on her way to sell palm oil at a market.
“Sexual violence is a disturbingly common feature of the insecurity in the north of the Central African Republic,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes. “We must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”
The United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicked off its 52nd session yesterday; this year’s theme is financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women and the emerging issue is gender perspectives on climate change.
In the session’s opening address, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke out against violence against women, noting that “at least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.” Ban also announced the launch of a new campaign to battle global violence against women, which will run until 2015.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to past CSWs when I was working in the international women’s rights arena, but (sadly) I won’t be there this year. What’s great, however, is that you can follow along on the CSW website and see what’s happening – whether it be panels, statements or NGO events.
Another great place to find out info on CSW and its happenings is the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) (my old stomping ground), who are heavily involved in the process and give great updates.
Very big news coming from Geneva. This from the New York Times:
A United Nations human rights body called on Saudi Arabia on Friday to immediately end its system of male guardianship which it said severely limits the basic freedoms of women in the kingdom.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in its first scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s gender equality record, said Islamic Sharia law should not trump an international women’s rights treaty that Riyadh signed in 2000.
The committee’s 23 independent experts urged Saudi Arabia to “amend its legislation to confirm that international treaties have precedence over domestic laws,” and “enact a comprehensive gender equality law.”
They also said that Riyadh should “take immediate steps to end the practice of male guardianship over women” and work to eliminate “negative cultural practices and stereotypes” which discriminate against women.
Read more about CEDAW. As with all of these sorts of treaties, there is no mechanism to force Riyadh to abide by its protocols. Still, invoking international treaties in domestic human rights disputes can have the effect of building up domestic and international support for the aggrieved population. (See: Apartheid South Africa, or more recently, attempts by the United Nations Human Rights Council to chastise Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.) This resolution can certainly has the potential to be a rallying cry for activists agitating for greater rights of women in the Kingdom of Saud.
The United Nations Foundation has announced that it will donate $1 dollar for each of the first 100,000 signatures to an online petition aimed at battling violence against women.
18,000 worldwide have already added their names to the campaign – “Say NO to violence against women” – since its launch last November. The campaign is run by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Experts, advocates and activists came together at a United Nations-backed meeting in Asia to call for a commitment to reproductive health for women.
“Too many governments remain shackled by external pressures, outmoded laws and regulatory structures undermining reproductive health,” said participants in an Open Letter to Governments adopted at the end of the conference in India.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.