The 57th session of the United Nations Commission for Women (UCW) concluded with an agreement of 131 states to end discrimination against all forms of violence against women. The 2013 session of the UCW was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 4 to 15 March 2013. The focus of the session was on the elimination of all forms of violence against women as well as reviewing the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.
The 17-page final document called the ‘Agreed Conclusions‘ of the Commission prioritises the “need to establish multi-sectoral services for survivors of violence, including for health, psychological support and counselling, as well as the need to protect the right to sexual and reproductive health.” The global plan urges the governments to translate the outcome of the ‘historic’ gathering into actions to protect and promote women rights. The text also highlights the need for ending impunity in the context of punishing perpetrators, along with improving collection of evidence and responding to victims. The accord also includes provisions on sexual and reproductive rights.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), which supports the Commission said in a statement that it welcomed the “focus on prevention, including through education and awareness-raising, and addressing gender inequalities in the political, economic and social spheres.” UN Women Executive director, Michelle Bachelet, said she was ‘particularly heartened’ that an agreement was reached on the topic of violence against women given that the topic had been on the agenda since 2003. Welcoming the agreement UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said in a statement that the “violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.”
Despite these encouraging steps, the UCW failed to include explicit provisions relating to protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in the final text. United States (US) ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, also expressed her disappointment on the issue. In a statement issued after the session, she said that although the US was very pleased with the outcome of the session they were disappointed that the “conclusions did not explicitly recognize that women and girls should not suffer violence or discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” Oxfam International also critiqued the agreement for the lack of international accountability mechanisms to oversee the national implementation of the agreed policies.
Prior to the meeting human rights organizations had expressed concerns over the use of traditional values to justify discrimination against women. Countries such as Iran, Russia, and Vatican had threatened to derail the negotiations after objecting to the proposed language on sexual health, reproductive rights and, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights. However, a watering down of the language of the draft led to an agreement. In a surprise move, the Egyptian envoy Mervat Tallawy voted in favour of the accord despite the hardline stance adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood regarding the negotiations.
The Commission on the Status of Women is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established in 1946 to prepare recommendations to ECOSOC on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. The membership of the commission is limited to forty-five member states of the United Nations.
The 57th session of UCW also saw an end to the tenure of Michelle Bachelet as the head of UN Women. Reports indicated that she planned to return to Chile, where she had served as president from 2006 to 2010.