International Women’s Day at the UN

The annual Commission on the Status of Women is under way at United Nations headquarters in New York with thousands of activists, government and UN officials gathered to discuss the theme of “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”. The meeting also features sideshows where lobby groups promote their agendas on subjects such as “sexual and reproductive rights” and pro-life groups raise the flag for the right to life and family values.

LifeSite News reports that a number of groups are trying to gather support for a sexual orientation statement introduced into the UN’s General Assembly last year by EU delegates. The statement calls on member states to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected non-discrimination categories like race, religion or sex. Supporters want it to appear in a more permanent form, such as a General Assembly resolution to be voted on in “three years or less”.

This Sunday, March 9, the UN observes International Women’s Day, which this year highlights the problem of violence against women. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed a panel on the subject on March 5, saying that violence against women was intolerable. He said no country or culture, no woman, young or old, was immune. One woman in five around the world had been the victim of rape or attempted rape and, in some countries, one woman in three had been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act. “This is alarming, this must stop,” said Mr Ban.

Domestic violence was the most prevalent form, said various panel members, but only half the member states of the UN had enacted legislation to fight domestic violence or curb human trafficking. Genital mutilation was practised in 28 countries of Africa. The Mexican representative, Maria del Rocio Garcia Gaytan, said inequalities remained rife, especially in the economic sphere, and women were marginalised in decision making processes, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health. Unless women’s health needs were addressed, HIV/Aids would continue to spread, while infant and maternal mortality crept ever upward.

Yakin Erturk, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women had placed the issue of violence on the agenda of stakeholders. She said the dynamics of the problem were rooted in a universal patriarchal norm that bore different fruit in different parts of the world. Mrs Erturk also put in a plug for women’s reproductive rights as one of many core human rights norms that had suffered a “backlash” from the “universalism-versus-relativism debate” pitting “the public against the private and political and civil rights against economic rights”. (Hmm.) She said part of the problem of violence was the way in which manhood as structured socially. It was important to construct and nurture alternative masculine identities that recognised women’s rights.

Imrana Jalal, a human rights lawyer from the pacific Region, said it was not enough to amend conventional and mainstream legislation if the parallel religious or customary systems remained in place -- such as laws granting men immunity in cases of spousal rape. She said there was a need to change family law codes all over the developing world. ~ UN News Release, March 5



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