March 19, 2013

“Now or Never”: UN 57th Commission on the Status of Women, March 4-15, 2013 (MGA)

The overarching theme of the 57th session at the United Nations in New York of the Commission on the Status of Women: “Ending Violence against Women and Girls” is a theme that is shameful even to name.

That it is necessary to address such a topic in the 21st century is chilling testimony to the abysmal history of the previous twenty centuries relative to the status – let alone the treatment – of women and girls. Yet a cursory review of the titles of parallel events held alongside of the formal deliberations of delegates of UN Member States bears sad witness to the conditions under which the women and girls of the world continue to struggle for what is simply their basic human rights as persons.

While UN delegates from Member States negotiate the CSW outcome document, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) say to those same governments that it’s “now of never” for recommitment to ending violence against women and girls. Demonstrating the commitment of these civil society representatives, the more than 6,000 registered attendees participated in parallel events on topics addressing: female genital mutilation; domestic violence; sexually exploited immigrant girls; traditional and cultural practices; femicide; role of men and boys; violence online; hidden war crimes; institutional violence; gender-based crimes; sexual harassment in schools; prostituted women and girls; influence of race and class; child brides and forced marriages; discrimination against LGBT communities – to name a few of the more than 300 event topics sponsored by NGOs.

The participants use these events as opportunity to present their case through testimony of women who experience first-hand the violence that is common in their daily lives. In addition to presenting their reality, participants also caucused regionally to determine the most effective lobbying strategies and to outline their positions and create language to present to delegates who are shaping the final outcome document of the Commission.

During this two-week session, Mercy International Association at the UN welcomed several women of the Mercy family as participants in the events: Sisters Patricia O’Donovan and Mary Ryan of Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy (Ireland); Sister Lynda Dearlove of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (Great Britain); Honduran Associate Nelly DelCid and translator Sister Mary Ellen Brody (both of the Americas); and graduate Rachel Reynolds (Ireland).

Nelly played a vital and vocal role during the Commission days through her contribution to two parallel events. In the first event co- sponsored by Mercy International Association at the UN and other NGO colleagues Nelly spoke to the ravaging of Earth through unchecked mining activity in Honduras, while co-panelists addressed similar conditions in El Salvador, Canada, and the United States. In the second event sponsored by the United Methodist Women Global Network for Peacebuilders, Nelly and a panel of women from Congo and the Republic of Georgia, testified to the economic and military violence that particularly affects women in their respective countries.

On behalf of Mercy International Association (MIA), MIA at the UN collaborated with other members of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to present a panel titled “Partnering to Stop Trafficking in Women and Girls." H.E. Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to the UN and brother of Sister Carmela Cabactulan, Leader of the Religious Sisters of Mercy Philippines, lead the discussions. Panelists included Jami Day of the Real Hospitality Group representing the hotel industry, Ursula Wynhoven, General Counsel UN Global Compact representing the business corporation arm of the UN, and Rev. David Shilling, the program director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). Carol Smolenski, the executive director of ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), moderated the event.

The vast majority of the more than 6000 participants in these events are, understandably, women – women old and young and in between, women of many cultures and languages and color, women who are beginning to understand and women who understand only too well the reality and results of violence in their lives and the lives of their sisters next door and worldwide. Yet these women speak with a single voice in a wide-ranging approach to violence:
• Teenage girl activists and advocates who are doing something about violent images of women in the media as well as about bullying, sexual harassment and rape in their schools and communities
• Women who refuse – at great risk – to be silenced as they challenge multinational corporations chew up their mountaintops, pollute their water sources, and poison the air of their communities
• Girl children who, because of crises in their countries that destroy protective networks, are sold by desperately poor parents or parents who believe child marriage will safeguard their daughters

Each of these stories and many more come from the voices of unique individuals whose basic rights are denied and whose dreams are destroyed. The women speak for themselves:
• “No form of violence against women is devoid of structural violence.”
• “For us the people we only have one resort – to resist. The cost of defending our land and our rights can be the cost of paying with our life.”
• “Honduras has declared itself bankrupt but continues to chase weapons. … The war on drugs justifies weapons in our country.”
• “When the poverty [in Somaliland] gets worse, we see an increase in young girls getting married.”
• “We produce food for other countries but we are malnourished. … We are recipients of food aid [because the food we produce is exported].”
• “Where are the women? They are there and they are exhausted.”
• “Indigenous women [in Guatemala] live in a semi-feudal system.”
• “The coming days [in disaster-plagued areas of Japan] are uncertain and I’m afraid I can’t stay positive.”
• “Ending trafficking is not a matter of luxury; it is a necessity. … We are not able to counteract human trafficking because we are poor; we are poor because we are not combating human trafficking.”
• “Why is it that we are allowing transnational corporations to get away with structural and economic violence?”

Finally, many of these stories highlight Mercy International Association’s prime interests: eco-justice, care of Earth and combating human trafficking. In addition to the formal written intervention of the Sisters of Mercy recently published by the UN and provided though documentation to all UN delegates, these days of the Commission proceedings have provided a venue and voice to speak to Mercy’s enduring concerns.

Messages to:
Rita Parks rsm and Aine O’Connor rsm

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