Addressing Media Violence at the 53rd UN Commission on the Status of Women in March of 2009.

Once again, Janis Alton, co-chair of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) led the participation of both member and non-member delegates attending the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The Commission meets every year for the first two weeks in March in New York City. We were skillfully coached on how to get around the UN, attend the morning briefings for non-government organizations (NGOs) such as our own prior to official sessions, maneuver our way around the 250 odd theme related workshops, and lobby deputy Canadian ambassador to the UN, Henri Paul Normandin. This year our deliberations were enriched by first time attendee and fellow adult educator, Dr. Jody Macdonald from the faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto.

For VOW, nuclear weapons abolition remains a key issue. Emphasis was placed on the need for Canada to support and promote adherence to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which VOW helped draft. This resolution emphasizes the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building. It urges their equal participation and involvement in decision-making to promote and maintain peace and security .

Established in 1946, the CSW’s mandate is to promote the advancement of women throughout the world. Initially, the Commission focused on legal measures to protect the human rights of women and to raise awareness on their status. By the mid 1960s the Commission had begun to address the role of women in economic and social development as well. In 1975, at the urging of the Commission and NGOs, the UN observed International Women’s Year with the theme “Equality, Development and Peace” . This culminated in the first global Women’s Conference in Mexico City which adopted a plan of action to improve the status of women.

The United Nations Decade for Women from 1976-1985, and subsequent world conferences on women, created an unprecedented momentum for change. The Platform for Action adopted in Beijing in 1995 consolidated the consensus and commitments achieved through the work of the Commission. In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the historic Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The treaty entered into force in 1981 and by early June, 2006, had been ratified by 183 countries. Canada was among the first to join this list.

The Commission has played a critical role in promoting gender main streaming at national levels and within the United Nations system, itself. Positive outcomes can be seen in the attention to gender perspectives in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the work of the General Assembly on the human rights of women, and that of the Security Council on women, peace and security. Nevertheless, one of the major themes this year was the need to strengthen the entire UN’s gender architecture. The general consensus was that the system as it now exists is simply not working well enough to deliver effective results for women’s lives around the world . A campaign was launched to achieve better responsiveness to gender issues.

The priority theme this year revolved around the “The equal sharing of responsibility between women and men, including care giving in the context of HIV/AIDS”. While much was said in the Report from the Secretary-General about the need for active involvement of men and boys in “challenging gender stereotypes and attitudes as well as their full participation in prevention, impact alleviation and care” (UN, ECOSOC, Dec. 18, 2008), virtually nothing was said, either by him, or anyone else making official statements on behalf of their governments, about the role of pornography and violent media entertainment in creating and sustaining gender stereotypes and violence against women and children. This is a curious omission, given that it is the African continent that has been hardest hit by the epidemic and Nigeria has recently been identified as the country with the largest audiovisual production industry in the world. Evidence demonstrates that the problem there is as serious as it is anywhere else in the world. The most recent member organization to join Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment is The Youth TV Association in Cameroon, created in 2001 to protect children and youth from screen violence.

There was occasional reference in the countless resolutions and policy statements emanating from activity and discussion among the 5000 plus women in attendance, to the need for action according to the Beijing platform for action. It spells out the role of media in fueling these problems, but even Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon’s much lauded framework for action in his campaign to end violence against women, announced in February, 2008, neglects this key component in his objectives for prevention . In a section titled Women and the Media, the Beijing Platform makes references to the creation of an “enabling environment”, the importance of media education and the vital role of non-governmental organizations in media education, research, consumer advocacy and monitoring, an international exchange on media education practices and other measures that can benefit legislators, national broadcasting authorities and media professionals (UN, ISBN 978-92-1-130250-9 pp.16-20).

In my own remarks at an early morning VOW briefing on March 5th, on the connections between violence against women , violence in the media and militarism, I spoke of the diminishing acknowledgment of the corrosive effects of media violence on society at large in official policy development in Canada, compared to other parts of the developed world. One recent exception was the bill introduced at the federal level in the Spring of 2008. It would have eliminate tax credits for audio visual productions deemed to be contrary to the public interest. Media lobbyists, however, managed to orchestrate a propaganda campaign which eventually killed the bill. This year, for the most part, both Canadian delegates and others from around the world, were inclined to avoid entirely the issue of harmful media influences in discussions revolving around violence against women and girls. The YWCA report distributed at a CSW workshop on the subject in Canada, makes no reference at all to the role of violent media entertainment and gender role stereotyping .

Neither did Professor Yakin Erturk, from Turkey, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences make any reference to the role of media in her statement to the CSW on March 4th. In the study, itself, she makes passing reference to pornography - once, among other causes. This year, she stepped down after six years on the job which took her to over 18 countries where she met with women’s rights defenders and survivors of violence and collaborated with other mandate holders in over 86 communications to some 29 countries in 2008 alone. In her own words she was presenting the CSW chairman with a study which provided “a comprehensive review of the 15 years of activity of the UN Rapporteur’s work”. Having attended the 47th CSW Session in 2003 which focused on the participation and access of women to the media, information and communications technology and ways in which these impact on women, either in their use as an instrument of advancement and empowerment or to reinforce gender stereotyping and negative portrayals of women, this was a curious omission.

The problem of violence as a form of electronic entertainment, either on TV or in computer and video games, did surface in discussion at the VOW workshop on decision making for peace and disarmament, held on March 5th, 2009, and again at the workshop on Women and Disarmament. In response to a Nigerian delegate’s request for information I suggested resource material from the U.S. based Media Education Foundation such as a popular video titled “ Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity” . At the workshop on Women and Disarmament, presentations from various countries around the world such as Nicaragua, Australia and Somalia focused on attempts to implement gun control laws. Ways in which these are thwarted by the production of guns in industrialized countries and then distributed to troubled, unstable war torn zones were discussed along with violent themes in popular culture such as TV, films and video games which glamorize the use and ownership of guns. Ironically, Iraq is the only country in recent years, to ban war toys. Reference was made to the illegal trade in conventional weaponry, fueled by lenient laws in the U.S. and other members of the G20 countries.

Two workshops I attended focused on the need for incorporation of a gender perspective in all climate change polices evolving at various international conferences such as the one to take place in Copenhagen in December, 2009 where an agreement will be negotiated to replace the Kyoto Accord.. Emphasis was placed on how relevant the experience and practice of women, particularly in developing countries where subsistence levels of existence are the norm, are to initiatives in solving the climate crisis. Further input is being sought by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance Secretariat at

There is no doubt that, for those of us fortunate enough to attend, CSW affords an invaluable opportunity to network with committed, well informed women from around the world. The desire to improve the status of women is evident in every conversation and information exchange. Nevertheless, improvements in process are needed. Integral to the campaign for gender equality and architecture reform throughout the entire UN system is the need to address the role of communications technologies and how they both enhance and detract from CSW goals. Along with the urgent need to include the gender perspective in climate change policies, to promote resolution 1325 in its call for women’s inclusion in decision-making roles at all levels of peace building, these issues must be addressed. Only then will we begin to move more effectively in the direction of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication