June 6, 2010

Participation in the 54rd UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, March 2010

While there have been some gains for women in education and political decision-making, women’s sexual and reproductive rights are under threat; violence has increased and the financial crisis is threatening limited economic gains. In addition, women are being left out of major UN consultations on climate change. This was the clear message emerging from regional NGO caucuses and the report of the UN Secretary General to the Beijing + 15 review as it got underway in New York City on March 1st of this year. Remarkably, during the Commission hearings, themselves, Ban Ki Moon actually appointed an all male High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, although he has reportedly since added one woman, due to a letter of protest from the Women’s Environment & Development Organization.

Throughout the sessions and hundreds of workshops that took place over the two week period, the primary focus was on taking stock. Where are we 15 years after the largest gathering of women in history in Beijing? Are we making progress or have we slid backwards? The review coincides with the ten year review of the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. Warning bells are already going out that these goals, which include the attainment of gender equality, are lagging behind.

As a delegate for the Canadian Voice of Women once again this year, I followed two themes in the myriad of choices available. One was on climate change and the other was on violence against women, human trafficking and strategies for prevention. Sadly, it appears we are losing ground, both in stemming the tide on human trafficking and in addressing the pervasive ways in which the media industries, especially pornography and the Internet, in our digital age, are fueling the problems. Ironically, the themes of climate change, violence against women and human trafficking are interconnected.

Developing countries that are trying to cope with climate change in the face of increasing soil desertification, food shortages and over population, are witnessing a rise in sexual violence, particularly in African countries where women are having to walk greater distances to gather food and fuel for cooking purposes. Impoverished living conditions are contributing to the sale of children into prostitution often by misled and desperate parents. Human trafficking is flourishing because the penalties remain relatively lenient.

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 objectives is to strengthen the entire UN’s gender architecture. There is a consensus that the system as it now exists is simply not working well enough to deliver effective results for women’s lives around the world .

The urgent need for action was central to the concerns of the 7000 plus women in attendance and how the Beijing platform for action has yet to deliver significantly for the empowerment of women. Although it clearly spells out the role of media and how they can both further the objectives and detract from the Platform’s goals even Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon’s much lauded calls for action to end violence against women, tend to overlook this reality . 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 3rd , 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. This year at the Commission, as much as last year, most delegates were inclined to avoid entirely the issue of harmful media influences in discussions revolving around violence against women and girls. Especially for those of us focused on climate change and transformative lifestyles, the need to address the commercial exploitation of children in particular, is especially critical. We cannot possibly move ahead on reducing, reusing and recycling objectives in response to shrinking energy resources as well as corrosive C02 emissions until we confront the complicity of advertising and marketing industries in the equation.

In February, it was reported in The Toronto Star, by Carol Goar that the Toronto Board of Health has called for a Canada-wide ban on advertising directed to children in response to growing concerns about obesity and other health problems. Private members bills have already been introduced by the NDP in Ontario and in Ottawa. Such legislation has been in place in Quebec for over two decades and increasingly is being adopted in other jurisdictions as well. The most recent countries to join the list of those implementing such measures is the U.K. Switzerland and Italy. Last year, 785 organizations in 127 countries responded to the annual call from the Women’s World Summit Foundation, based in Geneva, Switzerland, to mobilize and make prevention of child abuse a global priority. November 19 has been identified as the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta, Street Kids, International and Susila Dharma International Association are the only Canadian supporting organizations listed on the 2009 poster promoting the event, EDUPAX in Canada is identified as one of the active international members. Every year, cards are sent to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children urging that it be made a global priority. What is becoming increasingly obvious is that this is also an environmental priority.

Last year a report to the CSW from the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences made no mention of the role of media although it purported to be 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 for advancement and empowerment or to reinforce gender stereotyping and negative portrayals of women, this was a curious omission.

For VOW, nuclear weapons abolition remains a key issue. Our workshop during the CSW again this year, focused 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 .

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. But 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 and to promote resolution 1325 in its call for inclusion of women 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