Female trade unionists from around the world gathered in New York on Monday for the United Nations’ 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW57).
From 4 to 15 March, the 100-strong delegation of women from countries such as Angola, Colombia and Canada will attend the meeting which this year has a special focus on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
The delegation has a 15-point agenda calling for – among other things – the guaranteed adoption of comprehensive plans and mechanisms to enforce laws that will stop gender violence, and that will enshrine gender equality as a principle in national constitutions.
Last year the Commission failed to adopt agreed conclusions because a number of conservative governments questioned the very principle of gender equality.
This year’s delegation will put pressure on all member states to adopt strong agreed conclusions.
Each year, representatives of UN member states gather at the UN headquarters in New York to evaluate the progress made on issues pertaining to gender equality, as well as to set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote the advancement of women across the world.
But this year, it is hoped the meeting will have a special resonance.
The UNCSW57 meeting takes place in the wake of a string of high-profile incidents of gender violence including the shooting of 15-year-old Pakistani school girl Malala Yousafzai and the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in India.
South Africa has also been the scene of three incidents of femicide which have garnered extensive media coverage: the rapes and murders of 17-year-old Anene Booysen and 28-year-old Thandiswa Qubuda, and the shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend, sporting icon Oscar Pistorius.
It is hoped that the global attention given to these attacks will imbue the meeting with a special sense of urgency.
“The silence has to be broken once and for all,” says Marieke Koning, an Equality Policy Advisor at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) who is attending the UNCSW57 meeting.
“It is time for political leaders to be vocal and act to by adopting conclusions which demonstrate a concerted effort to stop violence against women and girls now.”
The meeting will be punctuated by a march in New York, co-sponsored by the ITUC, on International Women’s Day on 8 March.
And on Monday 11 March, a new ITUC–UN Women report Domestic Workers Count Too: Implementing Protections for Domestic Workers will be launched at a side event of the UNCSW57, also in New York.
According to UN statistics, one in three women will be the victim of violence in her lifetime, making violence against women the most prevalent human rights abuse in the world today.
Domestic violence is the most widespread form of violence against women globally.
In Europe, 3,500 women are murdered by their partners every year, while in South Africa it is estimated that a woman is killed by her partner every six hours.
In Latin America and in Canada, between 60 and 70 per cent of all female murders are committed by the victim’s partner.