CSW Finalises Agreed Conclusions: Addressing the root causes of inequality and violence, or missing the point?

2013-03-14 16.14.00“Violence against women is a manifestation of the workings of power. The two are intrinsically linked and are experienced through both direct physical coercion and the material basis of relationships that govern the distribution and use of resources, privileges and authority within the home and society. Such dynamics shape the institutional and ideological formations of society and hence dictate gender norms, relations, and identity. Militarization, and cultures of militarism, exacerbate gender roles, further reducing equality, and enabling the legitimatization and continuation of violence. Militarized societies and structures reinforce patriarchal control and power, all of which are incompatible with equal rights and peace.”

These words are taken from the opening paragraph of the written WILPF Statement to the 57th CSW. I am reading this statement over coffee, and looking over the agreed conclusions reached yesterday evening in New York. The WILPF message is, and always has been manifestly clear and direct. We talk about the root causes of violence, we talk about the continuum of violence, and we openly challenge any ‘solutions’ that do not seek to radically transform the status quo.

It has been a long, difficult, and often overwhelming two weeks at the CSW – and after leaving the UN building yesterday evening as states continued language negotiations, I did not honestly believe that we would see an agreed conclusions document. But just two hours later, the word was out – agreement had been reached. So, has this CSW given us a new agenda? Do we have some form of progress that will provide us as civil society, with the leverage to address the root causes of gender inequality and violence?

Of course only time will tell, but I believe we have experienced a mixed success.

Even at 5 p.m. on Friday, it seemed as though there would be a repeat of last year, and we would leave New York without agreement due to the obstructive influence of conservative states. But the confluence of pressure from progressive states, civil society lobbying, and media attention seems to have isolated these actors. Their attempts to deny women’s basic human rights, including reproductive health rights on the basis of religious “freedom”, culture or custom have failed. As too, have their attempts to undermine the existing international law and agreement on gender equality and women’s rights.

It is absurd that we should consider this a victory- but in environment increasingly hostile gender equality- the great global “backlash” as they say- just holding ground feels important. But more than this, I think this demonstrates that we can dilute the influence of regressive actors within the UN system.

But when I reflect on the WILPF statement, and our core recommendations to CSW – to reduce military and arms expenditure, to support renewed negotiations for a gender sensitive Arms Trade Treaty, to make disarmament a reality, and to integrate Human Rights, women peace and security, and disarmament frameworks – we have made no progress. Indeed, we have failed to hold ground in this respect. Previous CSW outcomes have had language on these very issues, which are now so conspicuously absent.

The women peace and security resolutions are referenced, and there is a paragraph on small arms, but it is restricted to “illicit trade” only. This is something, but it not enough. The reality is, without any attention to these issues, we are failing to address the root causes of inequality and violence-  we are failing to understand what preventing conflict, and violence against women would actually look like- and we are failing to act with the urgency required.

But we carry on. We keep making the connections, we keep our voices strong, and look ahead to the start of the new round of Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, to the campaign to ban nuclear weapons by 2015, to the spectrum of actions we undertake from the local to the global, and building the WILPF movement. As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jodie Williams has said – “peace activism is not easy. It is extremely hard work”. Agreed.

-Sharna de Lacy