On March 9, 2015, the 59th session of the Commission of the Status of Women began at the United Nation Headquarters in New York, and will last until the 20th of this month. Representatives of Member States, UN Entities and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (oh that’s what NGO stands for!) from all around the world are meeting to discuss what often feels like the never ending fight for international women’s rights. According to the UN Women website, the main focus of the event will be the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, “including current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”  

Okay, so basically, 20 years ago, the folks at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China- where Hillary Clinton made one of her most memorable speeches on women’s rights- decided that something had to be done to address the discrimination against and violence towards women around the world. Now the UN wants to check out how that plan has been working out so far. They’re going to adopt a political declaration after numerous discussions and debates, as well as refine the methods and organization of the proposal for better application in the future.

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So what kind of information have they presented so far? Hang onto your hats for this one, because it’s not pretty. Here are ten things you need to know about the study, most of which focuses on violence against women and girls.

1. More than one in three women worldwide have experienced physical violence in their lifetime.

2. One in ten girls under 18 have been forced to have sex.

3. The pay gap is closing so slowly it will take SEVENTY-FIVE years before men and women are paid equally.

4. Women only account for one in five legislators worldwide.

5. The World Health Organization found that, on average, 38% of women who are murdered are killed by their partner.

6. Domestic violence against women costs the global economy $4 trillion. ANNUALLY.

7. In the past nine years, an additional 36 countries have criminalized domestic violence, (up from 89 to 125) but laws are poorly enforced across the board.

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8. Sex-selective abortions are increasing in India and Armenia.

9. 83% of women in the United States from 12 to 16 said they have experienced some form of harassment in public schools.

10. In a study of 28 countries in the European Union, only 14% of women reported their most serious episode of domestic violence to the police.

As you can see by these alarming findings, there has been little progress made to actively reduce the amount of violence against women around the world. While participating governments are required to agree to Sustainable Development Goals as a part of the Platform for Action, which includes a separate mandate for women’s equal rights and violence protection as a part of the overarching UN conference, the fact of the matter remains that socially, culturally and politically, this will be a much greater task than most people are willing to admit.

Dr. Valerie M. Hudson, a professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, explains how violence against women stubbornly remains because it can be used as a tool for personal and political gains, which is worrisome given the rise of recent abductions and assaults by the Islamic State.  She created a series of maps detailing many of the hardships women face in every country on the planet. The one below illustrates the degree of a woman’s physical security based on her country of residence. As you can see, there is not a single nation where a woman can feel 100% safe 100% of the time, a tragedy not just because a woman who happens to be born in one section of the world is statistically less likely to be attacked than one born somewhere else, but because in this day and age, women everywhere must keep a level of awareness, and sometimes blatant fear, in the back of her mind at all times.

 

This is unacceptable.  Half the world should not walk around feeling afraid that they might be the next victims of rampant sexual, physical or psychological abuse. Half the people living, breathing, surviving in this place that already has so much pain and love, joy and sorrow should not be bonded through a universal possibility of violence. Half the people on this planet should not be divided from the others just because of the configuration of their sexual organs, and whether or not they will be discriminated or harmed based on that fact. We should all stand united by our shared humanity, unafraid and undeterred by our differences, gendered or otherwise.

There will be more updates in the next two weeks about the status of the Commission as well as the official Declaration from the UN. Go to unwomen.org to check the progress, as well as sites like itsonus.org and amnestyusa.org for more information about preventing violence against women and what you can do to help. 

 

images c/o un.org, womanstats.org, giphy