Wednesday, March 15, 2017
This morning, I attended my first UN CSW side event, “Violence Against Women and the Achievement of Economic Empowerment.” In this event high-level officials from Fiji, Belgium, Namibia reported on the state of violence against women in their respective countries, the economic impact of that violence, and the initiatives that each are taking to combat it. The Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia expressed the view that gender based violence presents a barrier to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because of the economic dependency that it imposes on women. She also acknowledged that changing the law is not enough to eliminate abuse and that cultural norms are not keeping pace with Namibia’s legislation. The Minister seemed hopeful, however, pointing to educational efforts to empower women to identify abuse and the imposition of stricter sentencing for perpetrators of domestic violence. The Representative from Belgium emphasized the importance of data collection and public education to fight gender based violence. The Representative from Fiji raised the most fascinating point that data, while important, cannot be taken at face value. Since the government started collecting data on the rates of legal actions taken against abusers, the proportion of those actions taken by men has steadily increased. The Representative explained that rather than indicating that men make up a large proportion of victims, these stats indicate that men are more empowered to take advantage of legal remedies. She also shared a figure that estimated that 7 percent of Fiji’s GDP is spent on gender based violence.
After this event, I attended a side event on sexist hate speech, hosted by Belgium, which is regarded as a model nation in this area. The panelists discussed the use of hate speech to intimidate and silence women in positions of power, specifically politicians, businesswomen, and journalists. They all stressed the role of the anonymity of the internet in enabling the growth in hate speech and acknowledged how the media contributes to the sexualization, objectification, and marginalization of women. The panelists acknowledged that fighting hate speech requires a combination of public education and prevention programs and legal remedies and penalties. Belgium and France are the only countries that prohibit hate speech. However, Madam Moreno also shared with the audience the impact that the Declaration on Political Harassment and Violence Against Women has had. While they acknowledged that the right to free speech, the panel held that this should be balanced with the acknowledgement that hate speech limits the agency and power of women in the public sphere.
That afternoon came the moment of truth, when I presented my research before a crowd of supporters from the NGO CSW along with the other fellows. I feel that each of us performed at our best so far! I also really enjoyed Eleanor LeCain’s presentation about the actions that mayors can take to further gender equity in their cities. I’d like to read her book after I get back from the trip.