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Vienna Discussion Forum 2019 on ending violence against women

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The first Vienna Discussion Forum, a platform to discuss and call for action on gender equality within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressed gender-based violence from the perspective of the respective mandates of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), namely women’s economic empowerment (SDGs 8 and 9), and crime prevention, criminal justice responses (SDG 16). The Forum, which marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), was organized by UNIDO and the UNODC, together with the representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

It is clear that we need to develop comprehensive approaches to address violence against women. Crime prevention and criminal justice responses and women’s economic empowerment can complement each other in this endeavour,” said UNIDO Director General LI Yong. “We work together with governments, the private sector and civil society to develop gender-responsive and inclusive industrial policies. We aim to promote enabling working environments that allow for women to thrive both professionally and personally.”

The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov and H.E. Thomas Blomqvist, Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality of Finland, joined the Director General in opening the event. Fedotov underscored that “gender-based violence stops women and girls from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It hinders achievement of all of the Sustainable Development Goals – not only Goal Five on gender equality – and holds back humanity from fulfilling our potential”.

Minister Blomqvist reminded the audience that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were adopted almost 25 years ago”, but while “considerable progress has been made, we still have a long way to go”.

The opening remarks were rounded off by H.E. Lourdes Victoria Kruse, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations in Vienna, who recounted the story of the Mirabal sisters, three Dominican political activists whose assassination on 25 November 1960 is remembered as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Vienna Discussion Forum revolved around a morning panel discussion related to UNODC’s mandate, discussing crime prevention and criminal justice responses to violence against women, and a UNIDO-led afternoon panel discussion on women’s economic empowerment and the resilience that increased economic opportunity can foster against violence and abuse.

Moderated by Monica Carco, the Chief of UNIDO’s Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, the afternoon panel united Laura Capobianco, Global Advisor on Safe Public Spaces at UN Women, Beatrice Gakuba, Executive Director of AWAN-Africa, Sami Nevala, Policy Coordinator for Statistics at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and Haya Sheikh Yasin, CEO of Quick Packaging Company, a member of the Palestine Businesswomen Association.

The discussion concluded that women’s economic and social empowerment is among the strategies that are effective in preventing violence against women. However, to ensure empowerment is not met with backlash, the creation of economic opportunities for women should be accompanied by i.e. community-based interventions and the development of policies and institutions that address the multiple forms of structural discrimination that still exist; while the occurrence of violence against women is independent of development status, this is especially important in specific regional contexts, such as those of extreme poverty, conflict or displacement. Panellists called on the international community to take action by urging for more solidarity and concerted and intersectional responses by governments, civil society and international organizations to violence against women. Panellists also highlighted education as a transformative measure to allow women to economically emancipate themselves and counter detrimental social norms, such as child marriage. Finally, the importance of engaging men in the discussion around gender-based violence, was raised.

As organizers, the Director General of UNIDO, the Executive Director of UNODC and the Permanent Representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden came together as five International Gender Champions in organizing the Vienna Discussion Forum. The outcome will feed into the review process of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is envisioned that the Vienna Discussion Forum will be turned into an annual platform to address gender equality in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Women the ‘driving force’ for peacebuilding in Colombia

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Women in Colombia decorate a wall with messages of peace in the town of Monterredondo. UN Verification Mission in Colombia/Daniel Sandoval

The UN deputy chief has underscored the importance of the full and comprehensive implementation of Colombia’s historic 2016 peace agreement, to enable sustainable and resilient communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the end of a two-day virtual visit to the Latin American country, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed also highlighted the need to ensure a focus on rural areas hit hard by both violence and COVID-19.  

“It is essential to create renewed development opportunities, improve security and emphasize the presence of the State in a country that suffered from conflict and is now suffering from the effects of the pandemic,” Ms. Mohammed said at a virtual press conference at the end of the visit. 

“This is the time to think about measures to rebuild better, to leave no one behind and to achieve sustainable peace.” 

In this enormous task, the role of women is vital, she added, noting that four years after the signing of the peace agreement, women continue to be the driving force behind its implementation. 

Women peacebuilders 

The deputy UN chief also paid a virtual visit to Vista Hermosa (literal translation: beautiful view), a region in south-east Colombia that was badly affected during the conflict.  

“We had the opportunity to visit Vista Hermosa to meet with young women peacebuilders, deeply affected by armed conflict and committed to find peace and dignity for their communities,” said Ms. Mohammed.   

“The UN stands with you in solidarity toward implementation – which we recognize is not without challenges – to support the growing momentum for economic and social reintegration for all.”  

Ms. Mohammed also met with women human rights defenders and women leaders, and discussed the progress and challenges in implementing the peace agreement. She was inspired by the courage and resilience of by women’s organizations and women leaders who continue to be a driving force for peacebuilding amid insecurities. 

Gender equality in COVID-19 recovery 

The Deputy Secretary-General held a meeting, via videoconference, with President Iván Duque where they discussed the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country, protecting the most vulnerable, and promoting inclusive, green and sustainable recovery. 

Ms. Mohammed commended Colombia’s commitment to promoting gender equality, and its efforts to ensure women are at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery and in implementing the peace agreement.  

The virtual visit also showcased the work of the United Nations in Colombia, as well as its collaboration with national and local authorities and civil society organizations – including in the response to the pandemic, development challenges and peace consolidation. 

First virtual visit since COVID-19 outbreak 

The virtual trip on 28 and 29 October was the first such visit since the outbreak of the pandemic.  

The visit also highlighted the importance of the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which marked its twentieth anniversary this year

The Deputy Secretary-General was accompanied by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN-Women; Rosemary DiCarlo Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs; and Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  

The last time the Ms. Mohammed visited Colombia in person was in 2015 for the launch of the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Poland ‘slammed the door shut’ on legal and safe abortions

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A group of UN independent human rights experts have denounced a court ruling in Poland that bans abortions on the grounds of fatal or severe foetal impairment, effectively “slamming the door shut” on safe and legal pregnancy terminations.  

In a statement on Tuesday, the rights experts also called on the Polish authorities to safeguard the rights of men and women protesting against the ruling. 

Across the country, thousands have taken to the streets in protest over last Thursday’s ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. 

According to the experts, with the court verdict, Poland has “effectively slammed the door shut” on legal abortion for women in the country. It is estimated that currently 98 per cent of all legal abortions in the country are performed on the grounds of severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus. 

“Poland has decided to sacrifice women’s human right to safe and legal health services for termination of pregnancy, on account of protection of the right to life of the unborn, in violation of its international human rights obligations,” they said. 

‘Devastating consequences’ for women and girls 

The ruling will have “devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls” in need of such terminations, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged and migrant women who are undocumented, who do not have the the means to go abroad for abortion services, they said. 

Before the ruling, Poland had already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, made even more restrictive in practice with serious barriers and stigma, according to the rights experts.

Termination of pregnancy was permitted in three circumstances only: risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman; severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus; or pregnancy as a result of a prohibited act. 

Decision ‘clearly against’ human rights standards 

The experts highlighted that international human rights mechanisms have clearly recognized women’s right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal impairment and that States have to provide for termination of pregnancy in such cases as the lack of access constitutes, inter alia, a violation of the right to be free from inhuman treatment. 

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (since 1977) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (since 1980), Poland has legal obligation to uphold these international human rights standards, stressed the experts.  

International human rights mechanisms recognize women’s right to access safe and legal abortion as necessary for the protection of women’s dignity and equality and implicit in the right to equality, right to private life, right to be free from inhuman treatment and the right to the highest attainable standards, they said, adding that the decision of the Constitution Court “clearly goes against these standards.” 

“It cannot be justified by invoking the protection of the right to life, as the right to life and all other human rights under international human rights law are accorded to those who have been born,” the experts said. 

“Those who believe that personhood commences at the time of conception have the freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs but not to impose their beliefs on others through the legal system.” 

‘Politicization’ leads to discrimination 

The rights experts also pointed out that the “instrumentalization” and “politicization” of women’s bodies and health leads to discrimination against them, particularly in relation to their right to access health services and the resulting preventable ill health, including maternal mortality and morbidity. 

The experts voicing their concern included the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women; the right to physical and mental health; and cultural rights, as well as the members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.   

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ILO and IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance

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image source: ILO

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.

The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.

The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday 23 October, at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said: “This Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”

Vitorino said: “The agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”

The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.

By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers’ and employers’ organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.

A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.

It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda .

The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.

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