by Annabel Dulhunty
Annabel comes from Australia SCM and is currently one of the Regional Women’s Committee members in WSCF AP.
For the first time, the WSCF Interregional Women’s Programme sent a group of WSCF women to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations from 24 February - 9 March 2007 in New York City. I attended with WSCF representatives from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The Commission on the Status of Women brings government representatives to meet annually to debate and decide on a set of ‘Agreed Conclusions’ around a given issue each year. This year the theme was ‘Violence Against the Girl Child’. Issues that were present in the ‘Agreed Conclusions’ included trafficking, the commercial and sexual exploitation of women and girls, sexual and gender based violence as war crimes, addressing the impunity of violence against women and girls, the economic exploitation of girls including through child labour, problems faced by girls from vulnerable and marginalised groups such as refugees and indigenous girls, child marriage and traditional harmful practices.
In addition to government representatives, over 1500 non-governmental organisation (NGO) participants registered for the 51st CSW. The role of NGOs, such as WSCF, in this process was manifold.
Firstly, NGOs lobbied government representatives to adopt language in the ‘Agreed Conclusions’ which NGOs felt was strategically important—as for instance suggesting that factors of economic exploitation, globalization and the responsibility of both Northern and Southern countries be addressed in regards to child labour and that governments ratify relevant International Labour Organisation Conventions and Treaties.
Secondly NGOs were able to provide an alternative witness to governments through disseminating information on the situation of women and girls in their countries and through providing case studies and recommendations. NGOs therefore conducted ‘Parallel Events’ which were held throughout the two weeks of the CSW.
Thirdly NGOs were able to network and group together either thematically or regionally to strategically plan advocacy after the event of the CSW. This advocacy was generally based around lobbying governments to uphold the Agreed Conclusions or to make governments more responsible and accountable for certain issues of concern.
WSCF was able to contribute in each of these ways. WSCF joined a coalition named Ecumenical Women 2000+ which aimed to link together participants with a faith based perspective. Together we met regularly to discuss how we responded to the ‘Agreed Conclusions’, what issues were of particular concern to us and how we would lobby our government representatives to take up our issues of concern. We all brought together different issues such as trafficking, honour killings and economic exploitation which we could then highlight in regional and thematic caucuses with other NGOs. Through this coalition, WSCF formed a network and fellowship with participants who shared a common passion for gender justice and socially aware faith who are desirous to work together with WSCF to attain these ends in the future.
WSCF also hosted our own ‘Parallel Event’ entitled ‘Young Women Say No to Violence’ where we spoke about the issues concerning gender justice that each of our SCMs face and the measures that we are taking to address this, such as through the Regional Women’s Programmes, highlighting examples such as Women Doing Theology.
Personally I found the breadth and depth of the issues discussed moving and at times overwhelming. A complex myriad of gender injustices were witnessed, with former child soldiers speaking about their experiences, hearing about various war crimes committed against women to try to achieve genocide and learning more about the second most highly profitable industry in the world—that of human trafficking.
Whilst at times these issues appeared separate and disjointed, I believe that the WSCF was able to play a role in the CSW by declaring that these issues were not in fact disconnected but were part of a uniform system of oppression and exploitation under which patriarchal society operates by.
We were able to provide a voice stating that only by opposing all forms of gender discrimination and exploitation of all persons, where we view each and every woman, man and child as an authentic subject, and not as an object of profit or personal gain, can we combat these gender injustices from the ground up. Whilst it is important to address each and every issue on its own account, noting the legislation, precedents and government actions, essentially we must also determine and strategically work against the structures of oppression that exist within our societies, within our SCMs, within our churches and within every facet of our personal lives if we are to truly gain gender justice.
Therefore I felt that whilst we were effective lobbying governments on specific issues that we took particular interest in, in our group of Ecumenical Women, I believe that we were most effective in asking the question that at times was overlooked: Why?