Friday, 13 November 2009

Putting CEDAW into action: Global South/North exchange

Yesterday, around 60 people turned out for our WRC/ WOMANKIND Worldwide event on putting the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into action.

The main attendees were from women’s organisations around England, including: Rise, Women @ the Well, Brighton Women’s Centre, Women’s Networking Hub, Sparkhill Asian Women’s Association, Her Centre, SERICC, FORWARD, The Fawcett Society, the Daphne Project, Sandwell Rape and Sexual Violence Support Service, WILPF, Women's National Commission and more.

Other attendees included human rights groups: British Institute of Human Rights, UNA-UK, Oxfam, UNIFEM UK… and even a delegate from the Metropolitan Police!

Speakers were women from front line (Rape Crisis, South Africa) and second tier (Institute for the Defense of Women’s Rights, Peru) women’s orgs from Nepal, Ghana, Peru, South Africa and Zimbabwe. These women have been using CEDAW to mobilise women locally and lobby their own governments for changes in women’s lives around sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, sexuality, social and economic rights, political representation, and much more.

The participants extracted learning from these experiences for application in the UK – with a focus on making CEDAW relevant to women and actually being able to use it here. We looked at opportunities and challenges, and ideas for individual organisations, WRC, other partners and the government to take forward.

Key messages include:
  • There is a hunger to learn more about CEDAW
  • CEDAW is the framework within which all our work sits, in that it is soley concerned with women and has as its core equality, non-discrimination and obligation for state parties to eliminate discrimination against women
  • Women’s organisations and government officials need training and information on CEDAW, especially in the regions (i.e. outside London)
  • We need to think about some test cases, especially for future use of the Optional Protocol
  • This needs to be properly funded work, both at an individual organisation level (e.g. orgs to include a budget line in each funding application for lobbying) and at a second tier level (i.e. coordination of shadow reports)
  • The process of writing shadow reports needs to be truly democratised to allow for the widest range of input from diverse women and their orgs
  • It is so important to mobilise, work and lobby together
  • It is good that we have started NOW in preparation for 2012.
It was a very inspiring and humbling event – there is a LOT that we can learn from our sisters in the Global South. Maria Ysabel from Peru closed her speech by saying “we are here because your fight is my fight, and my fight is yours”.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Can celebrities help women's organisations to tackle violence against women?

Celebrities have a huge presence in our everyday lives, but should they be doing more to highlight the issue of violence against women? Do we, as women’s organisations, need their support?

Some of the biggest news stories of the past few months have been violence against women cases that involve celebrities, either as the victim or perpetrator. In the US, the conviction of singer Chris Brown for the assault of Rihanna has highlighted the issue of domestic violence with a younger audience. Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland and pending extradition to the US for outstanding sexual assault charges has sparked debate internationally. Back in Britain, Katie Price’s claims that she had previously been raped by a fellow star have been widely reported.

Despite all these cases, and others, only a few celebs have explicitly spoken out against violence against women. Many, like Keira Knightley, have supported violence against women organisations by taking part in their advertising campaigns. It’s undeniable that having ‘celebrity endorsement’ of your work is really useful for raising awareness and encouraging donations.

However, there is a shortage of high profile women who are willing and able to talk about the underlying gender equality issues that are vital to understanding and tackling violence against women. Sometimes, when celebrities do talk to the media about violence against women they do more harm than good (Helen Mirren, anyone?!).

The only star I can think of who seems to really talk about violence against women as a human rights violation is Nicole Kidman (UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador), who acknowledged the links between the film industry’s portrayal of women as sex objects and violence against women during an address to US Congress last month.

So, do we need a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ for violence against women organisations in the UK? Who would be your first choice?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

WRC lobby MPs about women with no recourse to public funds

Ange Jones, Networks and Policy Officer at the National Equality Partnership, tells us about meeting her MP:

I met with Diane Abbott, my MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, as a part of a mass lobby organised by Amnesty for its No Recourse to Public Funds campaign (in partnership with other women’s organisations, such as Southall Black Sisters and WRC).

I’d never taken part in a mass lobby before. I have to say, I think it is a very effective model for, in the very least, getting a quick and direct response from MPs on whether they are willing to support a particular issue.

Seeing other activists having tea or sitting on benches with their MPs, added to my drive to get a good result. Diane, as many had told me, was supportive of the issues and she agreed to two key asks of three, one of which was to speak with Harriet Harman about the proposal that government are reshaping on a solution for women with no recourse.

Amnesty supplied us with lots of good information and I got to meet another woman passionate about women’s equality who lives in my area during the process – so all in all a successful visit to Westminster!