Category Archives: Commission on the Status of Women

Longing for Justice

Report from IPJ Editor Emiko Noma


When I first caught up with IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Luz Méndez at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, I gave her a hug and admired her scarf (we really like scarves around the always-chilly IPJ). It was purple, black and white, and matched beautifully with her outfit — she was distinguished as always. An hour later as I watched a film on the work she has been involved in lately, I realized her accessory was the same worn by one of the 15 indigenous women in Guatemala who made history in September of last year. More on that in a moment.


There is an urgency to this year’s CSW. Perhaps because of the theme: the elimination and prevention of violence against women — a topic which has finally received much more glare from the media as of late. As many as one in three women worldwide will be victims of violence in their lifetimes — an alarming statistic. The chair of the opening session we attended, hosted by UNDP and the Huariou Commission, called attention to the “unprecedented participation” in this year’s commission, including over 6,000 NGOs and their representatives in attendance. There is the urgent sense that this is the time to make change.


But the pressing need for change has been tempered in session after session by a longer view. All week, a quote made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr. kept ringing in my mind: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”


Take the recent timeline of Guatemala and the work of Luz, who spoke on numerous panels, including the IPJ’s, throughout the week:


1960: A brutal internal armed conflict begins, hastened by the CIA-backed overthrow of a democratically elected government. Sexual violence is used as a tactic of war.


1996: Peace accords are signed.


1997: Luz leads the revival of the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas (UNAMG).


Luz protesting violence against women, along with members of UNAMG

1999: The Historical Clarification Commission documents that 89 percent of the rapes committed during the internal armed conflict were against Mayan women.


2004: Several women’s organizations, including UNAMG, begin to identify and work with women survivors of sexual violence during the war. Soon, the Alianza Rompiendo el Silencío y la Impunidad is formed by UNAMG in partnership with two other organizations.[1] The alliance seeks to strengthen women’s agency through gender awareness raising and psychosocial support, as well as developing litigation strategies and providing technical support in court.


2009: A three-year research project aimed at building historical memory results in the first book of its kind, Tejidos que lleva el alma: Memorias de las mujeres mayas sobrevivientes de violencia sexual durante el conflicto armado,[2] or “Weavings of the Soul: Memories of Maya Women Survivors of Sexual Violence During the Armed Conflict.”


2010: UNAMG and partner organizations hold the Court of Conscience for Women Survivors of Sexual Violence During the Armed Conflict, a strategy to offer its participants access to “symbolic justice.”


And finally, in 2012, the long arc of history for 15 indigenous women kept bending toward justice. The women testified in a pre-trial hearing before the national court in Guatemala, charging that the military held them at a base and kept them for their “recreation.” The women were sexual slaves for six years. These were the first testimonies of their kind to be heard in a national court — an historic moment for the women of Guatemala and an initial step to end impunity for these kinds of crimes, but one that was years in the making.


For those whose lives are now being destroyed by rampant sexual violence, however, the King quote offers little consolation. As one participant remarked in a session on grassroots communities accessing justice, “If you want to make a quick change, make a law.” There is no guarantee that law will be implemented. How can these women get justice now? Is the hope of justice in the long arc of the moral universe enough?


(l-r) Elisabeth Rehn of Finland, IPJ Interim Executive Director Dee Aker, Luz Méndez, and IPJ Program Officer Jennifer Freeman at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

Throughout the week, our minds were also in Kenya, where ICC-indicted politicians were leading in the polls, where our colleague and our peacemaker from Sierra Leone monitored the election and count, and where three of our peacemakers were doing their part to keep the peace. For the victims of the 2007-8 electoral violence — and for those who experienced sexual abuse and rape as part of that period of violence — have they found any justice? When can they expect it? Can they assume they will get it if their next president and his running mate are wanted for crimes against humanity by the ICC?


And what does justice even mean for those survivors? “For many years sexual violence against women was the hidden dimension of the war in Guatemala,” Luz explained. “When we began to break the silence on those crimes, the group of 15 indigenous women courageously stressed, ‘We don’t want to die without getting justice.’” Justice for the indigenous women who testified was two-fold: that they could speak publicly about the crimes committed against them, and that the crimes would never happen again.
Justice means different things to different survivors, but just as long as the arc may be will be the longing for that justice. As Luz reiterates, “We all know that we still have a hard road to walk. However, it is the survivors’ tenacity, together with the alliance’s strong determination to achieve gender justice and gender equality, that is the source of our hope and strength” — which is why Luz wore the scarf of the indigenous women all week long.

[1] Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP) and Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM).

[2] Fulchiron, A., et al (2009). Tejidos que lleva el alma: Memorias de las mujeres mayas sobrevivientes de violencia sexual durante el conflicto armado. Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial, Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas. Guatemala: F&G Editores.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Reflections from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

Report from IPJ Editor Kaitlin Barker Davis


Child marriage and female infanticide. Rape. Domestic violence. Honor killings and acid attacks. Female genital mutilation. Sexual harassment and extortion.


All of these acts of violence against women are predominantly marginalized, sometimes unintentionally, as women’s issues. But they are not women’s issues. They are human rights issues that affect the well-being of a society — including the care of its young and old, its democratic vibrancy and economic prosperity.


U.N. Headquarters, New York

Though the theme at the 56th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was empowerment of rural women, the topic of violence against women came up again and again during the parallel sessions that Dee Aker, Jennifer Freeman and I attended in New York last week.


Violence against women was such a pervasive topic because it continues to be pervasive around the world — on every continent, in every culture and religion, in urban and rural areas, and across age and class. At least one in three women worldwide have been victims of gender-based violence, according to the new film From Fear to Freedom: Ending Violence Against Women, whose screening we attended last week and is being launched online today, International Women’s Day, at


Women are often only portrayed as victims, but the film, which enrages and inspires, highlights both the atrocities and the courageous women leaders and activists taking action into their own hands, combating violence with vigilance. Culture is one of the most frequently referenced excuses for gender-based violence, but as Mahnaz Afkhami, founder of the Women’s Learning Partnership (which made the film), said, “People make culture, and people can change culture.”


The international community is largely timid when it comes to violence against women, not wanting to step on the toes of culture. But no culture, or religion, fundamentally condones violence against women. “Women are literally the battlefield,” post-film panelist Sanam Anderlini said. “And we have to do something before we lose.” Another panelist, from Lebanon, noted the silent oppression and brutalization of women in Bahrain, ominously highlighting the absence of the Bahraini woman portrayed in the film who was supposed to be one of the panelists.


"Women, Media, Revolution" panelists Jackee Batanda, Jina Moore and Jennifer Pozner (l-r)

"Women, Media, Revolution" panelists (l-r) Jackee Batanda, Jina Moore and Jennifer Pozner

Building on the IPJ’s 2011 “Women, Media, Revolution” forum, the IPJ’s own parallel session continued the forum’s discussion of how women and media can encourage alternative, inclusive solutions to democratic peacebuilding, with a panel of women in media and a crowded room of nearly 100 people. Our panel was given a poignant prelude the day before when a Bahraini woman in a session on the Arab Spring insisted that there was no unrest in her country, that women were happy and making great progress. When questioned with references to Al Jazeera and other media coverage, she answered dismissively that the media simply wanted us to believe there were stirrings of revolution in her country. Why, she asked, did we need media when we had a Bahraini right in front of us? One wonders what the absentee film panelist from Bahrain would have said in response.


As CSW participants discussed the status of women worldwide, the United States did not escape scrutiny. The current U.S. contraception debate came up in multiple CSW sessions, as our government is on the verge of curbing women’s rights to healthcare and control of their own bodies. And to add insult to injury, women are being excluded from the official conversations.


As we mark International Women’s Day today, let us celebrate the vital force of the global women’s movement in the progress toward true equality. Let us also remember that the challenges are still many, but so are the men and women working to solve them. May we be invigorated to continue upholding and demanding the dignity and human rights of women everywhere.


Join the IPJ for our annual International Women’s Day Breakfast next Wednesday, March 14, as we hear from filmmaker Maria Luisa Gambale on her recent film “Sarabah,” the story of a Senegalese rapper and activist working to eradicate gender-based violence in her home country. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

IPJ Delegates in New York for CSW and Launch of UN Women

Report from IPJ Program Officer Jennifer Freeman

“My name is Leymah, and I’m a radical. I don’t care if you call yourself a ‘feminist,’ a ‘woman’s rights activist’ or a ‘humanitarian.’ If you believe in women’s human rights, we are working together. And there’s still too much work to be done.” Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and star of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” stands in front of a room of 70 men and women, hands raised, doing what she has become famous for: showing women their power in the ongoing campaign for equal human rights.

The annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held for two weeks at U.N. Headquarters in New York, is about just that. From February 21 to 25, I’m here at CSW with IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker, to learn from, link with and share the IPJ’s work with a wide variety of women representatives from around the globe. CSW provides a concentrated forum to hear from expert panels – from Muslim women and men addressing the marginalization of Muslim women in the United States and Iraq, to African women leaders launching landmark studies on financing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and how to advance the prevention agenda of 1325 at the regional level in West, East and southern Africa.

Apart from the formal program of CSW, nongovernmental organizations can hold parallel sessions that are open to the public. Dee and I spoke to over 100 attendees at one such session to launch the final report from last year’s international working conference, “Precarious Progress: U.N. Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.” Also on the panel were representatives from conference co-sponsors UN Women; the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security; IANSA Women; and partners from the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect and U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Before returning to San Diego on Friday, we will also  attend the official launch of UN Women, a milestone achievement that many activists at CSW have been lobbying for for years. UN Women is the first comprehensive agency to coordinate advancing gender equality and rights throughout the U.N. system.

But the sentiment among the gender activists is similar regarding UN Women as it is for many of the issues under discussion at CSW: Let us celebrate hard-won achievements, but don’t let this great accomplishment distract us from the work we all need to do to move forward.

Financial and political support are needed for activists and this new agency to succeed. Mass rapes continue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Widows continue to be persecuted in Nepal. Women continue to tremble in fear of the violence that comes from within their own homes. Infants continue to be murdered throughout the world simply because they were born girls.

Fortunately, CSW shows us the incredible leadership that exists to address these issues. We need to continue to work together, across nations, generations, races and religions, to realize the most basic human rights for half the world’s population. There is still too much work to be done.

IPJ Delegates to Attend 52nd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations

The IPJ is a nongovernmental organization with special consultative status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and will send a delegation to the 52nd session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) . This year’s topic is financing for gender equality and empowerment of women. The review theme slated for discussion is women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peacebuilding.IPJ delegates will be presenting on two different occasions. The first panel, entitled “Women Ending Cycles of Violent Conflict: Strategies and Best Practices,” focuses on the way in which women have stepped in and made a concrete difference through their activism, advocacy and direct action at various stages in the continuum of conflict. The panel will present global best practices from the field and examine the work of international leaders who are part of the Women PeaceMakers Program. The final report from “Is Peace Possible? A Summit of Peacemakers on Today’s Frontlines” will be launched at this parallel event. The second session, presented in conjunction with UNIFEM, will be a screening of “Leading the Way to Peace,” a film documenting the personal stories of achievement and hope of the 2004 Women PeaceMakers. The hour-long film will be followed by a panel with the film producers, women peacemakers and UNIFEM and IPJ spokespersons.