The UN Commission on the Status of Women unmasks equality’s enemies


“There might not be many things the Vatican and the Muslim Brotherhood agree on, but one is keeping women ‘in their place'”

Jill Filipovic badge

The Guardian March 18, 2013

” Who doesn’t want to end violence against women?

More than a few nations and conservative organizations, apparently. Under the cover of culture, religion and tradition, they have attempted to impede consensus on a simple agreement to solidify the rights of women to be free from abuse. With violence against women endemic – one in three women worldwide will be on the receiving end of violence in her lifetime – appeals to culture or religion don’t just ring hollow; they’re reckless, cruel and expose how brutally misogynist our world remains.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women brought hundreds of international leaders to New York to discuss strategies for ending violence against women. After two weeks of debate, it concluded with a communiqué stating the principles agreed upon at the gathering – something it failed to do last year. (Disclosure: I have done some consulting work for UN Women.)

The principles initially proposed by UN Women head Michelle Bachelet were not particularly radical. They simply asserted that governments have an obligation to make sure women in their countries are protected, that women in every corner of the world have a right to bodily integrity, and that religion, custom or tradition are not excuses for governments to skirt their obligations to protect all their citizens.

In other words: women are people, and governments must take reasonable steps to ensure that women are not beaten, raped and abused with impunity.

Nonetheless, many of the usual suspects (and some new ones) were unwilling to adopt the “women are people, not punching bags” framework. The Vatican, Iran and Russia tried to strip out the language that would block governments from using the “it’s our custom/religion/tradition” excuse. They also hedged at language suggesting that a husband doesn’t have the right to rape his wife.

I remain flummoxed as to why the Vatican, Russia and Iran want to publicly associate raping and abusing women to their own traditions and religious beliefs, though I suppose there’s something to be said for putting honesty ahead of basic human rights.

But here is the honest truth: systematic violence against women maintains the male monopoly on political, economic and social power. When women live in fear of violence – when women live with actual violence – it maintains a system of free female labor within the “traditional” family, and keeps half of the population from competing with men for paid work or social capital. Women, as it turns out, are just as smart and capable and hardworking as men, which is why keeping women disempowered and vulnerable requires large-scale coercion and violence.



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