Friday, March 2, 2012

The European Union’s Involvement at the United Nations 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Ambassadors, Ministers, and Heads of Government have gathered at the United Nations 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss this year’s priority theme: The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have sent delegates to the Session that lasts from February 27 – March 9, 2012, to issue statements, have general discussion, and join interactive events.

Being so close, yet feeling so far away, it seems as though the Ambassadors, Ministers, and Heads of Government are somehow inaccessible. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

During the opening ceremony, the demands for systematic and comprehensive strategies, strong actions and accountability were consistently reiterated as Rural Women are key in providing change. Full use of treaties and rules must be utilized in order to protect all of their Human Rights. Rural Women are vital to economic prosperity, sustainability, development, agriculture, among other significant global impacts. For this reason, Rural Women will be a focus at the Rio +20 Conference in June. Rural Women need equal access, participatory roles in national and local government, and protection of their human rights. When women are engaged and competitive, they can lobby for their needs and rights to be heard and respected. This is exactly what the Conference offered them: a voice and a seat at the table.

As part of my Graduate research I have been primarily attending panel events dealing with polity and international declarations in order to gain information on how human trafficking and gender equality affects the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). 

The first panel given by Turkey, “Stop Violence against Women by Implementing International Standards,” addressed The Istanbul Convention and how hard they have been working on “The Draft Law on the Protection of Women and the Family Members Against Violence.” A multi-dimensional, multi-structural approach must target gender discrimination and all politicians must combine resources, as this is a Universal problem. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), is setting forth these new “set of teeth” to create a concrete set of binding provisions.

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Jean-Claude Mignon, agreed with the initiative. The panel addressed the importance of keeping in mind that words matter because of the values they reveal. Therefore, the Convention broadens the spectrum in terms of specific definitions like stalking, psychological violence, and invoking any justification for any act of violence. The panel stressed that Non-European States need to apply these Treaties and join hands with the UN to extend these standards. The panel invited all states to become party to the Convention and join forces in constructing a world without violence and discrimination against women.

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Jean-Claude Mignon, with his translator answering a few of my questions.

The next panel I attended was held by the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations on “Engaging Young Women and Men in Advancing Gender Equality.” The panel included the Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, Ioannis Vrailas, the Minister for Gender Equality in Denmark, Mr. Manu Sareen, the Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People in Ireland, Ms. Kathleen Lynch, T.D., State Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs and Equality in Portugal, Ms. Teresa Morais, and the Belgian Representative of the European Women’s Lobby Board, Ms. Viviane Teitelbaum.

The main focus was breaking gender stereotypes in young children, even down to the types of toys they are “supposed” to play with. When these stereotypes are removed from children’s perceptions, this is a step toward advancing gender equality. For instance, Minister Sareen stated that even in Denmark, one of the most gender equal countries in the world, the majority of people still think that men are the head of the household and that men are better managers than women. Minister Lynch stressed that we must have a gender sensitive educational system in terms of the actual education, administration, and policy. These gender stereotypes and traditional roles hinder the ability to construct an equal, democratic and efficient society.
Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations, Ioannis Vrailas.

In addition to panels, receptions are being held with the most inspiring and knowledgeable people gathering to share information and to listen to one another. Most recently, an NGO CSW Reception was held at the Turkish Center in the United Nations Plaza, where Ms. Mirna Cunningham Kain was awarded the Woman of Distinction Award.

Soon-Young Yoon, Chair of the NGO/CSW/NY, presented Ms. Cunningham Kain with her award for her outstanding dedication to rural women and indigenous peoples’ issues.

In a previous blog, “Discourse Surrounding the Final Declaration of the 64th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference,” I mention the issues with semantics when dealing with Draft Declarations at the UN. Indigenous people used to be placed under “etc.” or “other.” I was able to speak with Ms. Cunningham Kain and thank her for work as well as have a very interesting discussion on how much representation and definitions matter. She accepted the award in honor of all the indigenous people who have suffered and tragically died where peace was not established, and for those indigenous people who continue their fight today.

Soon-Young Yoon, Chair of the NGO/CSW/NY, pointing to my “Michigan Hand Map” showing me where she used to live in Michigan.

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations, His Excellency Ertuğrul Apakan, attended the Reception as well, and I had the honor of discussing his commendable achievements for gender equality in Turkey. Counselor Ömür Budak works for Ambassador Apakan and also studied European Union Studies while attending College. We had a very interesting discussion on the advancements both Ambassador Apakan and the Deputy Minister of Family and Social Policies in Turkey, Dr. Aşkın Asan, have had in fighting for gender equality and combatting violence against women in Turkey.

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations: His Excellency Ertuğrul Apakan

His Excellency Ertuğrul Apakan and Counselor Ömür Budak.

I look forward to the upcoming panel discussions and compiling a full report on how gender equality and human trafficking affect the CFSP in the European Union. For personal growth, I am determined to listen to the struggles of rural women who came to share their story. I am determined to gain knowledge pertaining to the issues of gender, race, and class, and its implications for food and water shortages, sovereignty, conflict and peace. 

Alexandra Lively is a first-year MA student in European Union Studies and an EU Center FLAS fellow. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Advertising at UIUC, with a double minor in Business and Communications. She graduated with High Honors and as an Edmund J. James Scholar. Her research interests include telecommunications, consumerism and trade within the EU.


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