News

20/20 Vision: Mobilizing for Women’s Rights and Eliminating Violence against Women

8 March 2010
Author: UNFPA
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid and Mary Robinson at the WLP event. Photo:Sonam Ongmo/UNFPA.

NEW YORKThe Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) – an organization established after the Beijing Conference, 15 years ago – met on March 5 at the New School in New York to celebrate and to discuss ways for mobilizing women’s rights and eliminating violence against women.

“We work hard for the kind of world that we want to be in and that is why it is better we work in partnership with men and boys,” said WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami to a packed auditorium. “We believe in the power to change traditions and cultural practices that are harmful and autocratic. This is an opportunity for us to chart a new future.”

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, who was a keynote speaker at the event, said, “People were both shaped by, and actively shape, their own cultures.”

“In all cultures, people are critical agents of change and as you all know, engaging these agents of change is essential for mobilizing women’s rights and eliminating violence against them.”

Ms. Obaid said that discriminatory practices towards women were deeply rooted within social norms and cultural understandings and were often stronger than the laws that have been enacted to stop them. “While an effective legal framework is a precondition for ending violence against women, it is not enough to change attitudes and behaviors,” and, therefore, the need to work not only at the government level but also at the community level for social change.

Studies show a correlation between women’s advancement and a country’s economic growth, but the potential, apparently, is still untapped in many countries. The advancement of women, therefore, should not be separated and confined to “women’s issues,” said the United States Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. “This issue deserves commitment and political will. Since Beijing, laws have been created, but many countries have yet to adopt them and much still needs to be done.”

While there are certain harmful practices that are confined to specific cultures, violence against women, in general, seems to be a “global pandemic,” according to Ms. Verveer. It knows neither boundaries nor cultures, and that is why it should be chiseled into International Human Rights Law, she added.

During the WLP event, a panel comprised of Asma Khader of Jordan, Sindi Medar-Gould of Nigeria, and Jacqueline Pitanguy of Brazil discussed grassroots mobilization and awareness-raising strategies, which also partner with men and youth in academia, health, media, communities and justice sectors.

Another panel comprising representatives from the Arab region talked about CEDAW’s campaign in the region for Equality without Reservation, Claiming Equal Citizenship for nationality rights and the One Million Signatures campaign to reform discriminatory laws in Iran. They discussed how they have transcended traditional political, economic, and cultural barriers to mobilize activists at the local, national, and international levels.

Other Keynote speakers included Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate, 2003, and Mary Robinson, former U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights.