Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Boston Member Report From UN Meeting on Violence Against Women

The following post was submitted by Pat O'Brien, Boston WILPF member and Development Chair on the national board. She attended the Expert Group Meeting on "Violence against women: Good practices in combating and eliminating violence against women" at the UN. She was inspired to attend this meeting as a means of advancing a strain of WILPF work that began at last summer's Boston Social Forum.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Cambridge, MA I Just returned from New York where I and other WILPF members Pat Willis, Scott Michaelsen and Minga Claggett-Borne participated in the UN Consultation contribute to the UN Secretary-General's study on all forms of violence against women which was requested on 22 December 2003, by the General Assembly of the United Nations (resolution 58/185). Because WILPF is an NGO (non-governmental organization), as WILPF members, we get to have this kind of access at the UN, and also as members of a women’s organization, we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to participate at the level of the larger picture.

The goals of this UN study are to:
  • Highlight the persistence of all forms of violence against women in all parts of the world, and the unacceptability of such violence.
  • Strengthen political commitment and joint efforts of all stakeholders to prevent and eliminate violence against women.
  • Identify ways and means for better and more sustained and effective implementation of Government commitments and obligations to combat all forms of violence against women, and increase accountability.

So we went to sessions yesterday with women from many NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and UN Offices like International Labor Office and the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights. The day opened with a plenary with panelists who spoke on the themes of Violence against women: links with the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs); and key issues for future action followed by comments and questions from the floor. The panelists highlighted the challenges, as well as opportunities, for linking efforts to combat violence against women with those aimed at achieving the (MDGs). Speakers raised key issues which should be addressed in the Secretary-General’s study, commenting on new and emerging areas that require attention, challenges that prevent the effective implementation of existing standards and laws on violence against women; accountability for action against violence against women; and the responsibility of State and non-State actors. They also talked about areas where further research is necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of policy responses.

Then the participants added examples from their own experience and raised issues they think remain insufficiently addressed in law, policy or at the program level, including resources required for effective work on prevention and service provision.

The panelists: were very impressive and we got to hear some personal experiences (such as testimony from Rwanda Truth and Reconciliation )as well as different perspective of the themes. The afternoon session was divided into 2 working groups where we further discussed the morning’s topics with an eye to organizing information into categories that would be useful for eventually presenting the study to the General Assembly this year.

Minga and I participated in the key issues for future actions working group and we felt that the others in the group were attentive and listened carefully to each other. There was a wide variety of input from diverse sources and the discussion got quite lively at times. For example, a few women stressed the importance of involving the community in the generation of recommendations and data input, while others pointed out the failure of some of the traditional customs like tribal councils consisting of very patriarchial elders. Adjudicating domestic violence situations.

We had contacted the WILPF office 2 weeks ago, and met with Milkah and Samantha from the UN office, who are also working on input for this study. Pat W, Scott and Minga were meeting with them yesterday afternoon after I left to discuss the collaboration on the paper we will submit.

The input for the study will be ongoing until October 15 and is taking several forms. We will submit a paper to be included in the input for the study and there will be some online discussion which will also be included. Minga and I will give a reportback here in our area to generate more interest in both the UN study and in issues of violence against women. I’m hoping both Minga and Pat will contribute to this blog because they have some additional perspectives about this event.

For more information about the study, go to: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/


  • I attended the UN consultation on violence against women along with Pat O., Minga, and Scotty. I found the entire event to be very useful and hopeful. I am encouraged by the Secretary General’s commitment to this issue but am concerned about the lack of political will in our government and many others. I have also been concerned that WILPF has not emphasized women’s issues, particularly from a feminist perspective, to a greater degree than it has in its recent history and was very encouraged by WILPF-UN staff who said they were also eager to help WILPF move more in this direction. A Division for the Advancement of Women staff member said to me privately after the working group on MDG’s and VAW had ended that she was glad to hear this as I had mentioned during the session that many WILPF women were very interested in WILPF taking a more proactive feminist stance on women’s issues. I feel it is extremely important for WILPF to engage feminist analysis on women’s issues and patriarchal social systems. This UN consultation and the 3 page paper that we will submit to the DAW can be seen as a good effort in that direction.
    DAW is asking for examples of promising or best practices to be identified in this report. One area that I am especially concerned about in the US is that since there is a lack of initiative on the part of the current administration to work on women’s issues other avenues must be utilized. I am interested in education of androcentric thinkers, perhaps one could call it rehabilitation or recovering from patriarchy. In some countries laws mandate gender training, specifically around VAW even, in public schools but not the US, so we must use other venues to educate. I think it is easier to educate people who are already on the progressive side of the political equation, although all need it, and one venue for that is the new social forum arena that is sweeping the globe and the US Social Forum, June ‘06 in Atlanta should be utilized by WILPF members to do this. Even though we as organizers at the Tribunal on Violence Against Women at the Boston Social Forum June 2004 were silenced by BSF organizers we must still engage social fora and other conference-like events that are not specific to women’s issues where progressives congregate in order to educate these well-intentioned people who may not have VAW and other women’s issues as their primary focus but who would be willing listeners and educable. I am trying to figure out how to incorporate this type of education plan with WILPF-UN staff input for this 3 page paper in the context of promising practices. If anyone has some ideas please let me know.

    By Anonymous pat willis, at 6:32 AM  

  • Hi Pat and Pat,

    Huge thanks to both of you for sharing your experiences at the UN consultation with the rest of us, and hugs for all four of you who attended on our behalf.

    I want to respond to two ideas raised in what's been written so far. First, I don't know if the distance between the VAW community in the US and WILPF is primarily the result of WILPF's being less-than-feminist (although it is surely true that sometimes WILPF groups seem less-than-feminist). The other side of the coin is that much of the US feminist movement, including much of the VAW community, tends towards individualistic solutions--for example, locking up more individual perpetrators of violence for longer sentences. I see WILPF as offering a strong structural analysis of interpersonal violence, which is often lacking among today's VAW professionals (although ironically, it was a structural analysis that, decades ago, created the political momentum for any of the services that exist today). So, I am very hopeful about the contribution we can make in this area (see some of WILPF International's statements on this topic, for example, http://www.wilpf.int.ch/statements/2005CHR_VAW.html)of feminist practice within the US.

    Also, I am less certain that the Bush administration is "unwilling to work on women's issues." If you analyze their intiatives in the area of trafficking, for example, you'll find that they are perfectly willing to use a "women's issue" as a pretext for building up law enforcement and tearing down civil liberties. So, it's tricky. One approach that folks at the Department of Justice are very excited about, but which is underfunded in the current appropriations, is the creation of "john schools" -- a compulsary re-education seminar for men arrested as "johns," run in part by female sex workers. People feel these programs show promise for reducing recidivism and "demand," and they are theoretically "safe" in that they avoid raising any substantive questions about the gendered patterns of global trade and development.

    I'd love to hear more about how the four of you plan to develop and apply what you are learning from this work.

    By Anonymous laura roskos, at 9:33 AM  

  • I am one of the five men who attended the consultation sponsored by the DAW to prepare a study for the UN to combat violence against women. Since I am a “man” I am a member of the group of human beings who are largely indicted for perpetrating these atrocities against women and children. Even though I do not consider myself a perpetrator, I do have responsibility here as someone who spent decades in the military and was charged with devising ways to kill people in military situations, but it is still so difficult for me to comprehend the motivation of the men that commit these acts. However, I am coming to a better understanding of how men through compartmentalizing can become bifurcated in their actions vis a vis their feelings and seek solutions where the end justifies the means. I trained for war, not thinking about the suffering my acts would cause innocent people, women and children, believing that it was for a noble cause. Sometimes going to war is described as “going in harm’s way” which in no way describes the deaths, maiming, and suffering to humanity but serves to further glamorize the warrior image. I was a part of that culture, an irresponsible thinker lured into believing it was for freedom and democracy, used to promote the interests of our government around the globe. This is one of the ways many men are trained to accept a culture of violence as expected and glamorized. As a little boy I learned to use force when another boy bigger than me came from the back of the line at school and pushing me out the way, took my place in the line. My father had told me I was to stand up to bullies so in retaliation I punched him in the stomach knocking his glasses off and causing him to cry. He returned to his place at the back of the line and I looked around guiltily hoping that no teacher had seen me hit the boy. As I grew up I continued to witness or be a party to aggressive behavior between boys and it became less and less abhorrent as I grew older and more hardened emotionally. By the time I entered the Marine Corps to go fight in Vietnam I gave no thought to the fact that I would be trained and expected to kill other human beings. After coming back from Vietnam, like many other war veterans, I internalized the experience and refused to discuss anything about it with anyone. The subject was always off limits and I rarely thought about it. In fact, it took me over thirty years to confront my feelings and to begin a self-analysis of what I had done and why I had allowed myself to be part of a culture that promotes violence as an acceptable extension of the political process. That is when I finally started to become a human person. I hope these experiences that I offer help towards an understanding of how some boys and men are so easily socialized into violence. I am not sure how I will be able to contribute to the three page paper but I will as this process works itself out in mind.

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