We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, as represented in the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), are deeply concerned with the role of the leadership of our countries in the negotiations on the crucial issue of violence against women and girls. At this session, our governments are increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence, discrimination and allow the violations against human rights and continue with impunity. This violence is particularly targeted against women, girls, ethnic and religious minorities, people who dissent from or challenge normative gender identities and sexualities.
The current positions taken by some Arab governments at this meeting is clearly not representative of civil society views, aspirations or best practices regarding the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls within our countries. We are in fact concerned that many of our governments are taking positions, which undermine the very basis of the UDHR, which is the universality, and indivisibility of human rights.
We, as non-governmental organizations, struggle on a daily basis to provide sexual and reproductive health services, reform laws that discriminate or violate human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, provide comprehensive sexuality education, combat violence against women and girls, including marital rape and sexual abuse, reach out to and protect groups who have been marginalized and minoritised on the basis of their ethnicity, religious sect/and or sexual orientation and gender identity, and break the cultural and societal taboos associated with sexuality.
We underline that the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies. As well, as we work towards a more inclusive, just and equitable societies, the intersection of violence, poverty, race, national origin, and sexuality must be at the center of our social justice framework, language and negotiations on the status of women.
We are alarmed that the language proposed by some governments severely compromises the very intention of this meeting and in fact takes us a step back rather than forward. As members and leaders of civil society, we think that the goal of this UN meeting should be to further strengthen the commitments, language, discourse and action of many institutions and government entities in our societies.
We would like our governments to take into account that where there is any perceived conflict between States’ obligations to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights and social, cultural or religious norms, human rights instruments clearly state that the obligation to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights takes precedence.
This requires that our governments move away from an emphasis on religious and cultural specificity and relativism, and instead put their efforts to ensure restorative justice, inclusivity, and holistic policies that recognize intersectional spaces and identities women and girls of different backgrounds exist in.
Taking into account the above commitments and challenges, the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women calls upon governments to:
- Stop using justifications based on religion, culture, tradition or nationality to block the progress of laws at all levels, including in the sphere of international law and at this 57th session of the CSW. These justifications must be challenged. The violence they cause is unacceptable and cannot ever be condoned or tolerated.
- End the harmful use of religion, tradition, and culture to safeguard practices that perpetuate violence against women and girls.
- Reaffirm past agreements and resolutions and recognize the rights of women and girls already existing in our countries, and work on enhancing those rights, not undermining them.
- To adopt a definition of violence against women that encompasses violence against all women across their life spans, including girls.
- To clearly denounce all practices which perpetuate violence against women and girls, including those which are justified on the basis of tradition, culture and religion and work on eliminating them, like female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, marital rape, feminicide, and intimate partner violence.
- To recognize the serious and particular situation of women and girls in countries of transition (like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya) and to take all necessary actions in cooperation with local actors to ensure that women’s rights in transition are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- To ensure that the international community and governments investigate all violations against women and girls, in particular the escalation of violence during transitional periods and in situations of armed conflict (such as in Syria and Iraq) to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators, both state and individual actors.
- To recognize the sensitive situation of Palestinian women living under apartheid in the occupied state of Palestine and in Israel. And To ensure that the international community and governments will take responsibility to conduct investigation on all violations against women living under apartheid and stop all kinds of impunity for the perpetrators.
- To include recognition of, and recommendations to address violence against women human rights defenders who are at particular risk, from both State and non-state actors (such as families, community members, paramilitary groups and extremist groups) because of their gender as well as the work that they do.
- The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), International
- Nasawiya, Lebanon
- alQaws, for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, Palestine
- Muntada: The Arab Forum for Sexuality Education and Health, Palestine
- Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD), Tunisia
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egypt
- The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt
- Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développment (AFTURD), Tunisia
- Women and Development Association in Alexandria, Egypt
- Arab Women Organisation, Jordan
- Sisters in Islam, Malaysia
- Aliansi Remaja Independen (Independent Young People Alliance), Indonesia
- Women’s Health Foundation, Indonesia
- Pilipina Legal Center, The Philippines
- Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML),
- InternationalRealizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), International
- Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), International
- Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), International