Thursday, 26 July 2012

Harmful Traditional Practices Against Women and Girls Law vs Practice: Rhetoric vs Reality

Harmful Traditional Practices Against Women and Girls

Law vs Practice: Rhetoric vs Reality

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

General Secretary, World YWCA & President, NGO CSW-Geneva
20th Session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva 27 June, 2012

On behalf of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in Geneva (NGO CSW – Geneva), and of my a own organization the World YWCA,  I am honored to join this very important panel today during this 20th session of the Human Rights Council, as we continue to engage in advocacy actions and awareness. Last year the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in Geneva adopted five priority themes as strategic directions for the next three years. Grounding all our work is women's human rights, empowerment and dignity.

We are meeting in this Human Rights Council at a time when there is a significant focus on gender equality and women's rights. This ranged from the two days debates on gender equality, which carried the focus on the study undertaken on violence against women and disability, the debate on women human rights defenders, the report of the special rapportuer on violence against women on gender motivated killings, the panel on violence against women and remedies, the first report of the working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice, as well as the current negotiations underway for the Council's resolution on violence against women and remedies. The issues of harmful traditional practices are permeating the debates and the discourse. We are therefore not short of the discourse, but how to turn this into the reality of billions of women and girls across the world? We have the normative instruments, like CEDAW, we have the mechanisms, like the UPR, we have the rhetoric, and yet women continue to experience the violations.

Many women's organizations, including the World YWCA and the Inter Africa Committee have continued to work at the nexus of culture, faith and rights to advance the status and empowerment of women. We also know that the majority of the key issues relating to harmful traditional practices are intricately linked with women's reproductive health and rights, violence against women and personal empowerment. Yet, this is the most controversial issue that confronts us today in the women's human rights discourse, as we saw at the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the recently concluded negotiations during the Rio + 20 conference.

These are some of the proposed recommendations that we have in order to turn this rhetoric into reality:

  1. Use the two recent reports on violence and disability and the report of the SRVAW on gender-related killings to provide further awareness to the issue on harmful traditional practices, and the kind of options for interventions. However, many communities that could benefit from this information do not have equal access to technology.

  1. Increased recognition of human rights defenders working on issues of culture, faith and human rights who often face discrimination and labelling within their communities as they dare to give new meaning and interpretation to culture and faith in ways that advance the human rights of women and girls.

  1. Advocate for stronger language in the current draft resolutions on violence against women and remedies and on discrimination against women that are under consideration, so that the language considers the violence women experience associated with harmful traditional practices, which may require different forms of remedies.

  1. Establish a strong working engagement with and advocacy of the women's organizations, human rights networks and communities with the working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice.

  1. Continue to invest financial, technical and other resources for county level inter ministerial interventions, and community level programmes that address the issues.

  1. Promote greater engagement with the custodians of culture and faith, to facilitate the change of norms and behaviors, and build on the positive practices towards protecting rights of women and girls; while working towards the transformation the harmful traditional practices.
In my every day work at the world YWCA, I continue valuing the strategic and diverse  partnerships with UN agencies organizations such as UNFPA, OHCHR, with private foundations such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Oak Foundation, HorYzon, and with ecumenical partners such as ICCO, EED, National German Committee of the  World Day of Prayer, as well as governments such as Australia, Norway and Canada in supporting our effort to build a critical mass of young women as advocates and champions of gender equality and human rights. This enables us to adopt an intergenerational approach which promotes women’s own voices, agency and leadership in seeking accountability to women and girls. The YWCAs also provide a safe space for women and girls to access services, information and support.

In conclusion, it is clear that we need to continue promoting a strategic, significant global social movement. This is essential  to continue pushing for an end to harmful traditional practices resulting in abandoning female genital mutilation and the commodification of women's bodies; ending child marriage; and achieving secure sexual, reproductive, social and economic rights for women. How will this shape up if we have the 5th women's world conference?

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