The World Must Change, Not the Women

March 11, 2015| by Lindsay Hawthorne, UNA Women

The past few days have been inspiring. On Sunday, International Women’s Day, my sister and I went to the NGO Forum Consultation Day, where speakers including UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka set the stage for CSW59 by pointing to the problems left behind 20 years after Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. I especially loved Mlambo-Ngcuka’s point that we cannot create gender equality by teaching women to live within our patriarchal society.

 “The world must change, not the women,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka to much applause.  She was also among many advocates for gender equality from all over the world, and from NYC itself at the march for gender equality later on. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon came to the march to instill spirit in the marchers, calling for action. Anna Lynne McCord, 90210 actress, has advocated for victims of sexual violence, including human trafficking for forced prostitution in Cambodia for years.

At the march she announced, “I am marching for all survivors of sexual violence, including myself,” and she gave a shout-out to the women she’s worked with in Cambodia. Last year, McCord even jumped out of a plane to raise awareness for human trafficking (with a parachute, of course). I was already a huge fan of Anna Lynne for her support of Somaly Mam, combatant of human trafficking in Cambodia. Both of these amazing women continue to inspire advocates like myself and give us hope for change.

On Monday, kicking off the start of the CSW, I went to five panels that were very interesting. Panelists in multiple sessions discussed the disconnect between international agreements and actual implementation and progress made.

My area of interest is combatting violence against women, so panels on that have been the most inspiring for me.  Various intriguing panels I attended all came to similar conclusions: progress combatting gender inequality, which is a root cause of violence against women, has been slow and uneven in many areas. Domestic and sexual abuse, human trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriages are all forms of violence against women that exist in all countries of the world. The numbers of women and girls forced into unwanted marriages or who are abused are declining in some countries, but growing in others. For example, 700 million women alive today were married as children.

How to combat such widespread issues? The answers are varied, but most experts seem to agree that gender inequality and the devaluation of women in society by cultural practices and attitudes perpetuated by religious extremism or the media are directly linked to the pervasive forms of violence against women. If girls are educated and empowered in all fields, and women brought into politics and decision-making in all countries, the world will be much better equipped to tackle violence against women. Many panelists echoed Hillary Clinton’s famous speech from Beijing in 1995, with the central point that “women’s rights are human rights.”