On the 13th of June, in room XX of the United Nations of Geneva, Mr Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli, the President of the HRC started the full-day discussion about women by reasserting his dedication to defend the rights of women and eliminating violence against the latter. The 3 hour panel discussion lead by leaders, experts and youth activists also included interventions from member states and NGOs. The CIPADH attended the morning session.
Ms. Kate Gilmore, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the debate by a deplorable statement about the status quo regarding the situation of women: a staggering 1/3 of all women experience violence and abuse because of their gender around the world. She explained that gender-based violence against women is not only a widespread phenomenon but an expression of patriarchal power against women which leads to the inability of the latter to make their choices (work, family)- life choices that are often taken for granted by men. She pointed to the fact that the degrading and inhumane violence against women is reinforced by existing notions of masculinity and femininity, socially constructed concepts that are deeply-rooted in every society. However, she stipulated that violence against women cannot be reduced to the collateral of “culture” but ought to be regarded as genuine exploitation and that for instance, female genital mutilation can only be synonymous with a crime and oppression of women. She urged the international community to dismantle the harmful social norms linked to gender. To do so, we need not to think out of the box but to get out of the boxes completely. This entails the reconceptualization of masculinity and the associated category of “man” and what prejudices are associated to it. She encouraged governments, as duty bearers, to take action at the level of the education of young boys to ensure that their socialization does not happen with a patriarchal framework in mind.
The first panel speaker was Ms Karen Ellemann, Minister for Equal Opportunities and Nordic Cooperation, who declared that attitudes towards violence have changed in Denmark. She expressed the urgent need to have men and boys as role models, using their voice against women discrimination and violence in order to challenge the omnipresent gender biases.
Then, Ms Dubravka Simonovic took the floor, as a Special rapporteur on violence against women she pointed to a main limitation for the emancipation of women: discriminatory and sexist laws at the national level. Despite international legislation such as the CEDAW Convention, some systematic barriers arise and should be addressed at the state level. She urged the member states to think of more effective ways to engage policy makers, influential male actors in promoting gender equality norms in both the private and public sphere.
With the focus also put on the importance of educating boys at a young age, Mr. Das, the co-chair of Men-Engage Alliance raised several questions. What is the value-added of working with men and boys? How can we best do this work by making men excited about this change? He argued that men need to see the battle for equality not as a zero-sum fame but rather as a “win” for both parties. The starting point for this shift? Rethinking the conception of hegemonic masculinity and finding alternative models of the latter. He pointed to some benefits for men, as they will start sharing the aspirations they have of equality at home into the workplace.
Mr Francis Oko Armah, a youth activist from Ghana then shared his thoughts to the audience. He talked about the productive informal discussions between young men and girls about their beliefs regarding gender and the associated stereotypes. With a benevolent tone he declared “we are friends not enemies” and continued by stipulating the need to engage children from a very young age to dismantle the preconceived ideas associated with gender.
Finally, Mr. Keedi from Masculinities Technical Adviser at the ABAAD Center for Gender Equality in Lebanon, once again pointed to the root of the problem: the education and socialization of young boys. Indeed, he declared that the “problem is not men but what we teach men what it is to be a man”. By being surrounded by the reality of war zones ,young men learn dominance, violence, and a sense of entitlement to violate the rights of women. However, he claimed that “violence is not inherent in men, it is learned”. As a result, we need to teach young men in war zones to not be possible agents of terror but rather agents of change, peace and gender equality. To do so, we need to question the norms that have been taught for centuries in patriarchal societies and acknowledge that “the personal is political and the political is personal”.
Following the 4 panelists, numerous representatives of member states took the floor to expose the measures taken by their countries regarding gender empowerment. Many of these countries were joined by NGOs who had specific questions on the topic, remarks that could be expressed in a limited speech of only 2 minutes. The comment made by Norway, on behalf of the Nordic countries, was particularly interesting at is stressed the importance of the paternity leave as a solution to upgrade fatherhood which would allow men to share the carework at home. Such measure and division of tasks is necessary for the empowerment of women in the labour market. Moreover, Egypt, on behalf of the Arab group, iterated the importance of also taking into account the respect for the cultural background of countries when dealing with gender empowerment. The underlying message of this remark ought to be considered in the context of the situation of women in the respective countries.
Gabrielle Dorey, research assistant at CIPADH