Far too often and for too many years, politics, culture and religion have been used to deflect efforts to address and prevent violence against women and girls. But as the United Nations 57th Commission on the Status of Women drew to a close, members rose above these arguments and found common ground in reaching a set of "Agreed Conclusions." On March 15, they declared that all states have the unqualified responsibility to protect women and girls from violence so that they can live up to their greatest potential. No excuses.
Outgoing UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet and her team provided invaluable leadership throughout this session. The U.S. delegation worked with fellow member states to shape a strong consensus document that could support and galvanize worldwide efforts to eliminate gender-based violence. These "Agreed Conclusions" are a testament to the urgency and the gravity with which the 45 diverse member states of the Commission, and additional states participating in the negotiations, considered the issue. They encompass several groundbreaking statements, including:
• An explicit acknowledgement of the importance of respecting and protecting sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. These rights are essential to the prevention, mitigation and elimination of violence against women and girls.
• Recognition of the fact that domestic violence is the most prevalent form of violence against women and girls, and that men and boys are crucial to preventing such violence.
• Recognition that prevention and response efforts must also address trafficking in persons.
• Calls for a multi-sector response and an end to impunity.
• Calls for the advancement of women's full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land.
• Reference to harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage; and clear language asserting that custom, tradition, or religious considerations should not serve as a basis to condone violence against women and girls.
• Calls for greater protection for specific populations that face heightened risk of violence, such as disabled women and girls, those living with HIV, and indigenous women.
Despite these solid gains, more must still be done to continue the unfinished work of advancing the rights of women and girls. Several sensitive issues were omitted, such as the issue of the clear link between violence against women and girls and sexual orientation and gender identity. We were also disappointed that the document did not include the term "intimate partner violence," which more accurately captures the types of violence and range of relationships where abuse can take place. We will continue to press for the inclusion of these important issues in future UN sessions and other international fora.
We encourage civil society, activists, faith-based organizations, and community leaders to use this document to hold their governments accountable, and work toward a world where all women and girls around the world live productive and safe lives, free from the scourge of violence and abuse.