On Thursday 15 June, three important resolutions to address violence and discrimination against women and to end child and early marriage were tabled during the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
While nearly 60 countries co-sponsored these resolutions, South Africa, a member of the Human Rights Council, has to date failed to indicate whether it will follow suit.
The resolutions will go before the Human Rights Council for voting on 22 and 23 June. All three contain language in line with commitments laid out in South Africa’s Constitution and call on UN member states, including South Africa, to take action to address multiple and intersecting forms of violence against women and girls.
South Africa faces a crisis of violence against women. Co-sponsoring and voting in favour of these resolutions will send a message of political commitment to people in South Africa that the government prioritises ending violence against women.
Details of the three resolutions are below.
Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: engaging men and boys in preventing and responding to violence against all women and girls
Drafted by Canada and co-sponsored by sixty countries including Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana, this is the first resolution ever in the Human Rights Council to call on States to implement strategies to engage men and boys in preventing and responding to violence against all women and girls. It includes strong and clearly articulated strategies sorely needed in South Africa. For instance, it identifies patriarchal norms as a root cause of gender based violence and it calls on States to “design, implement and regularly monitor the impact of national policies, programmes and strategies that address the roles and responsibilities of men and boys, including through transforming social-cultural norms and traditional and customary practices that condone violence against women and girls…”. Amidst concerns about the inadequacy of funding for women’s rights organizations, the resolution includes important language ensuring resources for women and girls are not compromised in order to fund initiatives focused on engaging men and boys.
Elimination of discrimination against women and girls
The resolution drafted by Mexico and Colombia was co-sponsored by forty three countries including Botswana and Rwanda in the Africa Group. It also includes commitments needed here at home. It urges States to challenge patriarchal attitudes and eliminate gender stereotypes, address unequal power relations that view women and girls as subordinate to men, reaffirms women’s bodily autonomy and right to make decisions over their lives and health, and calls on States to collaborate with “women’s and community-based organizations, feminist groups, women human rights defenders and girls’ and youth-led organizations”. These are all measures that are sorely needed in South Africa.
Child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian settings
This resolution drafted by El Salvador and Sierra Leone represents an important step in putting the issue of child marriage in humanitarian contexts on the agenda of governments, UN agencies, humanitarian actors and others in crisis contexts. It calls upon States and a wide range of other actors to take specific actions to address child marriage, and for the first time says that these efforts are particularly important in humanitarian contexts. It advances the debate on child marriage in the UN context by: acknowledging the basic need for access to justice, sexual and reproductive health and civil registration/vital statistics in humanitarian situations as ways to address child marriage; condemning attacks on educational institutions; and, by acknowledging that gender inequality is the root cause of child marriage.