Friday, June 10, 2011

The Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women: National Advocacy Strategies

(Thanks to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this guest post)

Despite a historic blizzard that shut down the mid-Atlantic region in February 2010, an intimate meeting of gender and human rights advocates from all over the country took place in Charlottesville, Virginia with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo. Fortunately, Rashida was in town already for a three week residency at the University of Virginia School of Law. Participants (pictured below right) included: IntLawGrrls guest/alumna Prof. Carrie Bettinger-López, Director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law; Anu Bhagwati, Service Women's Action Network (SWAN); Prof. Karen Czapanskiy, University of Maryland Law School; Jan Erickson, NOW Foundation; Attorney Deborah LaBelle; Rachel Natelson, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty; Maya Raghu, Legal Momentum; IntLawGrrls guest/alumna Cindy Soohoo, Center for Reproductive Rights; Cheryl Thomas, The Advocates for Human Rights; Heidi Williamson, SisterSong; and yours truly, host and organizer of the event.
Rashida had already submitted a formal request to the United States government for an official mission under her mandate. Her interest in focusing on the United States, she explained, was triggered by the UN Human Rights Council's (and the UN in general's) shift to a more even-handed approach, which aims to ensure that scrutiny extends beyond the global South. Rashida said that she always hears statements about violence against women (VAW) being a serious problem in Asia or in Africa. “We must look at VAW through a global, universal lens, with some specificities, of course,” she noted.
In 1998, the first U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy undertook an official United States mission in which she focused particularly on women in custodial settings. Rashida wanted to include some follow-up to Radhika’s 1999 prison report.
The roundtable aimed to identify the critical issues that U.S. advocates believed should be the focus of such a mission now. We concluded that the Special Rapporteur (SRVAW) would benefit most from being briefed by domestic advocates with respect to gaps and contradictions within national law and policy. Rashida explained that reports from interest groups and on particular facilities or statistical trends generally help shape her reports. In particular, the group acknowledged the importance of intersectionality (pp. 6-21), and the due diligence standard with respect to violence against women (and which are the focus of the Special Rapporteur’s second and third thematic reports this year and in 2012, respectively).
Over the course of the subsequent ten months, a large advocacy network around the country held phone conferences and five teams drafted comprehensive briefing papers for the Special Rapporteur. The papers, authored by a broad range of academics and women's rights advocates and lawyers
, focused on:
  1. Domestic Violence;
  2. Violence Against Women in Detention;
  3. Violence Against Women in the U.S. Military
  4. The Role of Guns in Perpetrating Violence Against Women; and
  5. Due Diligence Obligations of the United States in the Case of Violence Against Women.
(The briefing papers, which were coordinated and edited by the University of Virginia International Human Rights Clinic, are currently being edited for publication as a resource volume which will be available later this summer.)
The SRVAW's United States mission took place from January 24 to February 7, 2011, with meetings in Washington D.C., North Carolina, Florida, California, Minnesota and New York. At the local level, Rashida met with tribal authorities in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina; and with state and county authorities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. She visited three prisons and detention facilities managed by federal and state authorities, including the Glades County Detention Center in Florida; and two of the facilities visited by Radhika Coomaraswamy in 1998: the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California and the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Rashida cancelled a planned visit the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in New Jersey because she was not granted full access to speak with inmates. She also asked the U.S. government to visit a military base two weeks before the mission started, and reiterated the request upon commencement of the mission. She was informed that Department of Defense protocol was unable to accommodate the request on such short notice.
The Special Rapporteur's report on the mission to the United States was delivered June 3, 2011 at the Human Rights Council session in Geneva. It
broadly examines the situation of violence against women in the country, including such issues as violence in custodial settings, domestic violence, violence against women in the military, and violence against women who face multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination, particularly Native-American, immigrant, and African-American women.
Rashida’s focus on the combined issues of race and class is critical to addressing the structural nature of the problem of violence against women. For example, she highlights the increasing number of immigrant and African American women in prisons and detention facilities, and calls upon the government to address the root causes of this trend, paying attention to the intersectional challenges.
She acknowledges the positive legislative and policy initiatives the U.S. government has taken to reduce the occurrence of violence against women. Nevertheless, Rashida concludes that
the lack of substantive protective legislation at federal and state levels, and the inadequate implementation of current laws, policies and programs, has resulted in the continued prevalence of violence against women and the discriminatory treatment of victims, with particularly detrimental effects on poor, minority and immigrant women. [The report notes that] implementation of current policy and programmatic initiatives must address the persistent structural challenges which are often both the causes and consequences of violence against women.
This thoughtful and comprehensive report on the causes and consequences of violence against women in the United States is a call to all of us to redouble our efforts in supporting and pressing the government to act consistently and with due diligence in its policies and resources to eradicate the problems at all levels. The advocacy network is planning a series of events in conjunction with Rashida’s report to the UN General Assembly in New York in October. For more information and to get involved, contact me.

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