CSW60: preventing gender based violence

At the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) last month, the Alliance turned the spotlight on the CSW theme of Empowerment and the links between non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity among women and the heightened risk of violence and HIV.

Women living with HIV; women who have sex with women; lesbian, bisexual and transgender women; female sex workers and women who use drugs experience heightened risks of and vulnerabilities to VAW and HIV. These groups, described as Women in their Diversity are further characterised by sexual identities and behaviours that do not conform to the traditional definition of women. 

“These women face additional discrimination, criminalisation, stigma and marginalisation, and have limited access to resources to respond to these challenges. The evidence is clear. Non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity is linked to a heightened risk of violence”, said Claire Mathonsi, the Alliance’s regional representative for gender based violence.

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At the CSW60 - the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women - the Alliance co-hosted two events. 

The first, a panel discussion - Achieving Empowerment for Women in their Diversity in the context of HIV – was co-organised by our new in-coming Linking Organisation AIDS Legal Network in South Africa, and partners from the Alliance-led Link Up project – including The ATHENA Network and a number of youth advocates. 

The session highlighted the gaps in inclusion and empowerment of Women in their Diversity at CSW and in prevention and treatment services for women in their diversity due to social and legal marginalisation and exclusion, and raised specific advocacy calls for more inclusion and empowerment for women in their diversity. 

A second event, Criminalisation, Women and HIV: Redefining the decriminalisation agenda was the 5th in a series of dialogues entitled From Criminalisation to Agency: African women’s voices on HIV and human rights. Co-organised by ALN, the ATHENA Network, the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) and ACCESS Chapter 2, this lively debate gave delegates a unique opportunity to renew, build and expand on the call for decriminalisation.

Throughout the CSW60, the Alliance drew attention to its main calls for action:

  • Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), in light of overwhelming evidence about how it can help curtail HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and teenage pregnancy.
  • Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), rather than relying on the ‘partial language’ of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights which fails to account for the full scope of rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health.
  • Attention to challenging and changing harmful gender norms in order to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women.
  • Recognition of the diversity of women, women living with HIV and women in key populations.  These are precisely the groups who are most at risk of, most vulnerable to, and most affected by the gender dimensions of HIV.
  • Young people’s rights to privacy, confidentiality, respect and informed consent.
  • Acknowledgement of the bi-directional causality between intimate partner violence and HIV
  • Greater understanding of HIV-TB co-infection and cervical cancer as these are growing concerns for women living with HIV.

Following the meeting, UN Member States committed to “the gender-responsive implementation of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development”. A set of agreed conclusions called for rapid progress, including stronger laws, policies and institutions, better data and scaled-up financing. They acknowledged that progress on the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of Agenda 2030 will not be possible without gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

However, for us, there were significant limitations to the final statement. Claire Mathonsi said, “The text was not progressive in many of the areas we were calling for, such as SRHR, CSE and key populations. We also have concerns about the lack of political will and ambition to push the agenda forward – for example, in discussing sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on this watered-down text, we anticipate significant challenges at the forthcoming UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS where governments will commit to meeting UN goals to ending AIDS by 2030.

That is why the Alliance must increase its investment in efforts to build the capacity of civil society organisations to lobby and advocate at national and regional level, and to hold Member States accountable in global mechanisms.