CSW Analyzes Institutionalized Cultural Values to Combat Violence Against Women

By Liam Scott

NEW YORK (UN Press Corps) - In an effort to combat violence against women, the Commission on the Status of Women began a discussion regarding how a country’s culture and beliefs influence—and often exacerbate—violence against women. Women have often been treated as second-class citizens in many areas of the world. This treatment varies in many different ways. In some parts of the world, this unfairness reveals itself in the form of pay gaps; in other regions, girls receive less education; and still, in other places this sexism and misogyny comes in the form of common—and nearly accepted—egregious acts of violence against women.

While gender equality has improved in some parts of the world, like Western Europe, Scandinavia, North America, and Rwanda, gender equality in other parts of the world has halted. Specifically, violence against women is still an issue that deserves the attention of the international community. This violence includes female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings, and domestic abuse (“Taking on Violence against Women in Africa,” Topic Guide). Violence against women often is rooted in an institutionalized culture. Because culture is so amorphous, finding solutions often proves just as amorphous.

Although, after initially having veered away from specific topics, such as FGM, several CSW delegates—some representing historically misogynistic states—condemned the way in which institutionalized cultural values perpetuate gender-based violence (or, in the words of the delegate from Mexico, “femicide”).

Several delegates representing Latin American states recognized the tradition, as Honduras put it, of a “machismo attitude” that serves as a backdrop of society. Venezuela agreed.

Likewise, delegates have presented the concept of honor—specifically in the form of honor killings. According to the Topic Guide, “In some cultures, when a woman is perceived as being ‘sexually immoral,’ she is killed by her male relatives as a means of restoring the family’s honor and reputation.” Egypt and Jordan both called for greater action against the practice, even though 91% of women have experienced FGM in Egypt, according to the WHO (“Impunity for domestic violence, ‘honour killings’ cannot continue”).

Still, one cannot ignore whether these sentiments might prove foolhardy or idealistic. The delegate from Honduras perhaps responded to this unasked question, pondering how culture—the topic of discussion—itself changes and evolves.

Cultures are considered “institutionalized” for a reason, and completely overhauling a culture is unlikely. Active violence, like FGM and honor killings, is relatively easier to prohibit, as Egypt pointed out. Misogyny on a conceptual level, however, is much more difficult to prohibit. Although the delegate from France alluded to the French government’s outlawing of cat-calling, one must wonder whether such a prospect is adequately conscious of the state of things in other countries.

FGM and honor killings themselves are not a cultural value. Rather, the misogyny from which these practices emerge is the cultural value. Yet the result of misogyny—and not misogyny itself—was the overall theme of the discussion. A culture characterized by the inferiority of women is the root of this issue, and addressing this root will help to ameliorate FGM, honor killings, and other forms of violence against women.

More recently, blocs have formed that are overwhelmingly characterized by region. The Western/Middle Eastern bloc is working on a trifold solution that is broken down into education, legislation, and finances, according to Germany.

According to Sweden, everyone’s solutions seem to have something to do with education; the implementation, however, will vary.

Other blocs include one composed primarily of Latin American states.

While courses of action for CSW at first seemed ambiguous, delegates seem closer to developing more refined resolutions.