Many people think they cannot change what is happening around them, from the violence, stigma, social pressure and discrimination in their homes, communities, and countries. And those who do think they can influence change, like feminists, activists, and women’s rights defenders, sometimes feel that their efforts are too small to be recognized regionally or globally. It has festered amongst feminists that oppressive and exploitative forces are too global, too large for us to create waves of change – we have started to believe that it is a vision that exists only in our minds.
In writing this blog, I am hoping to convince readers that this is not true. It is important to revive a spirit and knowledge in ourselves that every woman has the capacity and potential to influence the decision makers, governments, international organizations, and make their voices heard. The Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is one of those unique chances where women’s rights advocates, human rights defenders, activists and feminists from around the world and from diverse contexts meet and advocate together to shift the global processes in our favor.
I come in to the CSW as the Executive Director of Society Without Violence, an NGO that promotes women’s rights and gender equality in Armenia and is a member of ASTRA Network. ASTRA is a group of 36 organizations from 19 countries in Central and Eastern Europe advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights. I will be delivering an oral statement emphasizing and highlighting the importance of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) agendas to be included in the post-2015 processes.
The Millennial Development Goals (MDG) made some important contributions in the Central and Eastern Europe region. Some of their positive impacts have been reducing maternal mortality rates, establishment of national sexual and reproductive health policies, family planning, and sexual and reproductive health clinics in several countries across the region, and ratification by 5 and signed by 6 countries on The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). However, while substantial progress has been made, the findings of the operational review of the ICPD Beyond 2014 and the Post-2015 processes indicate that there is still much work to be done in Central and Eastern Europe.
Substantial growth of religious and neo-nationalist extremist groups troubles the region and poses a major challenge to the realization of human rights of women and girls. This has resulted in multiple, and often successful attempts to further limit women’s rights particularly women’s reproductive and sexual rights. Governments continue to oppose the universal access to legal and safe abortion, modern contraceptives and high quality sexual and reproductive health services. They stand in opposition to introducing comprehensive sexuality education in schools, and do not recognize the right of women to understand and control their own sexuality, fertility and bodily integrity. Sexual and reproductive rights of people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are ignored by States and hence have not progressed. Gender based violence and domestic violence is still widely spread in the region, and survivors of violence lack access to critical services, information, and education. There are countries where there is no law against domestic violence, and Armenia being a prime example of how legislation fails to protect women and girls.
Taking into account the challenges that my region currently faces, I will be strongly advocating during this year’s CSW and calling upon the governments to ensure that SRHR and gender based violence prevention are positioned at the heart of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and post-2015 frameworks as a high priority and critical pillar. I will also be calling upon governments to ensure quality, integrated, comprehensive sexuality education in schools, access to safe and legal abortion and access to affordable methods of modern contraception. I am urging States to play their role in removing all legal and structural barriers to universal access to safe abortion. The space that the CSW allows for civil society can allow
I am hoping that through the process that the CSW creates for Civil Society to influence international processes that feminists and activists can at the very least plug-into each other and power their networks to pressure governments to take the appropriate steps to eradicate all forms of gender based violence and domestic violence, criminalize sexual violence, and recognize the sexual and reproductive rights of people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The CSW process can create opportunities to realize our feminist dreams of establishing gender-responsive institutions, laws and policies, and continue our efforts for establishing strong governance and accountability systems for full implementation of CEDAW, Millennium Declaration, Beijing Platform for Action, the Cairo Programme of Action and other international obligations and commitments concerning women’s human rights.
Being a women’s rights advocate is very hard in Armenia and in our region. Your friends, family and general public misunderstand you. Your words and actions are misrepresented by extremist groups and aggravated through mass media. While trying to help women, you are sometimes perceived as a “threat” to your nation who “destroys” traditional values of the country. However, I do believe that our fight for women’s basic rights and freedoms and gender equality will soon gain international recognition and appreciation. The CSW is not the only but is one of these opportunities. To women and girls, advocates and women’s rights defenders – your voices will be heard but do not wait to demand them.
*Anna Nikoghosyan is a women’s rights defender and human rights activist. She is currently the Executive Director of Society Without Violence NGO focused on women’s rights protection and operating in the Republic of Armenia. She is finishing her Regional Master program on Human Rights and Democratization. Her contributions appear in different reports such as UPR interim monitoring report 2012, ENP Implementation Report 2012, ICPD + 20: Status of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Central and Eastern Europe, UPR monitoring report 2014. She has also participated and conducted national, regional and international trainings, round tables and other activities dedicated to women’s and gender issues in Armenia and overseas.