CWGL Welcomes Past and Present Special Rapporteurs on Violence Against Women in Conversation with its New Senior Director of Programs & Global Advocacy

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Written by Melanie Hung, Program Intern


The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) had the pleasure of hosting the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (UN SRVAW)Dubravka Šimonović, to discuss her individual mandate under the Human Rights Council, the relevance to the lives of women in the US and future opportunities for engagement.  This gathering also provided us the opportunity to introduce two new members of the CWGL team.  We are thrilled to have Yakin Ertürk join us this year as our Visiting Global Associate. As a gender expert and former UN SRVAW, Yakin will help shape and inform our emerging body of work on women and peace, safety and security.  We also recently welcomed Melissa Upreti as our Senior Director of Programs and Global Advocacy. Melissa is a member of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (WG DAW). As a human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate, she has spent nearly two decades advocating for the recognition and fulfillment of women’s rights through the use of national, regional and international law and mechanisms. Together, the panel discussed the history and influential work of the UN SRVAW mandate and provided the unique experience of having Šimonović and Ertürk together in conversation to share their experiences and  discuss trends in global advocacy aimed at eliminating gender-based violence.  

Ertürk highlighted that progress has been made. For example, violence against women was once perceived as a private matter but has now become a household phrase. However, this is often at the expense of emptying it of its content. The violence against women agenda has succeeded in mobilizing women across the globe more than other UN gender equality agendas before it and the work of the SRVAW contributed to a focus that included structural, material and ideological underpinnings of a patriarchal gender order that privileges male domination over women, including through violence. This resulted in an important shift from a victimization approach to one of empowerment/human rights. 

Moving forward, specifically in addressing the gap between law and practice, Šimonović shared her thoughts on the need for a new global implementation plan that includes a legally-binding definition of “violence against women.”  She also spoke specifically about her upcoming thematic reports on shelters and online violence toward women as well as her upcoming country visits to the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Egypt and Nepal. Finally, Upreti talked about the WG DAW’s report on the United States, which highlights key advancements in women’s rights as well as areas where the government has fallen short of ensuring adequate legal protection and remedies against discrimination and violence. 

The discussion emphasized the fragmentation in the work between global and regional levels, within the United Nations framework and among civil society actors. Especially as the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group lack the resources to oversee the implementation of their recommendations, they require collaboration and support to hold state actors accountable for the human rights of women and of all peoples. “We need a movement again,” said Šimonović.  

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In April, CWGL Faculty Director, Radhika Balakrishnan brought together Margaret Huang (Executive Director, Amnesty USA), Anthony Romero (Executive Director, ACLU) and Vince Warren (Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights) to engage in the conversation: Moving Forward: Defending Civil Liberties and Human Rights.

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