We are honored to introduce this special issue of Violence Against Women, titled “Prioritizing the Elimination of Violence Against Women Worldwide: Lessons from the 65th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.” The annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) have become the global meeting place for feminist activists, largely through the organizational enthusiasm of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGOCSW) New York, part of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO), that organizes parallel events at each CSW session. The articles in this issue comprise a selection of papers that resulted from presentations at these parallel events held during the Commission on the Status of Women’s 65th session (CSW65). We wish to thank Dr. Claire Renzetti, Chief Editor, Dr. Jeffrey Edleson, Associate Editor, and the journal editorial board members of VAW for providing an outlet for this scholarship. We also wish to thank Journal Editorial Assistant, Lisa Kistler, for her assistance in this process. In our guest editors’ introduction, we provide an overview of the Commission on the Status of Women, the organizations each of us represent who collaboratively sponsored our parallel events, our collaborative parallel event panels at CSW65, and a description of the scholarship published in this special issue.
The Commission on the Status of Women
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946. It is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. During the Commission’s annual session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York. They discuss the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, as well as emerging global issues related to gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women supports all aspects of the CSW’s work (https://www.unwomen.org/en/csw).
The 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) commenced on Monday, March 15, and continued through Friday, March 26, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related World Health Organization guidance, the 65th session took place virtually. The CSW65 priority theme was women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The twelve-day session included a ministerial segment with roundtables and other high-level interactive dialogues, a virtual townhall meeting, as well as interactive and expert panel discussions. UN Women and various stakeholders organized many side events and parallel events to draw attention to critical aspects of gender equality. The virtual parallel events organized by NGOCSW New York totaled more than 700 and more than 27,000 people participated in them.
The World Society of Victimology (WSV), the American Society of Criminology’s (ASC) Division of International Criminology (DIC), the International Sociological Association (ISA), and Criminologists Without Borders (CWB) partnered to host three parallel events through NGOCSW New York at CSW65. All three sessions were organized under the umbrella subject of “Feminist Approaches to Justice.” Collectively, the three panels featured presentations from 12 countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Liberia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. The collaborative sessions were originally planned for CSW64 when we were celebrating Beijing + 25, the 10th anniversary of UN Women, and the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CSW64 session was canceled. We are still celebrating these anniversaries, of course, as they are milestones for the global women’s movement. Our participation in the virtual events embodied UN Women’s CSW65 message: “In the Year the World Stopped, Women’s Rights Will Not.”
The Organizations We Represent Who Partnered to Sponsor Our CSW65 Events
The ASC (https://asc41.com/) is an academic and professional organization whose 4,000 + members from the United States and world pursue scholarly, scientific, and professional knowledge concerning the measurement, etiology, consequences, prevention, control, and treatment of crime and victimization. It holds special consultative status with the Economic Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). The ASC’s DIC (https://internationalcriminology.com) is comprised of educators, researchers, practitioners, and students interested in the field of international criminology.
CWB (criminologistswithoutborders.org) is a group of criminologists, researchers, professors, and those working in the field who seek to apply scientific findings and “best practices” to the policies and operations of crime prevention and criminal justice systems. It is a registered non-profit organization with special consultative status with ECOSOC that provides objective information and research to inform policy and programs dealing with crime and criminal justice. Criminologists without Borders provide annual research input to the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and the CSW.
The ISA (https://www.isa-sociology.org/en) was founded in 1948 under the auspices of UNESCO. Headquartered in Madrid, Spain, its goal is to represent sociologists everywhere, regardless of school of thought, scientific approaches, or ideological opinion, and to advance sociological knowledge throughout the world. Its 6,000 members come from 96 countries. It holds special consultative status with ECOSOC and is also registered with the UN Department of Global Communications.
The WSV (www.worldsocietyofvictimology.org) is an international NGO with Special Category consultative status with the Economic Social Council of the UN and the Council of Europe. The WSV works to advance victimological research and practices around the world, encourage interdisciplinary and comparative work and research in the field of victimology and advance cooperation between international, national, regional, and local agencies and other groups concerned with the problems of victims. Among the WSV members’ areas of interest and expertise include the fields of social services and women’s rights.
The Collaborative CSW65 Parallel Event Panels
The “International Responses to Sexual Violence” panel was co-sponsored by the International Sociological Association (ISA) and Criminologists without Borders and chaired by Dr. Rosemary Barberet. The panel focused on the responses to sexual violence that is related to armed conflict as well as sexual violence that occurs outside that context. Dr. Sari Hanafi, President of the ISA and Professor of Sociology at the American University of Beirut, gave introductory remarks. Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN, Initiator of the conceptual breakthrough for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 as the Security Council President in March 2000 and Founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP) presented “1325’s 20th Anniversary: Feminism Should Drive the WPS Agenda.” Dr. Mary Okumu, who recently retired from her post at UN Women in Sierra Leone, presented “Important Efforts to Stop Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone.” Dr. Rhoda Reddock, expert member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 2018–2022, Emerita Professor, Gender, Social Change and Development, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad, and Tobago, and ISA Executive Committee Member, gave an overview of CEDAW and Violence Against Women. Passy Mubalama, women’s rights activist, Founder of Action and Development Initiatives to Protect Women and Children (AIDPROFEN) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and NGOCSW 2020 Woman of Distinction Awardee, spoke about “Women and Girls as Victims of Sexual Violence: Consequences and Community Perceptions.” Dr. Laura Guercio, Member of the Coordination Committee of Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict (UNETCHAC), Professor, University of Perugia, and Head of International Relations for the International Criminal Bar Association, presented “Guaranteeing a Future for Girls Affected by Armed Conflict: Concerns Identified by the International Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict (UNETCHAC),” and Jasmine Hwang and Sebastián Galleguillos, graduates of the Master of Arts Degree Program in International Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice presented their research on “Best Police Practices Around the Globe: Improving Responses to Sexual Violence.” A lively Q&A was moderated by Dr. Jan Marie Fritz, ISA Executive Committee Member and Representative to the UN, Professor, University of Cincinnati, Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Johannesburg, and Visiting Professor at Taylor’s University (Malaysia).
The “Addressing Incarcerated and Returning Women Worldwide” panel was co-sponsored by the World Society of Victimology and chaired and moderated by Dr. Dawn Beichner. Dr. Claire M. Renzetti, Editor of Violence Against Women, Professor and Chair of Sociology, University of Kentucky (United States) provided introductory comments that highlighted the intersecting nature of violence against women and women’s offending. Dr. Jennifer Cobbina-Dungy, Associate Professor, Michigan State University (United States) discussed “Bringing the ‘Invisible Population’ to Light: Justice for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women.” Attorney Mmonbeydo Nadine Joah, Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Organization for Women and Children (Liberia) presented “Feminist Approach to Addressing the Challenges Facing Incarcerated Women in Liberia.” Attorney Prue Kapua, National President, Maori Women’s Welfare League (New Zealand) highlighted “The Rampant Incarceration of Indigenous Women: The Aotearoa/New Zealand Experience.” Dr. Dawn Beichner and Dr. Otmar Hagemann, Professor, Fachhochschule Kiel (Germany) concluded the panel with “A Global View of Women, Prison, and Aftercare: Promising Practices.”
The “International Approaches to Coordinating Community Responses: Violence Against Women” panel was chaired and moderated by Dr. Sheetal Ranjan. Dr. Sanja Kutnjak Ivkovich, Chair, ASC’s Division of International Criminology and Professor, Michigan State University (United States) provided introductory comments about the Division and its international focus. Dr. Ineke Haen Marshall, Editor, International Criminology and Professor, Northeastern University (United States) provided an overview of DIC’s new journal. Dr. Sheetal Ranjan presented the “Theoretical Framework for Coordinating Community Responses: Violence Against Women.” Dr. Vasiliki Artinopoulou, Professor, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences; Director of the Restorative Justice and Mediation Lab; and Director of the Institute on Crime and Criminal Justice, European Public Law Organization (Greece) spoke about “The European Victims’ Rights Directive (2012/29/EU): Reflections on Article 26 Cooperation and Coordination of Services,” and the goal of coordination of community responses not being achieved nine years since the directive, and highlighted recent reports in the European context. Videos and documents provided by UN Women discussed “Lessons From the Implementation of UN-Women’s Integrated Global Initiative on Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls” that began as a multi-stakeholder global initiative in the cities of Quito (Ecuador), Cairo (Egypt), New Delhi (India), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea), and Kigali (Rwanda), and has now grown to include 50 + cities and continues to achieve positive results with its partners. Clara Alemann, Director of Programs, Promundo-US (United States) spoke about Promundo’s gender-transformative efforts for “Engaging Men and Boys to Prevent Gender-Based Violence Through Community-Based Programs” in 20 + countries in the Global South. Dean Peacock, Director, Confronting Militarized Masculinities, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (South Africa) spoke about his involvement in the VAW movement and provided “Reflections After 30 Years: Successes, Challenges and New Directions in Efforts to Address Men’s Violence Against Women.”
The Special Issue Description
The articles in this special issue were selected from papers submitted by presenters at parallel events organized in conjunction with the CSW65. We approached selected presenters from our collaborative panels, as well as those presenting on related topics. The manuscripts were sent for double-blind peer review. The foreword and the ten articles in this special issue highlight several international examples of violence against women, as well as contemporary activism and reform aimed at eliminating violence against women and girls—part of the priority theme of the CSW65 and the overarching goal of this journal.
The first two articles in this special issue center on violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, Dr. Ayorkor Gaba, Dr. Roseanne Flores, Dr. María Rebecca Ward, and Bailey Pridgen examine “Addressing the Dual Pandemics of Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19: A Case Study from Puerto Rico.” The authors discuss the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has increased gender-based violence and impacted progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They provide an overview of problems in Puerto Rico as well as practice and policy recommendations. Next, Dr. Elsie Yan, Dr. Daniel W.L. Lai, Dr. Vincent W.P. Lee, Dr. Xue Bai, and Haze K.L. NG provide “Abuse and Discrimination Experienced by Older Women in the Era of COVID-19: A Two-wave Representative Community Survey in Hong Kong.” The authors consider elder abuse of women in Hong Kong both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing insight into the increased effects of vulnerabilities on victimization prevalence.
The next subset of articles in the issue highlights examples of State violence against women. Ruth Birgin, Adrià Cots Fernández, Marie Nougier, and Coletta Youngers are activist scholars who present “Women Mobilizing for Change: Resisting State Violence From Repressive Drug Policies.” Their article examines the disproportionate health and safety harms that women face due to punitive and stigmatizing drug laws. Next, Dr. Dawn Beichner and Dr. Otmar Hagemann, in “A Global View of Women, Prison, and Aftercare: A Call for Reform,” and Dr. Jennifer Cobbina-Dungy in “Bringing the ‘Invisible Population’ to Light: Justice for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women” provide examples of how women’s mistreatment in justice systems and prisons worldwide constitute additional forms of State violence against women.
Another subarea of articles in the special issue centers on sexual violence against women. First, Shyamala Y.M. Gomez contributes “A Measure of Justice: Alternatives to Pursuing Criminal Accountability for Conflict Related to Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka.” The article addresses conflict related to sexual violence and the ways in which the criminal justice process dissuades victim survivors’ pursuits of justice. Second, Dr. Laura Guercio offers “Child Female Population Affected by Armed Conflict Violence: Constructing Legal Categories of Girls and Girl Children,” which calls into question the definitional problems implicit in our approaches to addressing female victims and survivors of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.
The special issue concludes with a series of articles addressing victim support and assistance efforts worldwide. The section begins with an article titled, “The United Nations Victim Approach Revisited: A Review of the Literature on Domestic and Gender Violence Hotlines” by Sebastián Galleguillos and Katheryne Pugliese. The authors examine various aspects of hotline technology, including disclosures of victimizations and overall interactions with justice system staff. Next, Dr. Sheetal Ranjan and Dr. Jared Dmello offer “Proposing a Unified Framework for Coordinated Community Response,” which outlines why such responses are an effective strategy for addressing and eliminating violence against women. The special issue concludes with an article by Dean Peacock on “Moving Beyond a Reliance on Criminal Legal Strategies to Address the Root Causes of Domestic and Sexual Violence.” The author suggests that there has been an over-reliance on the criminal justice system as a response to violence against women and that efforts should instead be dedicated to prevention strategies.
Prioritizing the Pursuit to Eliminate Violence Against Women Worldwide
We must recognize the pervasiveness of violence against women and girls worldwide. The World Health Organization (2021) estimates that one in three or 30% of women worldwide have encountered intimate partner and/or sexual victimization in their lifetimes. UN Women (2020) has reported extensively on what it calls “The Shadow Pandemic” or the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated violence against women and increased women’s vulnerabilities. We join all those involved in the 65th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and NGOCSW in nurturing a vibrant and forward-looking international dialogue about the elimination of violence against women.
The main outcome of the CSW is a document adopted by consensus, called Agreed Conclusions (Commission on the Status of Women Sixty-Fifth Session, 2021). The 22-page Agreed Conclusions to CSW65 was the result of tense negotiations and tepid consensus among UN member states. While previous gains were not lost, stronger language that would move the goal of gender equality forward was relinquished. The language included in the Agreed Conclusions is important because it represents the commitments that UN member States make to empower women and girls, and allows holding governments accountable. If rollbacks are not to occur, it is imperative for the academic community to join forces with activists for these deliberations to make progress towards true equality. The articles in this special issue provide global examples of the problem of violence against women and girls from multiple perspectives and countries; they offer recommendations for policy and practice to move us forward in prioritizing the elimination of violence and true gender equality.