On 23 October 2014, the side event of Third Committee, 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, titled “Women in Custody- Gender Equality Challenges and Opportunities in Crisis and Conflict Situations” took place at General Assembly Building, UN headquarter in New York.
The side event provided an overview of the problems faced by women in custody, from the pathways leading to incarceration and the detention conditions for women in custody. Focusing on both on-crisis and post-conflict situations, this event also introduces UN programming and good practices on women in conflict with the law.
The event started with a welcoming remark by H.E. Mr. Norachit Sinhaseni, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand, who introduced the Bangkok Rules to the audience. Many women prisoners around the world are usually vulnerable for facing sexual abuses and being pregnant. In addressing this issue, in December 2010, UN General Assembly adopted The UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, also called “the Bangkok Rules”. Thailand has constantly promoted the implementation of Bangkok Rules, and places the priority on the issue of women in the Post-2015 Agenda.
Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and Andrea Huber, a Policy Director from Penal Reform International explained the situations of women in custody. As they both emphasized, women in custody facing violence and unequal treatments is a controversial issue and too often human rights violation and discrimination against women in custody are overlooked. Women in detention face the direct and indirect result of discrimination. For example, some women are held in crimes to protect themselves from sexual and physical abuses. Women prisoners, who face very different realities from those of men and boys, are composed of only 5% of the total prisoners around the world. Problems like lack of access to hygiene products and educational trainings are not properly addressed. Furthermore, women prisoners also face emotional, physical, and sexual violence, and other issues such as sex trafficking, abortion, and moral crimes.
Norul Rashid, Gender and Rule of Law Specialist from UN Women explained UN Women’s approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment in justice and security sectors. Cooperating with UNDP, UN Women has provided constant support by designing specialized programmes on rehabilitation and alternatives, creating gender specific services that take into account of female development, providing programmes on development of skills that may lead to a future state of economic independence, and providing programmes on transition to the community.
Katy Thomson, Policy Advisor from UNDP shared his experience working on women prisoners’ human rights protection. In Africa, women prisoners are detained for a lengthy period of time with neither toilet facilities nor the separation from men. In most countries, only a few NGOs understand the differences for women in custody that are able to provide help occasionally. However, it is very important to address this issue with member states in order to make a constant change.
Following with the speech by Kaoru Okuizumi, the Active Chief from DPKO. He provided an overview of UN Peacekeeping Operation’s work in addressing this overlooked gender quality challenge. Currently, there are twelve UN Peacekeeping Operation Correction Officers working in this field. Their work includes 1) give prisoners the humanity in prisons 2) equal rights of women and men during all states of the transitional process 3) providing technical support 4) national correction services 5) implementing strategies for gender equality, measurement, pregnant women and mothers and 6) mentoring and advising.
There is still a long way to go to build gender equality in custody and to ensure women in post-conflict settings are not forgone. In September 2012, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed DPKO and UNDP as the Global Focal Point for the Police, Justice, and Corrections (GFP) areas in the Rule of Law. In a collective effort, UN Women, UNDP, DPKO, and other UN agencies and entities, are able to bring together expertise and resources in the area of women in custody.
To learn more about the UN Bangkok Rules on Women Offenders and Prisoners, please visit:
UN Youth Representative for Foundation for the Support of the United Nations (FSUN)
On 9 September 2014, Mr. John W. Ashe, the president of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, convened the UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace. This Forum opened a platform for the UN member states, UN system entities, and civil societies to exchange ideas and give suggestions about how to promote and build the Culture of Peace. The forum included panel discussions on the role of women and youths to the culture of peace, and global citizenship as a pathway to the culture of peace.
The session began with opening remarks by H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, as mentioned above, and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. He provided the background information that on 13 September 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, number 52/243, known as the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. The document includes eight action areas of the Culture of Peace, including:
"1. Fostering a culture of peace through education.
2. Promoting sustainable economic and social development.
3. Promoting respect for all human rights.
4. Ensuring equality between women and men.
5. Fostering democratic participation.
6. Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity.
7. Supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge.
8. Promoting international peace and security. "
United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, following the same sentiment, explained, “peace means access to education, health and essential services – especially for girls and women. It means giving every young woman and man the chance to live as they choose. It also means developing sustainably and protecting the planet’s biodiversity. More than ever, it means living with others on the basis of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.” However, there is still a need of peacekeeping and conflict resolution in today’s world. Each one of us should respect the right to be different: respect differences on culture, nationalities, languages, and ethnicities, traditions, and histories.
“We must have to raise the level of tolerance among all of us.” He stressed at the end of his speech.
Following is the panel discussion on “the Role and Contributions of Women and Youth to the Culture of Peace”, which featured H.E. Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Mr. Oliver Rizzi Carlson, Representative to the United Nations for the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, and several other women leaders who demonstrated their women leadership role in different fields for peace building, including Ms. Lakhsmi Puri, Assistant Secretary- General of the UN Women, Ms. Kathleen Kuehnast, Director of the Center for Gender and Peacebuilding in the US Institute of Peace( USIP), and Ms. Sanam Anderlini, Co-Founder of International Civil Society Action Network(ICAN), etc.
Mr. Alhendawi states that today’s young generation is the largest of the world ever seen. However, they are paying the price for conflicts. He further emphasized the inclusion of youths in building the Culture of Peace. “It is not only about providing shelters and food. It is about providing hope,” said Mr. Alhendawi.
Cooperation and communication are the keys to achieve peace. The panel did not only emphasize the important role of youths in Culture and Peace, but also the participation of women. The society needs to empower more women in leadership positions in leading peace, and men should act as change partners. Furthermore, commitment and funding go hand in hand. Resources should also be provided to launch the peaceful action.
In addition, Mr. Alhendawi called every attendees’ attention to “ work together to ensure that the largest generation of youth is the opportunity, not the liability of our time.”
The second interactive panel on “Global Citizenship as a Pathway to the Culture of Peace” stressed the importance of youths’ participation in building the culture of peace. Peace is about the process, the ability to work together, and to develop the ability. Youths are transformers. Through expressions and dialogues, they learn about peace and respect diversity. However, they also need to be supported by adults.
Global Citizen means belong not only to a national grouping, but also a larger family. The United Nations’ contribution to global citizenship is through the “Global Citizenship Education” (GCE). One of UNESCO’s Education Programme and the priority of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, GCE helps learners of all ages to equip knowledge and skills based on human rights, social justice, diversity, gender equality, and environmental sustainability.
September 21 is the International Day of Peace. Mr. Oliver Rizzi Carlson from the United Network of Young Peacebuilders urged everyone to contribute to peace building. “Whatever we choose to focus on, we will get more in life”, as he said.
The forum ends with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Everyone can contribute to the Culture of Peace. Simply through a smile to strangers, a focused eye to those who are talking, or a hand to those in need, we are all making a positive change. Let’s take action and be change makers!
To learn more about the International Day of Peace, and what the United Nations is doing to build the Culture of Peace, please visit:
UN Youth Representative for Foundation for the Support of the United Nations (FSUN)
Li Wang is the Deputy Chair of UN DPI Youth Representative Executive Board. She also serves as the UN Youth Representative for FSUN. She serves the mission of FSUN and empowers youth worldwide. She is passionate about sharing global youth perspectives with civil society in an effort to tackle pressing issues and forward the UN agenda.