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Reflections from CSW: The continuum of violence in silencing and shutting down women

March 23 2015 By CARA GLEESON

Violence starts with power, privilege and inequity. This was reinforced at the UN Commission of the Status (CSW) of Women this year in New York, where I met with and heard from hundreds of women's rights activists and defenders from all over the world.

Photo of CSW participants Image

I heard about the extremes acts of violence perpetrated and violence threatened to women who speak out in their community about gender inequality, oppression, violence against women, economic insecurity and sexual reproductive health rights. The list of acts they endure is long and includes imprisonment, life threats, murder, disappearing, threats to the family and sexual violence.

Unfortunately this is nothing new. Women who speak out about the state of their societies and work towards equality and respect have long been targeted. Too often, their own community members, their leaders, their governments that they call on to change target them as a consequence. 

What surprised me this time was how apparent the continuum of shutting down and silencing of women and girls is. While it can end with cases of execution and rape it starts in trolling of young women on social media and social bullying girls receive at school. 

I heard from a 16-year-old student in the United Kingdom that spoke of being shut down and discouraged by her teacher when she discussed issues like inequality. In particular being told to settle down, as she was getting too emotional and therefore irrational. 

I heard from women, mainly young women under 30, from different continents around the world, who spoke being targeted on social media for expressing their preferences, choices and beliefs. Sometimes the perpetrators perceived these attacks as merely harmless jokes, sometimes these were one off attacks in direct response to specific feminist content; some of these trolling attacks went to the level of to death threats or calls for these young women to kill themselves and do the world a favour. Many of these experiences included targeting of around intersectionality, the targeting of the women’s many features of their identity but gender always front and centre in the tone and content chosen.

I’ve heard of women's choice in their lives being limited by stereotypes that restrict them to rigid gender roles. I have heard how women have received their communities’ wrath if they deviated in terms of choosing education over marriage, wanting to be a doctor, wanting to go to a school where they weren't singled out for their gender and/or cultural identity.

The thing about these stories of gendered trolling and persecution of women deviating from rigid gender roles that these sounded all to familiar. In reflecting I realised they were very similar to the many stories that I have been hearing and seeing from women in Australia including my friends and family. Here’s a clip from Mamamia that captures it well

Until women and girls enjoy safe, equal and respectful spaces in their communities, whether it be real world or the digital world, we will never get the equality we need to eliminate violence against women whether it be intimate partner violence in Australia or the systematic targeting of women's rights defenders around the world. 

Cara Gleeson is Project Manager: Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence at Our Watch. She was ​participating in CSW as part of the YWCA Australia. The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organisations   from all regions of the world attended the session.