The World YWCA Supports the Rights of Women in the Pacific
On May 4, 2011, the World YWCA participated in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations, which is being held in Geneva on May 2-13, 2011. The World YWCA, in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Asia Pacific Women Law and Development and with support from the Netherlands, organised a side event on Pacific Human Rights Issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council 11th Session of the UPR Working Group.
The panel of speakers was composed of individuals and organisations that work on women’s rights issues in the Pacific. The speakers voiced their experiences and recommendations on women’s rights issues, stating that most of the time these issues are overseen by the international community. Seema Naidu from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) opened the side event and discussed the impact of climate change on communities in the Pacific. She further explored how climate change has deepened the existing health, economic, security and social challenges.
Jenta Tau, Programme Associate of the World YWCA, spoke on violence against women in the Pacific. She presented statistics that demonstrated the extent and severity of violence suffered by women in the region. “Investing in young women is an opportunity to change lives in the Pacific. It is time to close the gap between commitment and action.”
Other speakers included Marilyn Hayini from the Bougainville Human Rights Defenders Network. Hayini presented a case study form Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, and discussed women in conflict and post conflict. Women in the region are not included in the peace process, and violations that occur in times of conflict are often not dealt with in Papua New Guinea. Polygamy, rape, single mothers and other post conflict problems are typically overlooked in the reconciliation process. Hayini shared many sad stories, as well as stories of the courageous engagement of women to address the problems that they face in such situations.
Other speeches discussed the discrimination women in the Pacific face when accessing health information, education and employment opportunities. The Pacific also lacks adequate legislation and laws that protect women, and disabled women are the most vulnerable to this type of exclusion.
Michelle Higelin-Beg, World YWCA Deputy General Secretary, also attended the Pacific side event. “Women in this region need support, and some of these facts are very shocking to me,” said Higelin-Beg. The World YWCA Power to Change Fund offers support to several countries in the Pacific region and deals specifically with the empowerment of women and girls.
The Universal Periodic Review is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.
The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council itself. It is a cooperative process which, by 2011, aims to review the human rights records of every country. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is one of the key elements of the new Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this new mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.