Every year, during the first two weeks of March, representatives from countries around the world gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW addresses different themes each year, examining the progress made on achieving gender equity and other policies that advance the fundamental rights of women and girls around the world.
This year, for CSW 57, Vice-President Maureen Weinberger and I were ETFO’s representatives at the commission. We connected with 20 other women whose organizations are members of the Canadian Labour Congress to form the Canadian trade union delegation. This delegation joined with 85 women from across the globe, including representatives of the Global Union Federation delegation, members of Education International including member organizations of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, representatives of the International Trade Union Confederation, Public Services International, and UNI Global Union.
The CSW is an important opportunity to contribute to an international dialogue intended to improve the lives of women and girls, locally and internationally. Each year the CSW has a different theme that focuses on an area essential to human rights. This year, the priority theme was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
The theme of violence against women is critically important from a national and international perspective. It is important for us as Canadians to recognize that throughout the world, millions of women face unspeakable horrors – women who are victims of violence and rape in areas of armed conflict and refugee camps, women who are subject to violence in their homes or in communities where they have no rights or opportunity to seek protection. Our presence and advocacy at the United Nations allow us to give voice to those who would otherwise be silenced – advocating for a better life for them and for their daughters.
However, our presence and work at the commission are also important from a Canadian perspective, particularly at this time. Violence is a stark reality confronting thou- sands of Canadian women and girls. Half of Canadian women have survived at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. As teachers, it is important to realize that a minimum of 1 million Canadian children have witnessed violence against their mothers by their fathers or father figures. One also cannot overlook the “epidemic of violence which is continuing to claim more lives and irreparably harm more families every month” and the “over 582 occurrences of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls” (Native Women’s Association of Canada).
The CSW is the forum where we hold our own government accountable. In spite of the statistics and the reality confronting thousands of Canadian women, the Harper government has made significant cuts to women’s programs. Those cuts have had a devastating impact on groups supporting women who are victims of violence.
Promoting equity and social justice has been a key priority for ETFO since its inception and is essential to ETFO’s goal of working with others to create schools, communities, and a society free from all forms of individual and systemic discrimination. The United Nations is one of the forums where ETFO is active, working at the international level to advance the rights of women and girls.
Every ETFO member wants to ensure that the students who enter into their classrooms and schools each day are in a safe and enabling environment. For ETFO, that priority is extended as we work to eliminate violence against women and girls in Canada and beyond. Not only do we create safer, more inclusive schools, we also work towards creating a better and safer society for all. That is the essence of what we are about as a union.