Foreign Policy Blogs

99 Red Balloons

Stop violence against women, courtesy bea2.0/Flickr (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Next week, starting March 4, the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at U.N. HQ in New York. The main focus of CSW57 will be the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.” A worthy cause, and one which in my ideal world wouldn’t actually be an issue since everyone would be treated with respect, regardless of their supposed “position” in society.

But since Cateopia doesn’t exist, we’re left with the world we live in, one getting ready to celebrate International Women’s Day (also next week, on March 8). There are however a couple of little dark clouds in the sky, one hovering over the U.S. (and if we’re being specific, it’s centered on Washington, D.C.) and the other over Europe.

Game of Life

More than 500 days ago, the “Violence Against Women Act,” commonly shortened to VAWA, expired in the U.S. Passed in 1994 and renewed in 2000 and 2005, an extended version of the act is up for approval today in the House of Representatives. That it wasn’t renewed sooner is a little disheartening, but as Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney noted in her article earlier today, “somehow in this sad new world of partisan politics and endless rancor, even the Violence Against Women Act has become a political football.”

The U.N. Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and violence against women have urged the US Government to endorse the Senate Bill,

“We would like to reiterate the importance of reauthorizing VAWA in order to build upon its accomplishments and continue striving for more adequate responses from the authorities in providing protection to victims and ensuring accountability for perpetrators.”

Sounds reasonable enough.

But which version of VAWA will be approved will impact greatly on certain minorities, as the House and Senate Bills differ in provision regarding LGBT and Native American women. How will the debate unfold? Will (serious) compromises have to be made at the expense of minority groups to ensure VAWA gets renewed at all, giving at least some coverage to most women? It’s not a thought I wish to contemplate as the power of getting to play G-d with women’s lives is a responsibility some politicians don’t seem to have comprehended.

The other grey cloud is floating above Europe. 99 weeks ago, the Council of Europe formally adopted the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence — also referred to as the Istanbul Convention. Awesome! As the council’s website states,

“The Convention leaves no doubt: there can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye.”

Yes! Progress! Well…

Same Same But Different

Of the CoE’s 47 member states, only 25 have actually signed it, the most recent being Andorra, on February 22, 2013. The Convention will only come into effect however once ten states have ratified it. And that number stands (as of the time of writing) at a very paltry three.


Only Portugal, Albania and Turkey have managed to get so far as ratification.

Incredibly, Switzerland, San Marino, Ireland and Denmark (alongside former members of the Soviet Union) haven’t even managed to sign it. 99 weeks apparently isn’t enough time to comprehend that unfortunately, women bear the brunt of domestic violence and should have recourse to protection. 99 weeks is also not enough time to condemn discrimination against women and recognize that violence against women is a violation of human rights.

Million Women Rise are encouraging women to wear red on their march on International Women’s Day as it symbolizes “the colour of woman and her blood, the blood of our sisters who have been murdered and raped, our blood which contains life, courage, respect, dignity and protection.”

There are also 99 red balloons floating in the sky, one for each week of painfully slow progress the CoE has made on the Istanbul Convention.



Cate Mackenzie

Cate works as an editor in Zürich, Switzerland. She holds an MA in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich, and a BA (Hons) in International Studies with Political Science from the University of Birmingham (UK).

She has previously lived and worked in Fiji and the US.