PEN at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, 2018

Jennifer Clement, Elizabeth Starcevic

by Elizabeth Starcevic, President Emerita, PEN San Miguel, Mexico

Although the highlighted topic this year at the UN’s  Commission on the Status of Women was “Rural Women and Girls”, many of these women were denied visas and therefore unfortunately were not able to represent their concerns in person. Discussions about rural women referred to property rights. Although women work the land everywhere, many lack property rights. They cannot inherit, as widows they cannot pass their land and possessions on to their children. They also need clean water, education, small loans, and safe access to markets and credit. They must be free from all forms of violence. Data on land ownership and inheritance practices in each country is needed.

Taboos and cultural traditions that affirm patriarchy and are invoked to repress women must be fought at all levels of society: the family, religious institutions, schools, refugee situations and all levels of government.

Many countries reported their ongoing efforts. One example was “one stop” sanctuaries where women can be helped with health issues, legal counsel and refuge from violence all in one place. These places – as reported by a delegate from India- have much in common with efforts reported last year by a Brazilian delegate: well staffed, well trained multi-service offerings located in one institution so that women can find their various needs addressed in one safe, supported place. Many more are needed.

Women and media were discussed in many panels, often focusing on sexism and parity in decision-making within media institutions. Where are the women in leadership positions? How many articles, stories etc. are written by women? about women? How much funding is available for women? Is ageism a factor? Where are the women on juries for literary prizes? How is women journalists’ work distributed? Data must be collected and disseminated.

Women are more likely to be victims of the violence of hate speech. Governments and media organizations have failed to elaborate strategies against cyber abuse which is growing everywhere. This includes the circulation of pornography and video games which show violence against women. Online harassment focused on their family and children has forced some women to leave journalism and makes young women question whether they should enter the field. PEN president Jennifer Clement spoke on the panel “Safe Journalists, Strong Democracies” of the role of PEN in supporting writers in danger and in prison and of PEN’s work with sanctuary cities and refugee writers. She talked about PEN’s new Women’s Manifesto that speaks to the principles of freedom of expression and equality for women everywhere.

Journalists around the world need to expose the way false information/hate messaging is distributed on line by various news and social media platforms. Governments must be held accountable for this violence. Situations have deteriorated in so many parts of the world; it remains important to recognize the efforts of the many women and men who continue working to make the world a better place.