‘Palestine,’ Not Syria, on the Agenda at Annual U.N. Meeting on Status of Women

By Patrick Goodenough | February 28, 2012 | 4:42 AM EST

A Syrian woman injured in shelling by government forces stands at the entrance to her house in Homs on Wednesday Feb. 1, 2012. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – At a time when much of the world’s attention is fixed on a conflict in Syria that has left thousands dead, including hundreds of women, a United Nations policy body dealing with women has opened its annual session with an agenda that includes only one “country-specific” resolution -- and that country is not Syria.

The Israeli government, not the Assad regime, is the target of the one resolution dealing with a specific country situation under consideration during the Feb. 27-Mar. 9 session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.

A similar situation prevailed at last year’s CSW session, when the fast-escalating crisis in Libya was not seen as meriting a resolution, while the sole country-specific resolution that was adopted was one condemning Israel over the Palestinian issue.

This year’s resolution, entitled “Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women,” will be a follow-up to last year’s identically titled one, which passed by 26 votes to two – the United States and Israel – with eight countries abstaining.

The resolution calls Israel’s occupation of disputed territory “the major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society.”

It deplores “the systematic violation of their human rights resulting from the severe impact of ongoing illegal Israeli practices, including the construction and expansion of settlements and the Wall, which continue to constitute a major obstacle to peace on the basis of the two-state solution.” (“The Wall” refers to the security barrier Israel began building in 2002 between areas under its control and those administered by the Palestinian Authority, in a bid to deter suicide bombings and other terror attacks of the type that had cost hundreds of Israeli lives since the outbreak of the “second intifada” 20 months earlier.)

Estimates put the death toll in the violence that erupted in Syria in mid-March 2011 at well over 6,000, although numbers are not confirmed. A report before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this week cites figures by the Violations Documenting Center – which relies on medical records, victims’ families and burial information – showing that at least 244 women have been killed.

A U.N.-backed independent international commission of inquiry reported last November on what it called “widespread and systematic violations” by Syrian security forces, including sexual violence, rape and torture, although it also said it received limited evidence to back up witness accounts of sexual assaults against women.

During an interview with the Moroccan television service 2M in Rabat on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked which of the current crises and conflicts around the world she regarded as the “most sensitive” – not as America’s top diplomat but as a woman and a mother.

“Well, right now, Syria,” she replied. “That just is heartbreaking to see the deaths and the brutality.”

Earlier this month President Obama in a statement urging Syrian President Bashar Assad, again, to step down, condemned his regime for violence in Homs on Feb. 4, charging that it had “murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence.”

Iran helps to set the tone

While Syria is off the agenda, the main theme of this year’s CSW session is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

The U.S. delegation to the event is being led by Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and U.S. Delegate to the CSW, Melanne Verveer, the administration’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.

Dedicated to “gender equality and the advancement of women,” the CSW comprises 45 countries, elected for four-year terms. Among its members are Iran, which stood for a seat in April 2010 despite protests from more than 200 Iranian women’s rights activists who said Tehran would use its position “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.”

But Western democracies raised no objections, and Iran was consequently elected “by acclamation.”

Iran used its seat at last year’s CSW session to highlight the Iranian model for women, “based on Islamic values,” and to condemn Israel, calling the plight of Palestinian women “undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies of history faced by women in the contemporary era.”

Iran is graded near the bottom – in 125th place out of 135 countries – in the World Economic Forum’s 2011 “Global Gender Gap,” a rating of how successfully countries have closed gaps between women and men in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.

Other current members of the CSW that scored badly in the Global Gender Gap are Mauritania (114th) and India (113th).

Syria, which is not a member of the CSW, is in 124th place, one slot above Iran.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow