Running concurrent with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School co-organized an event in New York City with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) on March 4 to discuss their report: “‘They are Destroying our Futures’: Sexual Violence Against Girls in Zambia’s Schools.” According to the report, over fifty percent of the 105 school girls interviewed personally experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment by a teacher, student, or man they encountered while travelling to or from school. This year's theme of the UNCSW centered on: “Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls.”
Panelists at the Avon Global Center/WLSA event included: Hon. Gertrude Chawatama, Judge of the High Court of Zambia and Commissioner of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya; Hon. Ellen Gesmer, Justice of the New York Supreme Court; Elizabeth Brundige, Executive Director of the Avon Global Center; Matrine Chuulu, Regional Coordinator of WLSA; Nondumiso Nsibande, Legal Services and Advocacy Manager of People Opposing Women Abuse; and Maimbo Ziela, National Coordinator of WLSA-Zambia. Justice Chawatama called for increased efforts to educate law officers on gender-based violence issues and to strengthen prevention and response efforts in the region. She spoke of the need to train law officers to enforce existing domestic, regional, and international laws.
“The event was an exciting opportunity to continue the discussions begun at the Avon Global Center’s 2012 Women and Justice Conference, this time as part of the events surrounding the UNCSW,” said Elizabeth Brundige. “Participants shared strategies that ranged from the use of social media, to community-based programs to displace discriminatory gender norms, to judicial innovations aimed at making courts more comfortable for child victims of violence. Such creative solutions are critical to combatting the sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence that remain prevalent in southern Africa and throughout the world.”
On March 13, Brundige also spoke at a UNCSW side event on “Custodial Violence Against Women” convened by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo. Brundige told the audience that the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and the Cornell Law International Human Rights Clinic “have been conducting comparative research on the causes, conditions, and consequences of women’s imprisonment globally, particularly as they relate to violence against women.”
“Our research has shown that violence against women is frequently a cause of women’s incarceration,” said Brundige. “Studies of women in prison reveal a strong correlation between violence against women and women’s imprisonment, some suggesting that seventy, eighty, even ninety percent of women in prison are survivors of sexual or physical violence.”
“Our comparative research is really just a starting point, but it reveals that violence is undoubtedly a cause, condition, and consequence of women’s imprisonment throughout the world,” continued Brundige. “This suggests that much more must be done.”