By Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE
and Dr. Mischa E. Thompson, Director of Global Partnerships, Policy, and Innovation
On November 16-17, 2021, for the first time since 2017, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Right (ODIHR) held its annual Human Rights Seminar on preventing and combating violence against women and girls. The event assessed participating States’ implementation of OSCE commitments on preventing and combating violence against women, identified continuing challenges and successes in addressing the problem, and examined opportunities to further engage OSCE institutions and other stakeholders in finding solutions.
Given continued efforts by some participating States to block the OSCE’s human rights agenda, including Russia’s successful blockade of the 2021 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the return of the Human Dimension Seminar was lauded by Ambassador Ulrika Funered of the Swedish Chair-in-Office (CiO) and Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs UN Director Pawel Radomski of the incoming Polish CiO.
Noting “the particular importance of regular gatherings in promotion of human rights” and the “unique meetings characterized by meaningful discussions between civil society and participating States,” Director Radomski underlined Poland’s staunch commitment to holding human dimension events during its upcoming 2022 Chairmanship.
Other speakers at the hybrid event—hosted in Warsaw, Poland, as well as online—included ODIHR Director Matteo Meccaci; Special Representative of the OSCE Chairpersonship on Gender Liliana Palihovici; and Special Representative of the OSCE Parliament Assembly (PA) on Gender Issues Dr. Hedy Fry.
Speakers underscored the prevalence of violence against women in political and public life; violence against women belonging to vulnerable groups, especially migrants, refugees, and persons with disabilities; and the impact of the pandemic on women and girls.
Dr. Fry shared her alarm at recent violence targeting women in politics, from the January 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol that targeted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to the physical and online violence targeting British parliamentarian Diane Abbott. She attributed the violence to the “boldness” of women daring to enter spaces traditionally dominated by men and the subsequent efforts by men to silence them.
Dr. Mona Lena Krook, Professor and Chair of the Women & Politics Ph.D. Program at Rutgers University, highlighted the physical and psychological violence targeting women in politics and the subsequent but related dangers of women exiting politics to avoid harm to them and their families.
The work of Edita Miftari, an alumna of TILN, the young leaders program organized by the Helsinki Commission and the German Marshall Fund, was highlighted by Adnan Kadribasic of the Bosnian management consulting company, Lucid Linx. In discussing the Balkan situation, he observed that female politicians experience discrimination and harassment but do not have reliable mechanisms for redress.
Discussion panels and side events focused on the escalation of violence experienced by women during pandemic quarantines, the impact of the pandemic on women returning to the workforce, and strategies to protect migrant and refugee women. Several speakers raised the intersectional nature of violence against women, including increased violence towards women of color, and special circumstances faced by disabled women.
Representatives of participating States showcased efforts to support women in leadership positions and programs to address violence. Civil society participants from Central Asian and other countries expressed concern about some participating States using women’s initiatives to cultivate political favor instead of addressing issues of disparities and discrimination. Others noted that progress had been made but voiced ongoing concern about how the pandemic negatively affected gains made previously in the workforce and in addressing domestic violence.
The event was attended by more than three hundred participants, including representatives from more than 50 OSCE participating States. Dr. Mischa Thompson attended on behalf of the Helsinki Commission.