04/03/2003
Press Release
WOM/1388



Commission on Status of Women

Forty-seventh Session

3rd Meeting (AM)


BREAKING SILENCE, STRENGTHENING LEGISLATION ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, TRAFFICKING

IN WOMEN KEY ISSUES FOR WOMEN’S COMMISSION PANEL


Breaking the silence and strengthening legislation on domestic violence and trafficking in women were among the key issues raised this morning, as the Commission on the Status of Women held a panel discussion focused on women’s human rights and eliminating violence against women and girls.


The morning panel was the second held by the Commission addressing the current session’s major themes –- women and the media, and violence against women.  Today’s panel was made up of:  Zhang Lixi, Vice-President of China’s Women’s University; Vera Duarte Lobo de Pina, Coordinator of the National Committee of Human Rights of Cape Verde; Barbara Limanowska, Special Adviser on Trafficking for various international organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Ayse Feride Acar, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


In an opening statement, Ms. Zhang presented her paper on “Creating a world free of violence against women”, and stressed that domestic violence must be considered a social issue.  Cultural and social beliefs remained obstacles to the safety of women in society and in the home, she said.  Domestic violence resulted from the unequal distribution of power between men and women in society and the subordination of women. 


Legislation must be strengthened and made accessible to victims, as many women were unaware of legislation protecting their rights, she continued.  Other recommendations included greater international concern and cooperation, government responsibility, the full integration of gender perspectives and the responsibility of the mass media in developing a violence-free society. 


Ms. de Pina told delegates that several forms of discrimination and violence against women continued worldwide, despite the ratification by many nations of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.


A new protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women aimed to combat social practices and laws that were antagonistic to women, she added.  The document considered specific discrimination against women, including polygamy and the rights of widows.  It also addressed the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into laws with implications for development.


Concerning trafficking, Ms. Limanowska presented the results of an expert group meeting on the issue and said it was a serious problem for countries of origin, transit and destination.  She noted that during the last 10 years,

trafficking in women had become more visible and had been placed on the international agenda. 


However, she continued, the number of trafficking victims had not decreased; the number of women assisted had not decreased; and the number of conviction of traffickers had not increased.  The expert group’s findings included recommendations to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies; improve government responsibility; better identify victims; train committed staff; and increase resources.


Ms. Acar said the international community was still far from a shared notion of women’s rights, as outlined in the Anti-Discrimination Convention.  The Convention had not been universally ratified by 2000, as targeted.  Also, it still had the largest number of reservations of any human rights treaty, suggesting that many States were still unprepared to fully abide by women’s rights.


National implementation of the Convention remained the bottleneck for women’s human rights, she said.  Some States’ constitutions still made no reference to gender equality, or lacked a clear definition of discrimination.  Governments often overlooked violations of women’s rights in such areas as family law and reproductive choice due to culture, customs or religion, inhibiting firm responses from the international community.


In a subsequent question and answer session, many delegates raised the trafficking issue, pointing out that it was a lucrative business for organized crime and stressing that more focus was needed on its root cause -– extreme poverty -- as well as on the reasons for women’s vulnerability in society.  In that connection, some speakers suggested women’s vulnerability was due to obstacles to their political participation.  Others pointed to male roles and expressions of masculinity as key factors in violence against women.


Responding, panellists said that if root causes were not addressed, both with regard to trafficking and domestic violence, violence against women would not be eliminated.  Concerning legislation and prosecution, Ms. Limanowska stressed the importance of the provisions within the Palermo Protocol of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, aimed at suppressing trafficking in persons.


Sharing national initiatives with regard to domestic violence, delegates stressed its social, legal, and economic causes and consequences.  Silent consent to domestic violence was unacceptable, they said.  How could women be encouraged to report domestic abuse?  Speakers also asked how the international community could address impunity and the obligations of States to provide equal access to effective judicial protection for women victims of violence.


Ms. Lixi agreed with speakers about the importance of men’s participation in combating domestic violence and Ms. de Pina said that violence against women had begun to become more visible from an international viewpoint.  However, she stressed that more work was needed on legislation and its implementation.  Ms. Acar referred to the Optional Protocol of the Anti-Discrimination Convention and said it would make the Convention more effective and real for women on the ground, if national implementation followed.


Speaking during the question and answer session were representatives of Poland, Croatia, United States, Norway, United Republic of Tanzania, Philippines,

Cuba, Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Senegal, Pakistan, Israel, Botswana, Mexico, Russian Federation, Guatemala, Benin, and the Netherlands.


The following non-governmental organizations also addressed the Commission:  Asia Pacific Women’s Rights; and the Organization Empowering Women in Development.


The Commission will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m., to hold a high-level round table on national experiences in institutional capacity-building.


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