Better use of the law can end violence, discrimination against women – Migiro

Fifty third session of the Commission on the Status of Women

4 March 2009 – Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro urged effective use of national legal systems to eliminate discrimination, promote gender equality and stop violence against women, at the 53rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) today.

“A legal framework that ensures the promotion and protection of women’s rights is crucial,” Ms. Migiro told a joint panel of the CSW and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

Over the past two decades, she said, many States have adopted or improved legislation to prevent and respond to violence against women, to guarantee equality between women and men and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, she said.

In addition, discriminatory provisions in civil, family and personal status laws are being repealed, she said.

However, the official said, there are important gaps, with States throughout the world still failing to live up to their international obligations and commitments. “Too many perpetrators are not held accountable. Impunity persists,” she said.

The Secretary-General’s Study from 2006 found that many States have yet to adopt legislation that criminalizes all forms of violence against women or on human trafficking.

In too many places, Ms. Migiro said, marital rape is still not a prosecutable offence, noting that perpetrators of rape who marry their victims can have their sentence reduced or mitigated in those jurisdictions.

In some places, she added, they may also invoke a defence of “honour” to justify acts of violence against women, and definitions of rape still tend to be based on the use of force rather than the absence of consent.

Those situations must be changed, Ms. Migiro said, adding that countries must also enforce their laws and allocate resources to combat the problem, making sure that personnel and officials working in the field have the skills, capacity and sensitivity to apply the spirit and letter of the law.

“Above all,” she stressed, “we can never allow violence against women to be dismissed as a private matter. Just the opposite; we must harness the power of the State to punish and prevent all forms of violence against women.”

The CSW’s two-week session, following up on the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, runs until 13 March.

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