Speakers in Commission on Status of Women Grapple with Reality of Risk, Prevalence, Severity of Gender-Based Violence, Mapping Better Response
Speakers in Commission on Status of Women Grapple with Reality of Risk, Prevalence, Severity of Gender-Based Violence, Mapping Better Response
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on the Status of Women
3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)
Speakers in Commission on Status of Women Grapple with Reality of Risk,
Prevalence, Severity of Gender-Based Violence, Mapping Better Response
Status Quo Deemed Intolerable by Regional Groups, Expert Panellists
As the recent “horrific” abuse of women in India and around the world had laid bare, it was not a lack of normative or legal frameworks — but rather their effective implementation — that impeded efforts to combat such violence and end the culture of impunity that protected perpetrators, senior Government officials said today, as the Commission on the Status of Women moved into day two of its general debate.
Throughout the day, speakers from all regions of the world highlighted national and regional measures to support gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as tackle the wide-ranging factors that aggravated gender abuse, among them, entrenched religious or cultural norms, HIV/AIDS, poverty, climate change and skewed attitudes that elevated men and suppressed women.
For its part, India had set up fast-track courts to try abuse cases, said Krishna Tirath, that country’s Minister of Women and Child Development. It also had promulgated an ordinance in February, which amended the criminal law to broaden the definition of sexual assault and harassment to include new types of violence, such as stalking. Those changes sought greater accountability for public officials. Around the world, a lack of implementation hampered Government efforts to stem abuse. “These gaps must be identified and plugged,” she urged.
The Minister of Family and Social Policies of Turkey, Fatima Sahin, said her country had been the first to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence — also called the “Istanbul Convention”. The milestone text was the product of a persistent grass-roots struggle that had taken on regional and global dimensions. Turkey also had put in place a “panic button system” to give abuse victims easy access to authorities.
Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said that, in February, she had been sworn in as head of a newly created ministry to promote the welfare of women and children. Ghana also had enacted legislation to criminalize violence against women and girls, including the Human Trafficking Act.
The need for implementation rang true for many of today’s speakers, who decried that, while laws had been passed, the physical and emotional safety of women and girls had not received the attention it deserved on even the most progressive national agendas. Elite Cabinet members allocated time and resources to issues of their choosing. Violence could be reduced — even prevented — many said, with political will, well-funded strategies and accountability mechanisms to ensure their implementation.
Willy Telavi, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, stressed that costing and resourcing the implementation of policies and legislation across all sectors — especially health, justice and education — was necessary for turning commitments into action. There was a need to enact appropriate policies that were supported through approved budgets.
Broadly agreeing, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights and Spokeswoman of the Government of France, cautioned against using “cultural relativism” to explain women’s situations, which would leave the battle for gender equality by the wayside. The Istanbul Convention had established a legal framework for sanctions against the perpetrators of violence against women. While it had been written in Europe, it was not reserved for Europeans; it could inspire laws and policies throughout the world.
Implementation of tough laws for the perpetrators of abuse could not come soon enough, a number of speakers stressed. Violence against women was the leading cause of death and disability among women of all ages, said Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway, causing more deaths among young women than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Impunity stemmed from a lack of resources and interest — not legislation. “We cannot afford to overlook these facts,” she asserted, urging all States to act on them and end their common failure once and for all.
Also today, the Commission held a panel discussion on “Prevention of violence against women and girls”, during which experts from academia, civil society, a national women’s advocacy entity and the World Health Organization (WHO) examined ways to address violence against women at its roots and to support victims in a comprehensive manner.
In the lively discussion that followed, delegates described national efforts to prevent abuse through attitude and behavioural change. Many underlined the importance of taking a comprehensive approach, spotlighting programmes ranging from sensitization “camps” to public “say no to violence” campaigns. Educational programmes and the involvement of men and boys were also deemed essential.
Additional speakers in the general debate today were ministers and other senior officials from Samoa (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Tuvalu (in national capacity), Kiribati, Iran, Philippines, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Italy, Afghanistan, Morocco, Australia, Bahamas, Spain, New Zealand, Nigeria, Finland, Dominican Republic, Uganda, Andorra, Sweden, Luxembourg, Côte d’Ivoire and Fiji.
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 6 March, to continue its work.
The fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women continued its general debate today around its priority theme — the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. (For more information, see Press Release WOM/1938 of 4 March).
WILLY TELAVI, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the group’s members were committed to ending all forms of violence against women. Gender equality was and continued to be a strategic objective of the Pacific Plan. At their annual meeting in 2012, the Pacific leaders adopted the Gender Equality Declaration, which provided the highest political platform for the intensification of work in the region in support of gender equality, including the elimination of violence against women. At the operational level, the Pacific Platform of Action for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality 2005-2015 guided the region’s work in that area, providing a Pacific regional context to commitments made in international instruments such as the Millennium Development Goals, the Beijing Platform for Action and others.
He said that violence affected all aspects of the lives of Pacific women and girls. Therefore, the Group acknowledged the need to accelerate regional and national actions to combat it. There was a need to enact appropriate measures and policies, supported through approved budgets. Costing and resourcing the implementation of policies and legislation across all responsible sectors, particularly health, policing, social welfare, justice, education, finance and planning was a necessary step in turning commitments into action. Initiatives in the region had included national studies, which had revealed high levels of severe abuse and strong correlations between childhood and adult experiences.
There was also concern about the impact of armed conflict and political instability, which intensified sexual and gender-based violence, rape and sexual assault, he said. In response to some of those challenges, specific domestic violence legislation and related measures had been put in place in Palau, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. Work was progressing in those areas in other island States, as well. “The challenge in the Pacific is obviously the need to operationalize the political commitments through the development at the national level of appropriate human rights-based policy and legislation frameworks on violence against women and girls.” Such policies must be appropriately resourced to ensure their effective implementation.
Turning to the Commission itself, he said that the Forum would like to see several key points represented in the draft agreed conclusions. Among them was the further strengthening of political and financial commitments; comprehensive, coordinated and multi-sectoral interventions tailored to suit local, national and regional circumstances; comprehensive transformation of sex and gender stereotyping; strengthened commitment to provide full, quality, safe and affordable social protection and services to women and girls; the creation of an enabling environment for the realization of women’s fundamental human rights; and a call for stronger development partner commitment.
TOLOFUAIVALELEI FALEMOE LEIATAUA, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, recognized the work done by UN-Women in “trying to do more” with a budget that covered advancing gender justice, ending violence against women, improving women’s economic empowerment and building community resilience in combating climate change. More focus should be placed on economic empowerment, especially investing in small-holder farmers.
He went on to say that climate change was among the root causes of gender violence and, in some parts of the Pacific, populations were being relocated because of sea-level rise. Women’s productivity was continually being reduced. A way must be found to address women’s decreasing status, as women’s entitlement to land was declining under a changing matrilineal system. Concerning the post-2015 development agenda, he welcomed the idea to have the Commission focus next year on intensifying action towards reaching women’s targets, and welcomed the 2013 theme on challenges to implementing Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Sustainable development goals must be economically oriented, socially balanced and environmentally focused, he added.
Mr. TELAVI, Prime Minister and Minister of Women’s Affairs of Tuvalu, said that, too often, the world was inundated with reports of gender-based violence and other human rights violations, which were a result of pervasive gender stereotyping and discrimination. In Tuvalu, a family protection bill had been formulated — which aimed to safeguard women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence, domestic violence and rape — and community consultations were being launched this year. The country reaffirmed its commitment to the theme of ending violence against women and girls, and stated that national strategies and measures, including but not limited to policies and laws, should be encouraged to raise the status of, and empower, women. His Government continued to advance promotion and ensure women’s participation in all spheres of public and private domains, all levels of decision-making and phases of development activities.
Partnerships between men and women, and non-governmental and civil society actors on the various sectoral policies allowed for a more holistic, participatory and harmonized relationship and more efficient and effective outcomes. Strategically effective had been a wider engagement with faith-based leaders, male police officers, elders, celebrities and male leaders and boys as champions and role models advocating the elimination of violence against women and girls. In a least developing country such as Tuvalu, the lack of natural and financial resources challenged comprehensive implementation of programmes. Activities concerning women and girls were left for the donors to resource and support. The country sought the consistent and continuous support of their financial commitments to enable Tuvalu to gain traction in the myriad human rights objectives. He warned that climate change — a challenge “which affects us all” — would hit women and girls hardest, and he urged action to mitigate those effects.
TEIMA ONORIO, Vice-President of Kiribati, said that hers was a small Pacific State of 33 islands, with a primarily young and female population. A high prevalence of violence had impacted, not only the health and well-being of the country’s women and girls, but also that of their families. It had also negatively impacted development. Kiribati continued to enjoy political commitment for a “whole of Government” approach to eliminating that violence, in an approach that emanated from the “very top” of Government. That commitment was reflected in the country’s current development plan, as well as in its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2004.
She said she was pleased to report that parliamentarians, in 2008, had also given bipartisan, high-level support to other measures to reduce violence against women and children. In 2012, they had overwhelmingly supported the first reading of a child and family welfare bill. The Government had also decided to reintroduce the proposal to establish a new ministry under the Women’s Development Division. Such strategies were reflected in the National Action Plan for 2011-2021, and, more recently, in a policy for the welfare of young people and children.
MARYAN MOJTAHEDZADEH LARIJANI, Adviser to the President and Head of the Center for Women and Family of Iran, outlined her country’s approach, saying that God had created men and women equally, giving them a specific role to play. Women were the manifestation of God’s love. If a woman was deprived her basic right to motherhood and wifehood, a society would be laden with violence and irreparable damage. In the modern age, efforts must be made to allow women to play a lead role. Iran had always worked to eliminate all forms of violence against women, considering that objective a priority.
Despite numerous efforts to eliminate such abuse, 7 of 10 women around the world were victims of violence, she said, and finding the causes of such a failure could advance efforts to protect women. Much violence was rooted in the dominance of ideologies that were based on the “principle of profit” — a materialistic approach to women. It would be more effective to strengthen the family as a way to prevent violence. She questioned whether the current definitions of violence against women included the views of all members of the international community.
FATMA SAHIN, Minister of Family and Social Policies of Turkey, said her country had signed and ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence — called the Istanbul Convention — expressing hope that others would do the same. Turkey also had hosted the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for the celebration of its thirtieth anniversary.
Outlining national efforts, she cited a new law combating violence against women, saying that Turkey had put in place a “panic button system” to give abuse victims easy access to authorities, and perpetrators could be caught quickly. Turkey also had distributed books to some 3 million families, to give girls and boys an equal opportunity to access education. In health care, every child was covered by insurance until the age of 18. Infant mortality had fallen to European Union standards and Turkey was among the top 10 countries to have reduced that figure the fastest. Violence monitoring centres also had been established.
TERESITA QUINTOS DELES, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process of the Philippines, said that violence against women and girls took many forms and was frequently aggravated by such factors as race, class and HIV/AIDS status. The Philippines had taken legislative measures that criminalized such violence and its various forms, including domestic violence, child abuse, illegal recruitment, partner abuse and marital rape. It had also reached a “historic turning point” in bringing to an end armed conflict in the southern part of the country, which was having a positive impact on the status of women. The peace plan specifically ensured the role of women, and, in January, the Domestic Workers Act was signed, aiming to bring domestic workers into the full and formal protection of the State.
Just last week, she continued, the country had signed the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, which recognized atrocities committed during the country’s war years and offered reparations to those who had suffered from such atrocities, including rape and sexual violence. The Philippines also had its first female Chief Justice, and an unprecedented number of Government departments headed by women. It worked to raise awareness of violence against women and girls through public campaigns, and had established an active men’s group, known as “Move”, through which men and boys advocated for bringing an end to violence against women and girls.
URMAS PAET, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said that women’s rights remained one of his country’s priorities. Sustained commitment to the cause had highlighted the “shamefulness” of violence against women and girls, but nonetheless, the phenomenon continued. Within the next two years, the world would celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development. Estonia firmly stood for the principles of those agreements, as well as behind Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which recognized the negative impacts of war on women and children. Estonia was committed to combating gender-based violence, and had a Comprehensive Development Plan for reducing its many forms, including domestic violence, violence against women and children and violence against migrants. It also had a National Action Plan for the implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2000).
Tackling gender-based violence required a range of interlinked activities, he said, including awareness-raising and education campaigns which encouraged women to report incidents and utilize public services. Second, support services for victims were needed. The Estonia shelter system, started in the early 2000s, included 10 specialized women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence, as well as two others for trafficking victims. Enhanced cooperation between all stakeholders was needed in that respect, as such a support system was “like a living organism” and needed constant grooming. Therefore, the country was constantly working towards improving the quality of its services, raising public awareness, and carrying out mapping studies and analysis. Still, the country had a long way to go on the road to a world where women and men were truly equal, he said.
AURELIA FRICK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said violence against women persisted around the world, citing the victim of gang rape in India and the suffering of women and girls in the Syrian conflict. Such violence threatened the enjoyment of all human rights, slowed economic development and, in far too many places, amounted to a war tactic. “Violence is the greatest obstacle for countless women and girls all over the world to achieve equality,” she stressed. The Commission must be the place for leadership, with each participant bringing its message to their constituencies. Efforts must go beyond changing the law; existing laws must be put into practice if they were to change the lives of women and girls. Most importantly, States must change the mindsets of perpetrators and focus on prevention.
She went on to say that violence against women and girls affected every society and there was a systematic lack of accountability for many forms of such abuse, including domestic violence, violence based on harmful traditional practices and sexual violence in armed conflict. The Commission must comprehensively address that problem, as impunity could no longer be tolerated. She renewed the call for the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court and for the Syrian opposition to commit to international humanitarian law.
LORENA CRUZ SANCHEZ, President of the National Institute for Women of Mexico, said States were obliged to guarantee women’s rights to life, liberty, security and integrity. Mexico had ratified and accepted all of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. A 2007 law mandated all Government agencies, as well as judicial and legislative powers, to take action to prevent violence. On the health-care front, free care was provided to women and girls who were victims of violence.
She said Mexico had learned from the painful events in Ciudad Juarez, which had led to a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against her country. The Government had created laws to sanction femicide, and under the President, women would be the focus of social, economic, educational and justice policies. In Mexico’s public policies, “there is no room for discrimination, inequality or violence against women”. She acknowledged the work done by human rights defenders, but expressed concern about the violence against them, and called for a protection mechanism.
ELSA FORNERO, the Minister of Labour, Social Policies and Equal Opportunities of Italy, spoke on behalf of the many wives, sisters, mothers and daughters who were victims of abuse every day, including the 124 women who had been killed in Italy in 2012. Their stories and broken lives had helped to develop a new awareness about violence against women, which was becoming increasingly visible and imposing itself as an international priority. “Actions change the world,” she said, urging those gathered in the room to pursue further the objectives of development and peace for all women. Italy had signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, includingdomesticviolence. It had also strengthened mechanisms to prevent violence and to assist the victims.
She said that, notwithstanding the severe economic crisis facing the country, the Government had allocated funds to support private and public anti-violence centres for victims of human trafficking and other crimes. In a recent visit to several of those centres in Rome, she had spoken personally with women who had been subjected to slavery and prostitution. She was firmly convinced that Government actions must include support to help create the conditions for economic and professional independence. The Government had begun to tackle the problem of “offensive” sexual advertisements, and it supported the elimination of female genital mutilation around the world. In all those respects, she added, “the Commission gives us a great opportunity to issue a loud, collective ‘NO’”.
HUSSUN BANU GHANZANFAR, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan, said that the three pillars of the Afghan National Action Plan on Women included security; governance, rule of law and human rights; and economic and social development. Over the last decade, Afghanistan had made good progress in social, economic and political arenas, which would ultimately result in the elimination of all forms of violence against women. Programmes had been implemented to address the root causes of such violence in rural and remote areas, and Education, Ministry of Interior and Judiciary and Justice Offices, as well as non-governmental organizations, had played significant roles. Some key achievements included an increase in the number of companies run by women, an increase in their presence in different Government offices, an increase in the number of female teachers, and the establishment of prosecution offices on violence against women.
“We are continuing our efforts to retain our achievements and bring about further development,” she said. However, in some rural and remote areas, women were still deprived of their rights. She pointed to several causes and elements of violence against women, including three and a half decades of imposed wars and insecurity; the existence of “unappealing” customs and traditions in some rural and remote areas; propaganda and interference by the enemies of peace and stability; low levels of education and awareness; and poverty. She urged States and other donors to help rectify those problems by supporting Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process and remaining committed to their cooperation and support for women’s empowerment programmes in the country.
BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister for Solidarity, Woman, Family and Social Development of Morocco, said that by introducing reforms to the Constitution, laws and institutions to correct women’s situation, Morocco had adopted a participatory approach, based on dialogue. The Constitution encompassed the rights of all people, serving as a charter for fundamental rights and freedoms. Morocco viewed addressing violence — and its contributing factors, such as poverty — as priorities. It had adopted a dual approach in such work that comprised preventive measures and the promotion of social tolerance. The Government was working to ensure that the values of equality took root through sensitivity campaigns.
She went on to say that Morocco’s legislative and institutional “context” allowed for the participation of all stakeholders, including civil society. Her country supported civil society, and the Constitution outlined its participation in initiatives of public interest, she said, citing bills for equality, for the creation of a consultative council for women, and for the fight against violence.
NAJAT VALLAUD-BELKACEM, Minister of Women’s Rights and Spokeswoman of the Government of France, focused first on violence against women in countries of conflict, citing gang rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. More broadly, in India, recent “atrocious” acts had brought to light the fact of daily rape and male domination. Violence against women was not isolated. Sexual violence revealed the many inequalities between men and women. Reaffirming France’s attachment to the universal nature of women’s rights, she urged all States to refuse “cultural relativism” that would leave the battle for gender equality by the wayside. Sexual and reproductive rights were essential, and their negation was often the first expression of violence against women.
Citing General Assembly resolutions on, respectively, eliminating female genital mutilation and on eliminating all forms of violence against women, she said the Istanbul Convention (Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) had established a legal framework for sanctions against violence against women. While the text had been written in Europe, it was not reserved for Europeans. It could inspire laws and policies throughout the world. For its part, France had re-established as a crime sexual harassment, which had disappeared from the Criminal Code. In July, it would hold a Mediterranean forum to strengthen women’s position in society.
JULIE COLLINS, Minister for the Status of Women of Australia, said that “living free from violence is everyone’s right”, and reducing it was everyone’s responsibility. To address the devastating costs of violence against women and their children, the Government of Australia was working with civil society and had issued a plan that recognized, in particular, the role of men and boys in that process. It was also undertaking a legislative review, awareness-raising campaigns and others to end female genital mutilation. In 2012, the country had provided new funding targeted at ending violence against women in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. It supported the agreement on gender equality adopted at the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum.
Further, in 2012, she said, Australia had launched a national plan on women, peace and security, and had implemented strong measures to combat the trafficking of women and girls. It had criminalized forced marriage, and was undertaking reforms to encourage women’s workforce participation and to address the pay gap. The country was providing particular support to women facing discrimination, especially in indigenous communities, and to reduce barriers to their employment. Australia supported the independent participation of human rights institutions at the Commission on the Status of Women, as well as the work of the related special rapporteurs. “The possibility of a world that is safe for all women and girls […] beckons us forward”, and Australia’s commitment to that vision was unwavering.
MELANIE GRIFFIN, Minister of Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas, said last year her country had celebrated 50 years of the enfranchising of women. As part of the celebrations, leading women of the Suffrage Movement and political trailblazers were featured on the covers of the 2012 telephone directories. The celebrations also sparked a renewed resolve for the Government to remove all forms of discrimination against women in the Constitution, through due process, by the end of the year.
Outlining additional national efforts, she said the Bahamas was in the final stages of reviewing a draft national gender policy. The country was committed to eliminating violence against women by educating the entire population, especially young women and girls, on healthy relationships. Socioeconomic and political advances over the years would be meaningless if the Bahamas could not ensure women’s protection. The enactment of the 2007 domestic violence (protection orders) act underscored the country’s commitment to that goal, as did the creation of a draft national five-year strategic plan on domestic violence, which was being reviewed by a team of experts.
ANA MATO ADROWER, Minister of Health, Social Services and Equality of Spain, said that universal education on fundamental rights was possible in Spain and in all countries around the world. To that end, Spain’s Constitution contained one of the world’s most advanced bill of rights, ensuring the full realization of human rights and women’s potential. It also guaranteed the development of all children by building societies free of the suffering experienced by their mothers. Indeed, the worthy cause of gender equality was a major goal, and the country had long worked to defend it. Spain was also a pioneer in developing various laws designed to protect victims and their families. Violence against women and girls was not just a female issue, everyone must be involved in the struggle. “Only by acting in unison can we achieve the society we hope for,” she said in that regard.
Activities to combat gender-based violence were “at the top of the pyramid” of priorities, she went on. In order to achieve that goal, Spain was working to “break the silence”; provide personalized assistance to victims of gender-based violence and their children; deepen scientific knowledge about the scourge; protect the rights of specific groups; and make more visible other forms of violence against women — including trafficking and female genital mutilation.
JO GOODHEW, Minister of Women’s Affairs of New Zealand, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action, the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and noted that it had provided its seventh report to the Convention’s monitoring Committee last year. In addition, New Zealand had added its voice to the more than 33 countries that had pledged to take action through the UN-Women initiative known as “Commit”.
Describing some of the ways in which New Zealand was working to implement its comprehensive, zero-tolerance policy on violence against women and girls, she said that the approach spanned from primary prevention to support for victims and accountability of offenders. The country had expanded its legal definition of violence to include economic abuse, and was working to prohibit unwanted contact by perpetrators of violence once they were released from prison. In New Zealand, the responsibility for addressing violence within families spanned a wide array of government portfolios. In addition, the country had taken a leadership role through the Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence programme, a joint plan that focused on building the capacity of police services to respond to violence.
KRISHNA TIRATH, Minister of Women and Child Development of India, said violence against women and girls must be unequivocally condemned. As such recent “horrific” events in India and around the world had shown, it was not the lack of a normative framework that was impeding efforts to combat the abuse, but rather its effective implementation. “These gaps must be identified and plugged,” she urged. For its part, India had set up fast-track courts to try such cases, and promulgated an ordinance, in February, which amended the criminal law to broaden the definition of sexual assault and harassment to include new types of violence, such as voyeurism and stalking. It aimed for greater accountability of public officials.
In fact, she informed the Commission, the Parliament, in February, had adopted a bill to address sexual harassment of women in the workplace, which covered women in the public and private sectors. India also had recently announced a $200 million allocation to a fund for implementing measures to ensure women’s safety. An empowered woman was more likely to participate in decision-making, in the family and beyond. Combating violence against women and ensuring both gender equality and women’s empowerment was at the heart of India’s pursuit of an inclusive society. A number of schemes were also in place for women’s socio-economic empowerment, with $40 million recently earmarked for vulnerable women.
HAJIYA ZAINAB MAINA, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, aligning with the African Group and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the widespread existence — and apparent tolerance — of violence against women was a stark sign of the deviation from the rule of law, human rights and equality, reflecting the extent to which women’s rights were threatened by certain sociocultural practices. “This phenomenon knows no boundaries,” she said, as it affected all categories of women and girls. Other harmful traditional practices were also worrisome, including female genital mutilation, child marriage and nutritional taboos.
Highlighting institutionalized discrimination, she said traditional land tenure systems and inheritance patterns were part of the collective assault on women’s dignity. The focus must be on prevention and support for victims, with States responsible for putting in place legislation to end all practices classified as violence against women in the Beijing Platform of Action and other international instruments. Touching on several of Nigeria’s initiatives, including criminal justice reforms and a gender and equal opportunity bill, she supported actions such as the creation of a one-stop centre for handling violence-against-women cases and the creation of special courts to reduce delays in rendering justice.
PAAVO ARHINMAKI, Minister for Gender Equality of Finland, said that his country placed the human rights of women as one of its top priorities. The issue of violence against women and girls was unfortunately not unfamiliar to Finland. However, the country was working to eliminate of all its forms, including through the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights. He urged all Member States to help the Commission reach the best possible outcome on that priority issue. Finland placed a strong emphasis on the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations, in particular women’s organizations, which often had access to first-hand information and could take action at the grass-roots level.
“Real change is possible only if all members of the community and the society at large are committed,” he said, adding that the role of men and boys must not be forgotten. Awareness-raising and education were key to identifying problems and initiating change. Finland had instituted a five-year action plan to reduce violence against women, aiming to tackle violence holistically and proactively by addressing behaviours. There was violence against women in developed and developing countries alike; in conflicts, women and girls frequently paid the highest price. However, they should not only be seen as victims, but as essential contributors in the transition from conflict to peace. Finland also had a national action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).
NANA OYE LITHUR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said that, in February, she had been sworn in as head of a newly created ministry to promote the welfare of women and children. Ghana had enacted legislation to criminalize violence against women and girls, including the Human Trafficking Act and others. Illegal forms of servitude had been criminalized and Ghana was taking action against female genital mutilation. Nevertheless, women and girls in Ghana were still adversely affected by physical abuse, sexual violence, harmful traditional practices, child labour and other major problems.
She said that recent research by the Human Advocacy Centre had found a high rate of violence in Ghanaian schools, and it had launched a report on spousal murders in Ghana, finding that an average of two murder cases took place per month. The Government was also investigating various cases of human trafficking. As a result of those challenges, Ghana had set up several victim support and gender-based violence units, two specialized gender-based violence courts, social welfare offices and other victims’ services. The work of civil society was crucial in providing legal services, support and other services for the victims.
ALEJANDRINA GERMÁN, Minister of Women of the Dominican Republic, highlighted her country’s achievements, noting that its legal framework “incorporates relevant advances in the fight against gender violence”. The Constitution in 2010 enshrined the right to equality without any discrimination related to gender, the right to personal integrity, respect for physical, mental, moral integrity and to a life without violence. Among other advances were the establishment of a law on violence against women, including domestic violence; the creation of the National Commission on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence; the incorporation of the equality of rights and opportunities in the National Development Strategy 2010-2030; the creation of the National Office for Assistance to Victims by the Attorney General’s Office and of “Attention Units” for gender, sexual and domestic violence in 14 provinces across the country.
Despite those gains, the violence against women persisted and significant challenges remained, she said. Among necessary improvements, the Dominican Penal Code should reflect the recommendations that had emerged from the coordination between the Ministry of Women and civil society organizations. Also important was to strengthen the integration of national mechanisms and support networks, and to achieve the approval and implementation of “protected” budgets to combat violence against women. It was also vital to establish, through the Ministry of Labour, the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including family care. “The main challenge is to ensure that gender equality and equity and the prevention of violence are present in all the educational work of our country,” she said. Lastly, she announced that the Dominican Republic would host the twelfth regional conference on women of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in October.
RUKLA NAKADAMA ISANGA, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said her country had zero tolerance for violence against women and had implemented various interventions, notably to address impunity. It had deployed a comprehensive action plan with time-bound indicators for implementing Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008). Policies would guide actions to support victims of gender-based violence and to combat impunity. Uganda also was mobilizing communities by working with men, faith-based organizations, schools, the media and the child education movement. Such efforts increased awareness and ensured that perpetrators were reported.
To enhance its response for victims, she said, Uganda had taken a multi-sector approach in its provision of services, including vis-à-vis post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV/AIDS. There were family protection units in police stations to handle domestic violence, while Parliament — which was headed by a woman — had prioritized gender mainstreaming and put in place mechanisms to leverage resources. Challenges to eliminate violence included the fact that only 2 in 10 women and girls reported violence, and that conviction rates for perpetrators remained low — 6.6 per cent in 2011. She called for the deeper, sustained action of all actors, stressing that HIV/AIDS was both cause and consequence of sexual and gender-based violence.
INGA MARTE THORKILDSEN, Minister of Children, Equality and Social inclusion of Norway, noting that her country was celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, said: “It did not happen by itself.” The day had yet to come for celebrating women’s universal right to health and liberty. “Violence against women is a global disgrace,” she insisted, and persisted regardless of national boundaries or wealth. Such abuse was the leading cause of death and disability among women of all ages and caused more deaths among young women than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In her country of 5 million people, the cost was estimated at $1 billion annually. Violence against women could never be accepted, excused or tolerated.
She called for condemning perpetrators and those allowing impunity, saying that the culture of impunity stemmed from a lack of resources and interest; not legislation. Women’s physical safety did not receive a high enough priority on Government agendas around the world. Some thought sexual and reproductive rights were too controversial to discuss, but 150 million girls under age 18 had experienced sexual violence in 2012 alone. When women and girls underwent female genital mutilation or were forced into early marriage, such violence violated their sexual and reproductive rights. Violence against women was not about culture or religion. “It is about power, inequality and a lack of political will and courage,” she said. It also was a violation of children’s human rights.
GILBERT SABOYA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Andorra, said that gender-based violence was only one of the manifestations of inequality. For that reason, the response must be multidisciplinary and efforts must be redoubled to ensure that no aggression went unpunished and no victim lacked assistance. Education played a key role in ensuring the realization of human rights. As president of the Council of Europe, Andorra had made human rights a priority. The country had been conducting awareness-raising campaigns to sensitize society on gender-based violence and held workshops to prevent abuse. Children also benefited from such assistance. Andorra had gradually adjusted its legislation in order to put an end to all forms of gender discrimination. In February, it had signed the Convention of the Council of Europe to combat gender-based violence, the first such legally binding instrument in Europe and the most ambitious global treaty on that topic.
In that connection, in 2006, the country had established a Total Care Team to provide assistance to victims of gender-based violence. Among other things, that cross-cutting team held awareness-raising programmes every 25 November — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. He added that the Andorran Parliament had reached the level of “perfect gender parity”. While many such strides had been made, “there is no room for complacency”, he said.
MARIA ARNHOLM, Minister for Gender Equality and Deputy Minister for Education of Sweden, said that the Commission this year had set out to remind the world that violence against women and girls was not inevitable — “it can and must be prevented and stopped”. All Member States must commit themselves to that aim. She was deeply concerned about the high levels of such violence, in a pattern common to all societies. Indeed, such actions were perpetrated by individuals, groups or even State actors. “As States, we must hold ourselves accountable,” she stressed, adding that there was a duty to act. Countries had an obligation to prosecute offenders, to end impunity for such crimes and to offer support to the victims. Neither custom, tradition, religion, privacy nor honour could be invoked to justify avoidance of those obligations.
Various forms and manifestations of gender-based violence were evident in all societies, she said. In that vein, corporal punishment of children constituted a violation of children’s rights and must be ended. “Prevention requires addressing the root causes of violence against women and girls […] including social norms,” she added. Gender roles were not static, but transformed with social and democratic development. “Let us accelerate that change.” Full enjoyment of human rights and safety was crucial for women’s full participation in public life. The linkages between equality and gender-based violence must be considered when designing the post-2015 development agenda.
FRANÇOISE HETTO-GAASCH, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Luxembourg, said that “as long as violence against women is not eradicated, equality in private life will not be possible”. That was why the fight against “this blatant human rights violation” must remain a priority, both at the international and national levels. She called on the Commission to adopt strong conclusions. Political commitment was indispensable, but it was not sufficient. Promises made must be followed by action, notably through strengthening the normative framework and through regular and transparent follow-up of its implementation. Effective strategies required both the existence of a robust legal framework and non-legislative measures, focused on prevention and comprehensive support to victims. The role of States was twofold: while ensuring adequate judicial protection for victims and prosecuting perpetrators, they must also make available the necessary human, financial and logistical resources, including those for preventive action.
In Luxembourg, she continued, Parliament was working to reform the domestic violence law, which had been in force for 10 years. The removal of the perpetrator from the household for 10 days could be prolonged for up to three months. The reform foresaw that perpetrators must remain in contact with a specialized service for the duration of their eviction from the household. She underscored the importance of not forgetting children, be they victims or witnesses. Coordinating the interests of different parties in the fight against violence was a challenge, which her country had solved by putting in place the Committee of Cooperation of practitioners. That body consisted of a prosecutor-general and police and representatives from the ministries. “The role of men cannot be reduced to that of potential perpetrators; rather, they need to be mobilized actively to participate in the fight against the scourge of violence against women and girls,” she concluded.
ANNE DÉSIRÉE OULOTO, Minister of Solidarity, Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, said her country had recently adopted a national strategy to combat violence against women. National reconciliation was also a priority, following a long political and military crisis that had disorganized the country and made women and girls vulnerable, exposing them to all forms of violence. Despite the challenges, the policy for women had led to tangible results. Gains included support for victims, which was “now a reality”, thanks to the creation of special centres for their holistic care.
She said that to protect orphans and children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, an information system and relevant support communities were now available. Moreover, $2 million had been allocated for microcredit programmes to reach the poorest women and for expanding revenue-generating activities. That programme would affect 6,000 women this year and 8,000 next year. Côte d’Ivoire also had amended its marriage law, which now ensured gender equality. The notion of the “head of the family” also had disappeared.
JIKO LUVENI, Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, said the women’s plan of action 2010-2019 focused on promoting and protecting women’s rights through development programmes, including the prevention of violence against women and children. She outlined various legal advances to protect victims, including the 2009 sentencing decree, which mandated longer sentences for habitual sex offenders, and the 2009 criminal procedures decree, which outlined legal procedures to protect women during cross examination. Such legislation sought to reform outdated laws and encourage a proactive approach to abuse.
She went on to stress that legislation alone would not create a safe environment. Rape and sexual assault persisted. Fiji had launched a “zero tolerance” campaign, which encouraged community involvement in eliminating violence against women and girls. Once a town joined, a committee — led by men and included youth leaders — was then set up. Participants underwent training for their roles, which included provision of support to victims; setting up behaviour change programmes for abusers; linking with police units to provide advice; and monitoring progress of the campaign. The programme had been ongoing for three years and, given the encouraging results, Fiji would increase the number of participating communities to 63 by year’s end.
Panel on Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls
Moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Ana Marie Hernando (Philippines), the panel featured presentations by: Mervat El-Tallawy, President, National Council of Women of Egypt; Pinar Ilkkaracan, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Education and Counselling, Bosphorus University, Turkey; Liina Kanter, Head, Department of Gender Equality, Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia; Marai Larasi, Executive Director, Imkaan, United Kingdom; and Claudia Garcia Moreno Esteva, Team Leader, Sexual Health, Gender, Reproductive Rights and Adolescence, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization (WHO).
Opening the discussion, Ms. HERNANDO said it was critical to address violence against women at its roots and to support victims in a comprehensive manner, including through preventing “re-victimization”. Preventing abuse required addressing root causes and risk factors at the societal, family and individual levels. It also required coordinated legal and policy measures ensuring equal rights to education, social security, property and employment.
Changes in attitudes and behaviours were needed, she continued, as were awareness-raising efforts, educational programmes and the involvement of men and boys. Today’s panel would explore strategies that addressed the root causes of violence against women and girls, moving from ad hoc to more holistic approaches to prevention, and further, replicating successful approaches in different settings.
Next, Ms. EL-TALLAWY explored the ideological changes stemming from globalization, saying that the free movement of people had led to an increase in human trafficking — especially of women and children. Women’s rights had regressed and religious fundamentalism had expanded. During the Arab Spring, women struggled to sustain their rights and new types of socio-economic violence emerged. In Egypt, men had drafted the new Constitution. The 64-seat quota for women in Parliament was abolished and “radical” attempts were made to change legislation that had allowed women to divorce. The only female judge was removed from the Supreme Court.
“The Constitution is a big setback,” she said. “We are afraid that, after the new election, they will change all legislation as a result of this Constitution.” No religion called for discrimination against women. Women’s rights should be divorced from political interests, and women should not suffer from changes in the global economic system. Women were the first to be fired during an economic setback and, despite the fact that they constituted half the world’s population, their rights were regularly violated. She urged the creation of a special United Nations fund for addressing abuses and for Governments to take responsibility for women’s safety and security. Further, an international legal observatory was needed to monitor the situation. Despite the challenges, “I am optimistic”, she said.
Ms. ILKKARACAN said that, despite decades of work by women’s organizations that “broke the silence” on gender-based violence, and despite increased efforts by Governments and international organizations, gender-based violence remained the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. As many as 7 in 10 women experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Hundreds were killed each day, mostly by their husbands, intimate partners or families. To date, one of the most important and prevalent causes of such violence remained the most ignored: the historical, patriarchal mechanisms to control women’s sexuality and reproduction. The violation of sexual and reproductive rights of women was manifested in the wide prevalence of sexual abuse of girls, rape, date rape or gang rapes, the use of sexual violence as a tool of domination and oppression in armed conflict, sexual exploitation or trafficking, and other practices.
In addition, she said, many diverse harmful customary or traditional practices existed all around the world. “Such practices actually constitute only the tip of the iceberg,” she said, noting that many more invisible forms of control of women’s and girls’ sexuality also existed. In some countries, those abuses were practised in the name of “protecting their chastity”, and, in others, girls were denied the chance to make a free choice about their lives by being denied abortions, even in cases of forced pregnancy resulting from rape or sexual abuse.
In the last decade, she said, the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls had increasingly come under attack around the world. However, the Beijing Platform for Action unequivocally stated that “the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. Given that global consensus, she asked, why were women’s rights to such autonomy so vehemently challenged? The answer was because those rights were the most closely related to shaping one’s own life.
She called for four fundamental actions to end such violations: respecting, protecting and fulfilling the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and girls; revising laws, policies and barriers that undermined sexual and reproductive rights and penalizing such violations; making comprehensive sexuality education available to all girls and young women; and intensifying efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls through universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including for survivors of gender-based violence.
Ms. KANTER stressed that the issue of women’s rights needed constant attention and awareness-raising. “The myths that hinder gender equality are still viable and continue to blur our minds,” she said, adding that it was hard to see the big picture or to recognize how gender inequality affected the whole of society. She pointed to some root causes of the violence. In Estonia, for example, those included insufficient understanding of the importance of gender inequality, attitudes justifying violence and favouring women’s dependence on men.
In addition, she explained, the subject of gender inequality was frequently ridiculed in the Estonian context, and, surprisingly, it was often women themselves who protested boisterously against gender equality. In that regard, she cited several recent discussions which had taken place on the social network Facebook, which illustrated stereotyping of gender roles. “It is a disgrace that people still justify violence against women and girls,” she said, adding that the victims themselves also frequently defended their perpetrators.
Evidence of the favourable attitude towards women’s economic dependence on men included the significant employment gap between men and women, in particular, between women with children up to 2 years old, she said. Unfortunately, myths about violence, perpetrators and victims were still spreading, which tended to diminish the problem. A recent survey had found that the majority of victims of violence never told anyone and never sought help. They were also unaware of their options. It was of utmost importance to protect and promote the rights of women and to create the necessary conditions for their involvement in decision-making processes, including in women’s reproductive health and rights, access to sexual and reproductive heath information and services, family planning, as well as access to education, political power and financial assets.
She touched briefly on legal and policy reforms under way in Estonia to address gender inequality and discrimination, and define the roles and responsibilities of the Government to prevent violence against women and girls. Those included drawing men and boys into the effort, as well as media, and to pursue awareness-raising activities. “The first thing we have to be is brave,” she said, urging States to open their eyes and see the whole picture.
Ms. LARASI said as delegates gathered today, women and girls were experiencing violence, some of whom would not survive. By the time the Commission’s session ended, more would have died at the hands of partners, strangers, family members, soldiers, traffickers and pimps. While support services were essential, they were not enough to transform the landscape. “If we are to ensure that violence against women and girls is eliminated, then we have to prevent it from happening in the first place,” she said, describing the first ever meeting of the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Preventing Violence against Women and Girls, held in September 2012.
During the meeting, participants discovered that the term “prevention” meant different things to different people, she said, noting that concerns centred on the impacts of the global economic crisis — especially displacement, which increased the vulnerability of women and girls to multiple forms of abuse, including trafficking and sexual exploitation. The foundations for preventing violence existed within global policy and legislative frameworks. “What are we waiting for?” she asked. Programmes had been limited by resources and geographic reach. Going forward, the experts stressed that the participation of men and boys was essential. They also recommended the launch in 2015 of a global implementation plan to end abuse, as a complement to the post-2015 development agenda. Integrated abuse prevention measures were also needed, as was investment in programmes that not only supported survivors but created attitude shifts.
Rounding out the panel, Ms. GARCÍA-MORENO said that “we know more than we’ve ever known about gender-based violence”, for instance, that the causes of partner violence were multiple and intertwined. There was also more knowledge of the risk factors involved. Interventions needed to be synergistic and needed to “make the sum greater than each individual piece”. Awareness-raising campaigns, for example, could help change social norms around gender and violence, in particular, wife beating and male authority and control over women.
“We need more intensive approaches to change attitudes,”, she said, advocating also for programmes to boost women’s social and economic empowerment, including secondary education, employment, and ownership of cash and other assets, all of which decreased the risk of partner violence and helped women to leave an abusive relationship more easily.
She said that childhood exposure to violence must be reduced, as there was strong evidence of a link between child abuse or witnessing marital violence and an increased risk of perpetration of violence. There was also evidence of a link between the harmful use of alcohol and the perpetration of violence. Lastly, legal and justice system interventions were needed, included informal justice and rights-based initiatives, protection orders and pro-arrest policies.
Among her recommendations were the articulation and implementation of national strategies tailored around a local understanding of the problem; the use of multiple entry points for interventions; the escalation of intervention research; the development of victim services in tandem with rolling out prevention interventions; and coordination across strategies for maximum impact. High-level political support was needed globally, nationally and within communities.
In three rounds of questions and comments, delegates described national efforts to prevent violence against women — through both attitude and behavioural change, as outlined by the panellists — and in support for the victims. Several speakers spotlighted the importance of involving men and boys and outlined programmes ranging from sensitization “camps” to “say no” to violence campaigns.
Others focused on Ms. Ilkkaracan’s presentation about women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The representative of the United States, for one, agreed with the panellist that “we refuse to go backward from the outcomes reached 20 years ago in Beijing”. The United States saw the protection of sexual and reproductive rights as critical, not least because it was a necessary component of development. “Societies cannot flourish […] without the equal participation and protection of half of their societies,” she said. She also asked panellists for their thoughts about women’s exclusion in decision-making in post-Arab Spring countries.
In that vein, the delegate of Morocco commented on the longstanding nature of violence against women, which, he said, was closely related to power relations in the family and the community. From the vantage point of a region that was undergoing great social changes, he asked the panellists to comment on the “deep problem” of violence against women and on ways to revise development models so that public policies could effectively counter such violence and abuse.
Still others touched on the issue of gender budgeting, asking the panellists to react to the effectiveness of such plans. The issue of special protection for children who were discriminated against and abused due to their sexual orientation was raised by the representative of the Philippines. A number of speakers drew attention to the problems of “cyberbullying” and online exploitation, and asked the panellists about ways to protect girls and young women on the Internet.
Several delegates wished to hear more about best practices, in particular, successful awareness-raising campaigns and legislation designed to combat violence and discrimination. In that vein, Brazil’s representative asked about the unique needs of homosexuals and others who were targets of discrimination.
Still others sought examples of programmes that had successfully been created to motivate social or behavioural change. The representative of the European Union’s delegation asked Ms. García-Moreno how to set up educational programmes to combat the violence, and asked Ms. Larasi about the reintegration of the perpetrators, while still holding them accountable for their actions.
Sweden’s speaker stressed the need to target young people — as well as men and boys — in preventive work, as well as to prohibit corporal punishment throughout the world. Meanwhile, Timor-Leste’s delegate described national laws criminalizing domestic violence and asked the panellists about capacity-building for gender mainstreaming, and about how to foster women’s economic empowerment.
The observer for the State of Palestine said that all actions in the “circle” of prevention and attitude-changing activities must be taken comprehensively for interventions to be successful.
Responding, Ms. TALLAWY stressed that gender budgeting had been very effective in consolidating the needs of women within Government budgets because it was “not some haphazard donation or some temporary measure”.
Ms. ILKKARACAN, who hailed from Turkey, agreed with the representative of Morocco that the changes in the Middle East and North African region were of great concern. From the outside, it appeared that there was a shift towards extremism. However, the media did not always reflect the “very strong and historical” women’s movements in those countries. Those points of view must be brought forward, and more efforts should be exerted to share experiences between countries, she said.
To questions about specific vulnerable groups, such as homosexuals, she said that “any killing based on sexual orientation” must be criminalized, and that addressing hate crimes was extremely important. Specific laws on such crimes must be included in national constitutions, she said.
Ms. LARASSI, responding to the questions about cyber-exploitation and the digital world, stressed that young people were creating a new digital and virtual landscape and it was important to listen to them and to ask them what interventions would make a difference. In addition, she said, “we must reclaim [cyber] space and provide alternative messages”, offering other online avenues to avoid exploitation.
Regarding best practices, Ms. GARCÍA-MORENO said that sustained, long-term programmes were often more successful than one-time efforts.
Ms. KANTER said that, while the Estonian Constitution forbade discrimination against people based on gender or sexual orientation, it nonetheless remained a problem. Sensitization and awareness-raising campaigns were active in schools and in community centres, she added.
Also taking part in the discussion were the representatives of Israel, Spain, Italy, Russian Federation, Indonesia, New Zealand, Angola, Morocco, China, Australia, Belgium, Georgia, Canada, Switzerland, Iran, El Salvador, Mexico, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Viet Nam, Sudan, Samoa, Paraguay, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ecuador. A number of representatives from non-governmental organizations also participated.
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