5 March 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




“Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls” -- the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day -- ties in with the Secretary-General’s wider campaign against gender-based violence, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Launched in 2008, “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” will run through 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Speaking to the press were the participants at the morning panel on the theme: the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel N. Mayanja; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy; human rights lawyer and adviser at the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team, Imrana Jalal; and the International Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, William Lucy.  (See also Press Release OBV/766-WOM/1719)

Describing her address this morning, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that girl children were victims of direct violence during armed conflict.  Many of them were killed, sexually violated or trafficked.  They were also increasingly recruited into armed forces or armed groups.  As a result of armed conflict, girls were also often forced to become caretakers of their siblings if their parents were killed.  Internally displaced children were among the most vulnerable groups in the world.

The international community had begun to address the issue of impunity, she continued.  It was an important step forward that the International Criminal Court, the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia Tribunals, and the Sierra Leone Court was dealing with issues of sexual violence and recruitment of children.  Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) dealt with the possibility of introducing targeted measures against those who recruited and used children, and her Office was pushing for the inclusion of sexual violence as a trigger for sanctions.

Ms. Jalal advocated a comprehensive and integrated approach to anti-violence legislation, saying that it was most disappointing that less than half of the United Nations Member States had laws targeting violence against women.  In general, countries dealt with the issue in a piecemeal fashion, with “bits and pieces of legislation all over the place”.  This morning, she had suggested that that was not an effective way of dealing with violence against women.  A radical shift was needed in terms of countries’ approach to the issue.  It was also important that Member States drew from existing good practices and legislation.

Mr. Lucy stressed the importance of raising the level of understanding of the moral and socio-economic consequences of continued violence against women in the workplace. In that regard, it was necessary to build the political will among Governments and employers to make the workplace safe for women. He also raised the question of the economic impact of violence on productivity, as well as other costs associated with violence in the workplace.

A correspondent asked about the achievements over the past 20 years in terms of combating violence against women.  Ms. Coomaraswamy said that, during the first World Conference on Women in 1975, it had been impossible to even include language on violence against women in the final declaration.  Ten years later in Nairobi it had been impossible to even mention the subject. Given that history, the world had come quite far.  By the beginning of this century, every country had “done something”, including the adoption of legislation, or creation of plans of action.  Now, there was an awareness of the problem and frameworks to address it.  It was now “the era of application”, to make sure that those frameworks were used and individual women got justice.

Ms. Jalal agreed that the world had come “an enormously long way” in the fight against gender-based violence.  However, despite the fact that a wide range of good practices and legislation existed, bad practices still outweighed good ones in most countries.  Against some people’s expectations, the best practices and legislation during the last two decades had been adopted by developing countries.  Now, it was a question of putting political will and sufficient resources behind that good legislation.

Mr. Lucy said that the issue had become visible and was now widely discussed.  One of the important areas that still needed to be looked into related to the economic consequences of violence in the workplace.  Along with the physical and emotional aspects of violence against women, the United Nations and its agencies should discuss economic parity and justice for women in the workplace.

In response to another question, Ms. Jalal said that all the regions of the world had customs and beliefs that went against women’s rights to equality, and it was an ongoing battle to deal with them.  As an example, she cited the situation in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, which had a tradition of the family of the groom paying a “bride price”.  Many husbands argued that it gave them the right to beat their wives and receive child custody after separation or divorce.  “Taking custom head-on”, Vanuatu had recently passed a law which said that no customary forgiveness or traditional practice shall be used as a defence to prosecution or punishment.

To a question about men’s involvement in the efforts to stop violence against women, Mr. Lucy said that, this morning, the participants of the panel had discussed how trade unions approached that problem.  Among other things, men often stood at the head of institutions that advocated collective negotiations to protect women in the workplace and deal with employers with regard to their responsibilities.  He also referred to a massive education programme within the world labour movement regarding the role of trade unions in the fight against violence and discrimination, which needed to be dealt with along with wages and conditions of employment.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the Special Rapporteur on violence against women had talked this morning about the importance of getting men on board in the efforts to stop violence.  It was important to engage men in dialogue regarding negative masculine role models.

Ms. Mayanja added that the Secretary-General had also emphasized the role of men this morning.  In fact, it was critical to involve men and boys, and the United Nations was partnering with many men’s organizations, without which the efforts to stop violence would not be successful.

Asked about the Commission on the Status of Women discussion on sharing responsibilities between women and men, Ms. Mayanja said that the debate of that issue was most pertinent at the time of the global economic crisis, when the question of who should take care of the sick, the elderly and the children became even more acute.  It was time to come up with policies to address that issue.  Society needed to recognize care-giving as a job that deserved to be respected and paid for.  Also needed were day-care centres in all communities and clinics in rural areas.

She added that, last year, the President of Chile had expressed her intention to introduce social security for the non-paid work of care-giving.  That was an important initiative, which she hoped others would join.

Asked if any of her efforts as a Special Advisor on Gender Issues had dealt with getting the General Assembly to recognize abortion as a human right, Ms. Mayanja said that was not an issue that she dealt with.  However, the United Nations had a policy on abortion and she believed the Assembly followed that policy, as well.  The policy said that abortion was not a form of birth control, but when it was in the interest of the life of the individual concerned, it had to be provided for, and provided for safely.

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For information media • not an official record