6 March 2013

Societies Must Be Willing to Examine Root Causes, Exacerbating Factors of Gender-based Violence, High-level Speakers Tell Women’s Commission

6 March 2013
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-seventh Session

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Societies Must Be Willing to Examine Root Causes, Exacerbating Factors

Of Gender-based Violence, High-Level Speakers Tell Women’s Commission

Panel Discussion Hears Calls to ‘Break Culture of Silence’,

Help Women, Girls Overcome Fear, Stigma Surrounding Sexual Violence

Societies must be willing to examine the underlying causes of gender-based violence, the systems that facilitated it and the factors that exacerbated it, in particular, armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and poverty, senior Government officials stressed as the Commission on the Status of Women moved into the third day of its fifty-seventh annual session.

High-level delegates throughout the morning’s general debate segment underscored the need for far-reaching, multisectoral approaches which both tackled the roots of violence and provided services to its victims.  In that regard, a number of speakers outlined national programmes across the spectrum of prevention and response, ranging from awareness-raising campaigns and social change programmes to emergency health services for victims.

Moreover, some said, the cycle of silence must be broken and long-held feelings of shame eradicated.  “We cannot tolerate a world in which victims of violence do not dare to talk about what has happened to them […] and in which women cannot hold their heads up high and claim their rights,” said Jet Bussemaker, Minster of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands.  She urged delegates to consider, in particular, vulnerable groups, such as migrants, refugees and women in conflict situations, and to explore factors such as financial and social dependence on men, lack of education and forced marriage.

“When one woman suffers abuse, our common humanity is assaulted with her,” said the representative of the United States, adding that, whether a woman was assaulted by a family member or stranger, a State-backed militia or intimate partner, so was her full participation in society.  Violence against women weakened communities, stunted economies and eroded common values.  While strides had been made around the world, much remained to be done, and she noted that more than 600 million women and girls still lived in countries that had not declared domestic violence a crime.  Women from vulnerable groups still faced higher risks of abuse, while thousands of women in conflict or post-conflict zones were exposed to daily rape.  Six thousand girls were assaulted a year while simply trying to get to school, she said.

Anita Kalinde, Minister of Gender, Children and Community Development and Member of Parliament of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that, despite tireless efforts, SADC countries still experienced high rates of gender-based violence, particularly violence against women due to poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict, which were closely linked.  “The situation is exacerbated by gender inequality, harmful practices, beliefs, attitudes and patriarchal systems,” she added.

A number of countries in conflict also addressed the Commission today, issuing moving calls to the international community on behalf of millions of women who were experiencing rape, exploitation or even murder at the hands of armed groups.  Geneviéve Inagosi-Bulo Ibambi Kassongo, Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that in the context of the ongoing Congolese war, millions of women had died in a silent conflict that was tantamount to genocide. “How long will their cries fall on deaf ears?,” she implored, noting that most women who suffered in silence lived in the east of the country — a stronghold for 23 March Movement militants — far from the eyes of international media.

Meanwhile, Alwata Ichata Sahi, Minster for Family and the Advancement of Women and Children of Mali, said that rebels and jihadists were presently wreaking havoc in the northern part of her country.  There were reports of rape, gang rapes, stonings and amputation, as well as the desecration of schools and religious heritage.  All kinds of violence against women and girls represented a serious threat to the advancement of women in Mali, and the country’s security and humanitarian crisis had led to a social upheaval.  For example, she said, health and support centres had been completely destroyed, leading to the death of many pregnant women.

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said that her country’s 14-year civil war had created a culture of violence, and despite a number of measures put in place by the Government, there was still unacceptably high incidence of rape and domestic violence.  Some 200 to 220 gender violence cases were received each month by her Ministry, of which 15 to 20 per cent were domestic violence.

As a response, Liberia had taken various actions to prevent and respond to sexually based violence, including through the creation of a sex crimes unit at the Ministry of Justice, as well as a special criminal court to fast-track gender-based violence cases.  It had also passed legislation to protect the rights of women and girls, including an amended rape law in 2006.  To support abuse victims, a “one-stop” facility to provide health, psychosocial and other services to victims had been set up as had safe homes.  An outreach programme engaged ministries, development partners, civil society and traditional leaders.

Another “daunting challenge” identified today was the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In that vein, Ralebitso Tebello, Senior Gender Officer, Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, said that the effects of HIV and AIDS, coupled with heavy care-giving responsibilities and domestic violence, had been devastating.  She called on the international community to expand access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS protection, treatment and care in affected countries.  Lamenting the fact that violence against women and girls remained one of the most pervasive violations of human rights around the world, she stressed that “it is time to confront that challenge and break the chains of fear”.

In a panel discussion this afternoon, which tackled multisectoral services and responses for women and girls subjected to violence, delegates laid out national measures to respond to abuse in a coordinated, cross-cutting manner.  Among other things, speakers underlined the importance for all stakeholders to work together, share information and complement the efforts of one another to avoid a duplication of work.

Additional speakers in the general debate today were ministers and other senior officials of Canada, Guinea, Mauritania, South Africa, Samoa, Nicaragua, Botswana, Tonga, Namibia, Niger, Burundi, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Gabon, Haiti, Cameroon, Rwanda and Brazil.

Also speaking was the Minister of Women Affairs for the State of Palestine.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 7 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.


ANITA KALINDE, Minister of Gender, Children and Community Development and Member of Parliament of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reaffirmed the Group’s commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action, the Programme of Action of International Conference on Population and Development, among other related international agreements.  At the regional level, its members also remained committed to the SADC Treaty, and in particular, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which had as its goal halving the number of cases of gender-based violence by 2015.  Those regional agreements guided the definition and implementation of policies and the adoption of legislation and programmes.  Despite tireless efforts, SADC countries still experienced high rates of gender-based violence, particularly violence against women due to poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict, which were closely linked.  “The situation is exacerbated by gender inequality, harmful practices, beliefs, attitudes and patriarchal systems,” she said.

In that vein, the Group condemned ongoing armed conflicts on the African continent, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had resulted in systematic rape and the use of sex as a weapon of war.  To strengthen measures to combat violence against women and girls, SADC members intended to intensify the promotion of peace and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls during all forms of conflict, and to develop rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators.  She said that the Group also recognized that gender inequality occurred in the economic, social and political spheres, which was evidenced by the low participation and representation of women in politics and decision-making positions.  In the social sphere, women were engaged in unpaid work which contributed to a high rate of poverty.

The Group supported the implementation of laws against domestic violence to end impunity, and the development of programmes and national action plans to deal with violence against women and girls.  Its member States also encouraged the identification of good practices to combat such violence, especially those that focused on social transformation through prevention, protection and participation in programmes, involving local Governments, communities, traditional and grass-roots institutions, faith-based organizations, religious leaders and the private sector.  It was equally important to economically empower women themselves in order to reduce their economic dependence on men and, thus, their vulnerability to violence, she said.  The development and implementation of policies and programmes to ensure the recognition of the work carried out by caregivers, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS — most of whom were women — including the allocation of resources and psychological support for care providers, were also priorities of the SADC region.

Continuing in her national capacity, Ms. KALINDE said that Malawi had domesticated the international instruments to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, including through its bill of rights.  In addition, the Prevention of Domestic Violence law of 2006, the Child Justice and Protection Act of 2010, and the Deceased Estates Act of 2011 had also been enacted.  Last week, it had passed the Gender Equality Bill into law, in order to strengthen the implementation of the Convention.  The overarching Malawi Growth and Development Strategy included gender mainstreaming as one of the priority areas, she said.

The country had also established Victim Support Units in 34 police stations.  To date, 30 per cent of the reported cases of violence against women were prosecuted; its multisectoral approach had enabled Malawi to work with “Men for Gender Equality Now”, a non-governmental organization which conducted travelling conferences on the issue.  As women and girls were more vulnerable to HIV transmission and the impacts of AIDS than men and boys, Malawi had accelerated the implementation of a safe motherhood programme with the establishment of an office in the Office of the President and Cabinet and the involvement of traditional leaders.  Despite recent progress, however, challenges remained, including:  inadequate resources to roll out best practices; increased natural disasters due to climate change; limited access to justice services; poverty among women; poor and inadequate infrastructure; persistent harmful cultural practices; and resistance to behaviour change.

SUSAN TRUPPE, Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women of Canada, said women and girls had the right to live free from abuse, and her Government was committed to ending all such violence, both at home and globally.  In Canada, immigrant women were particularly susceptible to isolation, due to language and other cultural barriers, which must be broken by engaging community organizations, along with legal, medical and law enforcement communities.  “Violence against women affects us all,” she said, stressing that men and boys must be part of the solution, and citing the “Be More Than a Bystander” campaign in that regard.

She went on to say that the national action plan to combat human trafficking was another step to help ensure safety of women and girls in Canada.  On a global level, Canada would continue to speak up and work with others to end early and forced marriage.  Her Government also had devised a national action plan for the implementation of Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security.  Post-2015, she urged inclusion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-Millennium Goal development framework, saying that Canada would continue to fight for the equality of women everywhere.

JULIA DUNCAN-CASSELL, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said that violence against women was a gross human rights violation which continued unabated with impunity across regions.  “It is a formidable obstacle to achieving the objectives of peace, human rights and sustainable development,” she said.  Liberia’s 14-year civil war had created a culture of violence, and despite a number of measures put in place by the Government, there was still unacceptably high incidence of rape and domestic violence.  Some 200 to 220 gender violence cases were received each month by her Ministry, of which 15 to 20 per cent were domestic violence.

She went on to say that Liberia had taken various actions to prevent and respond to sexually based violence, including through the creation of the sex crimes unit at the Ministry of Justice, as well as “Criminal Court E” to fast-track gender-based violence cases.  As for the legal framework, Liberia had passed legislation to protect the rights of women and girls, including the 2003 customary marriage law, followed by amended rape law in 2006, which increased the marriage age from 16 to 18 years.  To support abuse victims, a “one-stop” facility to provide health, psychosocial and other services to victims had been set up, as had safe homes.  An outreach programme engaged ministries, development partners, civil society and traditional leaders.

DIAKA DIAKITE, Minister of Social Affairs and the Advancement of Women and Children of Guinea, presented some of the outcomes of its 2009 national survey on gender-based violence.  For instance, she said, it had found that three out of five girls in Guinea were married before the age of 17, and that the prevalence of domestic and conjugal violence stood at 85 per cent.  In response, a national strategy had been drawn up in 2010 with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organizations.  The plan had sparked progress in a number of areas.  First, a national human rights and public liberties department had been set up and a working group on gender-based violence had been created, with the participation of representatives of Government and non-governmental organizations, which supported the country’s medical centres.  Guinea was also taking actions to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

Continuing, she said that the country’s laws guaranteed individuals the right to life, physical and moral integrity, and prohibited cruel or inhuman treatment.  In that vein, Guinea had drawn up a number of laws to combat any violations of the physical integrity of women and girls.  A fund was established to create revenue-producing income, which helped women from falling into prostitution.  The country also supported the Francophone Plan of Action on violence against women and girls, which had been drawn up with year with the support of UN-Women.  She stressed that she hoped that the Commission’s session would lead to strong recommendations, but also to action to support women and girls in their daily lives.

MOULATY MINT EL MOCTAR, Minister of Social Affairs, Children and Family of Mauritania, said that her country devoted great efforts to advance women’s rights at all levels.  It applied all international agreements in the field of fighting gender-based violence, and had widely disseminated the relevant Conventions.  The country had also enacted national laws and bills in compliance with the international instruments, she added.

At the political level, the percentage of women in Parliament had been increased.  The country was also working to enable women economically by financing small projects and entrepreneurs, as well as by supporting women’s education.  Reproductive health enjoyed great support, and “we never condone nefarious practices” that had negative effects on girls, she stressed.  There was also a special interest in the Convention on Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, she added, as well as the Addis Declaration.

LULU XINGWANA, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities of South Africa, recalled that one in three women experienced some form of abuse during their lives and, given the global nature of that problem, the United Nations must continue to be the “centre of gravity” for collective action to eradicate the scourge.  For its part, South Africa’s Constitution and legislative framework, which included the domestic violence act, provided the most progressive platform to deal comprehensively with violence against women.  But laws and policies alone were not enough to address the issue; unity was required for tackling the root causes of violence, a global phenomenon that transcended regional, cultural, religious and racial boundaries.

South Africa was among those countries with the highest representation of women in Parliament, at 44 per cent, and in the Cabinet, at 43 per cent, she said.  A gender equality bill would soon be passed towards legislating 50/50 representation of women at all decision-making levels.  Other efforts included the reinstatement of sexual offences courts, as well as the establishment of victim-friendly rooms in most police stations, and one-stop centres under the victim empowerment programme.  The “Stop Rape” campaign was launched last month.  The multisectoral anti-gender violence strategy had five pillars:  coordination; prevention; support; response; and communication.  She also condemned in the strongest terms the targeting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

TOLOFUAIVALELEI FALEMOE LEIATAUA, Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, said his country was the first Pacific island nation to have completed a prevalence study on violence against women, which confirmed that one in three women suffered from some form of violence.  Recommendations from that study had led to the development of domestic violence legislation.  A child care protection bill was in the early stages of development, which had great potential to mobilize relevant services for children who suffered any form of violence.

He went on to say that the elimination of violence against women and girls was a priority area of the national policy for women and action plan 2010-2015, which provided — for the first time — a framework for work on women’s empowerment at all levels.  But, despite such progress, Samoa faced the challenges of limited financial and human resources and he called on development partners to provide technical and financial assistance.  He also sought support from the United Nations in ensuring that its women’s offices in the country and region were adequately resourced.  He also called for provision of technical and financial support for mainstreaming gender across disaster risk reduction and disaster management initiatives.

MARCIA RAMIREZ MERCADO, Minister of the Family, Childhood and Adolescence, Ministry of the Family of Nicaragua, said her country was among those where women had the most autonomy in decision-making.  In 2012, 55.6 per cent of ministerial cabinets were headed by women, while 40.2 per cent of parliamentary seats were held by women.  Laws, such as the equal opportunity law, formed part of a comprehensive approach to combating violence against women, a crime that was punished in the different ways in which such violence occurred.  The policy on violence against women, children and adolescence — the country’s first against gender violence — guaranteed a life free from violence.

Highlighting other efforts, she said the police had strengthened its model of “community care for violence prevention” through campaigns to raise awareness of domestic and sexual abuse.  Nicaragua’s model of “individual, family and community” was inspired by Christian values and socialist ideals, allowing central and municipal Government bodies to work together and share responsibilities.  She cited programmes such as “Zero Hunger” in that regard, which sought to enhance women’s productive capacities.  Violence prevention efforts also included a “love” programme for young children.  Going forward, changing the patriarchal culture was essential in work to punish violence against women, as was expansion of medical care.

RALEBITSO TEBELLO, Senior Gender Officer, Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho said that this session offered a valuable opportunity to share experiences and gains made by individual countries.  Sharing some of her country’s own “modest gains”, she said that data collection and analysis had increased. Lesotho had enshrined the rights of women in the Bill of Rights, and passed such legislation as the Sexual Offenses Act of 2003, the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2011 and the Penal Code of 2012.  Among other things, the country had also established a “one-stop centre” for victims of gender-based violence.  The inclusion of women in decision-making positions was a priority, she said; the country had, therefore, adopted the SADC quota of devoting at least 30 per cent of parliamentary posts to women.

Turning to the impacts of HIV/AIDS, she said that the pandemic remained a “daunting challenge”.  The effects of HIV and AIDS, coupled with heavy care-giving responsibilities and domestic violence, had been devastating.  In response, the country had drawn up a relevant action plan and political declaration.  She called on the international community to expand access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS protection, treatment and care.  Despite efforts undertaken, it was sad that violence against women and girls remained one of the most pervasive violations of human rights around the world.  “It is time to confront that challenge and break the chains of fear,” she stressed.

EDWIN JENAMISO BATSHU, Member of Parliament and Minister of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said that there was a sustained effort in his country to review laws that discriminated against women, coupled with the enactment of gender responsive ones.  Regulations for the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act of 2008 were also being formulated.  Furthermore, the Government had established a Legal Aid Service, including for survivors of gender-based violence.  Significant efforts had been made to mainstream gender quality and empowerment of women in the country’s national development agenda, and it was currently finalizing the National Policy on Gender and Development and its operational framework.

A recent study had found that the prevalence of violence against women stood at 67 per cent, with 62 per cent of women in the sample experiencing abuse within intimate partner relationships.  Botswana had, therefore, instituted a multisectoral response with key focus on prevention and mitigation strategies.  In order to enhance the sensitivity and diligence of the national police in handling gender-based violence cases, both pre- and in-service training programmes had a strong gender component, he said.  Furthermore, given the impact of violence against women and girls on health, and specifically sexual and reproductive health, the Ministry of Health, through the Male Involvement in Sexual Reproductive Health Programme, was spearheading the health sector’s prevention and management of gender-based violence.  Other activities included awareness-raising campaigns, including engaging local communities in national activities to mark “16 Days of Activism on Violence against Women and Children”.

LORD VAEA, Minister for Internal Affairs of Tonga, outlining national efforts, said the family protection bill drafted last year would be submitted to next parliamentary session in June.  Tonga recognized that ending violence against women and girls must be addressed at the highest levels.  As part of the first democratically elected Government, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was created in 2012 to consolidate community development, a priority of which was to address violence against women and girls at all community levels.  Not doing so would place human security at risk.

Tonga’s efforts to combat violence against women involved the creation of a national task force dedicated to that goal, he said, as well as the formulation of a national gender policy in 2012 and provision of critical health-care information and services to survivors.  Further, Tonga’s development framework had nine priorities for the 2011-2014 period, including for women’s empowerment.  Tonga also had participated in the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in January, which involved recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  In sum, he thanked donors and development partners for their assistance in advancing gender issues in Tonga and looked forward to their continued support.

ROSALIA NGHIDINWA, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said her country’s commitment to ending gender violence was guided by the Constitution, which stated that the dignity of all persons was inviolable.  The Government had ratified various regional and international protocols and conventions on the rights of women and girls, and had joined forces with regional and international partners.  It also had enacted various laws to improve the status of women and girls.

Further, a national advisory committee against gender-based violence was created to advise the Government on actions to end such abuse, she said.  In 2007, Namibia held it first national conference on the topic, which had brought together representatives from Government, civil society, traditional authorities, media and faith-based groups, who exchanged views on the causes of abuse.  One outcome was the launch of a media campaign on “zero tolerance for gender violence” which focused on three issues:  human trafficking; killing of women and girls; and “baby dumping”.  Among the challenges was Namibia’s limited capacity to conduct thoroughly forensic investigations, which allowed perpetrators to not be convicted, due to insufficient evidence.

MAKIBI KADIDJATOU DANOBI, Minister of Population, Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, said that most Nigerien women lived in rural areas, and most were illiterate.  Some 80 per cent of poor people were women.  Despite the adoption of a law providing a quota for women in elected positions, women were still underrepresented in decision-making spheres.  According to a 2008 study, violence against women and children continued unabated and were even tolerated by society.  Some examples included physical, sexual, psychological, economic and cultural violence.  For the most part, the perpetrators were mainly uneducated married men who were either married to the victim or part of their family or community.

If such violence continued, it was because of deeply rooted social behaviours and erroneous interpretation of religious teachings, as well as the legal insecurity of women and girls.  It was also due to the ignorance of the victims themselves and their economic dependence on men.  Given the complexity of the problem, the Government had adopted an intervention strategy based on an integrated approach.  Much remained to be done to meet the challenge of gender-based violence, which was further exacerbated by the low level of literacy among women and girls and the heavy burden of work on women.

JET BUSSEMAKER, Minster of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, said that 84 per cent of young adult women became the victims of sexual harassment at some point, and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women everywhere — including in the Netherlands — ran an increased risk of discrimination and violence.  “Violence against women may occur wherever economic, political and social inequalities between women and men prevail,” she said.  Both being a perpetrator and a victim were often passed from one generation to the next.  Governments should, therefore, endeavour to prevent violence constructively and responsibly, in tandem with community-based organization and social workers.  International treaties, such as the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which the Netherlands intended to ratify this year, provided useful encouragement.

At the same time, violence against women could not be combated with treaties and legislation alone.  “Our societies must also be willing to look at the underlying causes of violence, at the systems that facilitate violence and at the factors that contribute to vulnerability among women,” particularly migrants, refugees and women in conflict situations.  Factors, such as financial and social dependence, a lack of access to education, and forced marriage also had a great impact.  “We cannot tolerate a world in which victims of violence do not dare to talk about what has happened to them … a world in which women cannot hold their heads up high and claim their rights, and in which perpetrators of violence go unpunished,” she stressed.  Indeed, violence must be combated at the level of perception, and the prevalent stereotyping of both men and women must end.  She stressed her delegation’s hope that the Commission’s session would result in joint conclusions so that universal human rights — including reproductive rights — would finally apply to everyone.

YINA QUINTANA, President of the National Transitional Commission of Ecuador, said her country had a “living well” model, which aimed to satisfy basic quality of life needs, which required that no person was dominated by another.  It encouraged mutual respect.  With that in mind, the Government recognized gender equality, including for indigenous women and women of different sexual orientations.  Over the last five years, Ecuador had devised a plan for eradicating abuse against women, having conducted its first-ever survey on that topic.  “Violence against women is a socioeconomic problem,” she said.

In reform of its judiciary, Ecuador had created an interagency body to coordinate such work, as well as a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office to combat violence against women.  To eradicate poverty, Ecuador had carried out an equal economic distribution policy, which included grants for women.  Ecuador also had created an intercultural directorate of health care, and was working to transform society so that the concept of sexuality was no longer taboo.  The citizen revolution over five years had increased women’s participation in institutions, including the Court of Justice, where 40 per cent of judges were women.

CLOTILDE NIRAGIRA, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, said her country, at the highest levels, was determined to combat gender violence.  The President recently signed a commitment to end violence against women, which was part of a broad campaign.  Burundi also had signed the Kampala Declaration to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Africa, devised a national strategy to combat that problem, and integrated gender violence issues into the poverty reduction framework.

Among other measures, Burundi had established a national women’s forum for women to express themselves, she said, and outlined its criminal code to perpetrators of violence against women.  A law was under way to deal with gender violence.  Gender focal points had been placed in tribunals, while a centre had been set up to coordinate collective action on gender-based violence.  A woman should be able to exercise her right to procreation, as well as to education and sexual and reproductive health, she said.  Challenges included weakness of mechanisms to combat gender violence.

GENEVIÉVE INAGOSI-BULO IBAMBI KASSONGO, Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that, in the context of the ongoing Congolese war, over 7 million women had died in a “invisible conflict” that was tantamount to a genocide.  “How long will their cries fall on deaf ears?,” she implored, noting that most of the women who suffered in silence lived in the east of the country — a stronghold for 23 March Movement militants  far from the eyes of international media.  Women there could not live freely or carry out their work for fear of violence, she said, calling on the international community to bring that critical situation to public consciousness.

The Government had been combating impunity for gender-based violence and other forms of violence.  She highlighted several significant efforts in that respect, namely, legal reforms to protect the rights of women, a review of the country’s Family Code, and efforts towards a rapid reestablishment of peace in the country.  Other challenges on which the country was working included the need for compensation of women for sexual violence, the eradication of outdated customs and taboos that prevented the realization of women’s rights, the reduction of early marriage and the mainstreaming of gender into all national projects and programmes, among others.  Finally, she urged the Commission to adopt a resolution condemning the use of rape as a weapon of war.

KHEMPHENG PHOLSENA, Minister to the Government Office and Chair, National Commission for the Advancement of Women and the National Commission for Mothers and Children of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, asked:  “How could it be conceivable to achieve a sustainable and all-inclusive economic and social development for all, equal rights and opportunities for everyone … without addressing the root causes of gender inequality and disparities leading to violence against women and girls?”  The Government’s priorities in that area included:  an appropriate legal framework; an operational institutional framework; a consistent policy and strategy context covering all sectors; and finally, improved general governance.  Participation, representation, information and communication aimed at changing social mindsets and stereotypes were needed.

Indeed, the legal framework, by and large, existed and criminalized violence.  However, what was still lacking was the capacity of related institutions to implement and enforce existing laws and decrees.  She said that the country’s institutional framework to combat violence against women included three elements:  the National Commission for the Advancement of Women; the Law Women’s Union; and the Women Parliamentarian Caucus.  It had also instituted the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy, the seventh Five-Year National Socio-Economic Development Plan and other national frameworks.  Attention in those strategies was given to three main pillars:  prevention focusing on the legal framework and awareness-building; prosecution of perpetrators and offenders with a focus on capacity development for police officers and the judiciary; and support to victims, with a hotline and counselling centres for victims of violence and human trafficking.

MARLENE COUDRAY, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development of Trinidad and Tobago, said that her country had introduced a broad spectrum of measures, including legislation, to prevent gender-based violence, to punish those who committed such crimes, and to provide remedies for those affected.  Those included, among other things, reconciliation in matrimonial cases in order to ensure that a wife had the same rights with respect to property as a husband.  The Government had also undertaken efforts to enhance the responsiveness of law enforcement agencies to reports of domestic violence, which had resulted in the production of a Domestic Violence Investigative and Procedural Manual for police officers.  Another important initiative was the economic empowerment of women through skills training, which aimed to reduce their vulnerability to abuse through, for example, increased employability and earning potential.

Trinidad and Tobago recognized the important role of support systems in addressing the issue of violence against women and girls.  Accordingly, it provided support services such as free legal aid and advice, housing assistance and free health care, which included the administering of HIV prophylaxis and emergency contraception in instances of sexual violence.  The Government also worked closely with civil society and private sector organizations, as well as international agencies to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence and to provide a number of support mechanisms to victims and survivors at no cost.

INONGE WINA, Minister of Gender and Child Development of Zambia, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action, among other international agreements.  Critical to ensuring the protection of women’s and girls’ rights was the review of the Constitution and national gender policy.  Article 23 of Zambia’s Constitution, which had allowed discrimination in matters of personal law, had been removed.  The new constitution, once adopted, would greatly contribute to the elimination of violence against women.  Zambia’s gender policy provided guidance to all sectors in addressing that problem.  The 2011 anti-gender violence act was another milestone, as it outlined preventive measures and the creation of shelters.  Its monitoring committee had already been formed.

Continuing, she said the Government and its partners had provided funds for protecting women’s and girls’ rights.  In addition, Zambia had worked closely with civil society, and made “tremendous” efforts to provide multisectoral responses to violence against women and girls.  “Zero tolerance” programmes included community mobilization and the engagement of men and local opinion leaders as “change agents”.  The challenges ahead included limited reliable data and capacity to handle gender violence cases.  In closing, she hoped the Commission would provide guidance on promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment in relation to the priority theme.

ELIZABETH QUIROA CUELLAR, Minister, Secretaria Presidential de la Mujer, Guatemala, outlined measures to combat violence against women and girls, citing the law on femicide and the creation of specialized judges in that context.  In Guatemala, violence against women continued to affect Maya and Garafuna women, as well as boys and girls.  The Vice-President was a woman and she was working to address girl pregnancies which resulted from rape.  More than 1,000 such cases had been brought to the Prosecutor.

She went on to say that in 2012, the Human Rights Prosecutor had received more than 1,500 complaints of child abuse and 392 cases of violent child deaths.  The number of orphans resulting from violence was more than 2,000.  Of women between the ages of 14 and 49 years, 42.9 per cent had suffered verbal or physical violence, many of whom were illiterate.  Economic dependence was a risk factor in violence.  Pointing to one initiative, she said municipal offices for women had been created as a political tool to allow women to establish alliances with governmental bodies and civic agencies in their areas.

OLIVIA N. MUCHENA, Minster for Family, Social Affairs, National Solidarity, Handicapped and Elderly Persons of Zimbabwe, said that the country had instituted laws, policies and frameworks on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It would soon hold a referendum on a draft constitution that addressed the root causes of gender inequality.  Through that draft, a quota of 60 women in the National Assembly would be required, as well as 50/50 gender representation in provincial councils, among other quotas.  The draft constitution would also ask the Government to protect and foster the institution of the family, and to adopt measures to prevent domestic violence.

Community-based prevention programmes had so far yielded positive results.  A community-based programme involving the “four Ps” — prevention, protection, participation and programmes — was focused on implementing the provisions of the 2007 Domestic Violence act.  A legal literacy programme was a way of popularizing simplified versions of domestic violence laws, which had been translated into local languages.  There was a broad-based women’s economic empowerment framework, which provided practical measures to increase and mainstream women’s participation in key sectors of the economy.  Men’s groups had also taken a lead role in promoting transformative masculinity under the motto “men of quality are not afraid of equality”, she said.

SODNOMZUNDUI ERDENE, Minster for Population Development and Social Protection of Mongolia, said that his country had made progress in creating the legal basis for ending violence against women and girls, including by approving separate legislation on combating domestic violence, combating human trafficking and gender equality.  However, a number of challenges remained, in particular the violence against women, sexual harassment and trafficking that persisted in the country.  He emphasized the need to investigate negative changes occurring in Mongolian society, as well as to identify and respond to newly emerging types of violence, to improve law enforcement, and to strengthen national capacity.  It was also urgent to formulate and ensure the implementation of comprehensive policies and programmes focused on prevention, response and eradication of the root causes and risks of violence, as well as the protection and psychological rehabilitation of a victim.

Currently, a draft law on the elimination of domestic violence, a draft law on family and a draft law on protection of child rights, among several others, were being elaborated for submission to the Parliament.  Mongolia had experienced better cooperation among different agencies in fighting violence, he added, citing the example of one-stop crisis centres for victims of domestic and sexual violence.  Mongolia remained committed to strengthening its national capacity to increase public awareness on prevention; to promoting household development and education; to ensuring a legal environment for operating one-stop crisis centres; and to ensure the conditions for immediate protection services accessible for victims.

MARIAMA SARR, Minister for Women, Children and Female Entrepreneurship of Senegal, said her country had ratified almost all international and regional instruments to combat all forms of violence against women.  In the last two decades, many efforts had been made, including regulatory and legislative measures to punish those who violated women’s rights.  The Constitution of 2000 recognized the equality of women and girls, with its article 98 outlining that international treaties prevailed over national law in that regard.  Senegal had reformed its criminal code, adopted laws on female genital mutilation and implemented an assistance and outreach programme through various shelters around the country.

She went on to say that awareness-raising campaigns had been carried out, stressing:  “We must step up these efforts to reach zero tolerance.”  The Government planned to implement national programmes to strengthen legal, judiciary and institutional measures, and provide assistance to victims, in line with the President’s wishes.  By the end of the year, Senegal planned to put in place a framework for the coordination of gender violence work, which would bring together Government bodies, civil society, the private sector and others.

SUSAN RICE ( United States) said she was here today to reaffirm:  “The rights of my daughter are just as real, just as sacred and just as self-evident as the rights of my son.”  People could not live in truly open societies if the doors were not open equally to all women and girls.  “When one woman suffers abuse, our common humanity is assaulted with her,” she said.  Whether women were assaulted by a family member or stranger, a State-backed militia or intimate partner, so was their full participation in society.  Violence against women weakened communities, stunted economies and eroded common values.  Since the adoption of the Declaration on Eliminating Violence against Women, efforts had been made to do more to help victims, she said, adding that, in one generation, the ground had shifted.

By way of example, she said the myth that abused women had “asked for it” had been debunked, while the use of rape as a weapon of war was now widely condemned.  But, more must be done.  More than 600 million women and girls still lived in countries that had not declared domestic violence a crime.  The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community faced higher risks of abuse, while thousands of women in conflict or post-conflict zones were exposed to daily rape.  Six thousand girls were assaulted a year while simply trying to get to school.  Tomorrow, the United States President would sign the Violence Against Women Act, renewed last week by Congress, transforming the way perpetrators of abuse and their victims were treated.  In addition, more protections would finally be offered to Native American women and the “LGBT” community.

ZENEBU TADESSE, Minister of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs of Ethiopia, said that violence against women and girls was the worst kind of human rights violation.  It impacted not only on the individuals affected, but also on society as a whole, as sustainable economic and social development could not be achieved without the equal participation of women.  “What’s needed is concrete action,” she said, describing several national efforts in that respect.  The adoption of a revised criminal code and a family law, alongside multisectoral interventions, had helped to mitigate the problem, she said.

In addition, the empowerment of women and girls was a priority of Mali’s socioeconomic strategy.  Efforts were under way to train women and help them to realize their rights to primary and secondary education.  The country also focused on the enhancement of women’s participation in work and their access to savings and credit programmes, as well as guaranteeing their rights to own, inherit and administer land.  Women’s involvement in decision-making stood at about 30 per cent.  In addition, the Government was working to shun “dysfunctional” cultural attitudes, she said.  During the present meeting, Ethiopia was looking forward to sharing its best practices and successes in the area of combating violence against women and girls.  It was critical to have an agreed outcome at the end of the session, she added.

ALWATA ICHATA SAHI, Minster for Family and the Advancement of Women and Children of Mali, said that this year’s theme was worthy of particular attention in her country.  The present meeting was taking place at a time when conflicts were resurging in places such as Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Republic of Congo, her own country and others, and young people and women were paying the highest price.  In Mali, rebels and jihadists were wreaking havoc in the northern part of the country.  There were reports of rapes and gang rapes, stonings and amputations, as well as the desecration of schools and religious heritage.  All kinds of violence against women and girls represented a serious threat to the advancement of women in Mali.  Indeed, the country’s security and humanitarian crisis had led to a social upheaval.  For example, she said, health and support centres had been completely destroyed, leading to the death of many pregnant women.

Mali supported all international and regional treaties with regards to promoting the rights of women and girls.  Nationally, it had established a number of policies and programmes to combat violence against women and girls.  Along with technical partners, international agencies and civil society, Mali had instituted a framework of economic restoration and gender empowerment.  Prevention initiatives were based on sending a clear message to women, as well as to armed forces, that violence was unacceptable.  The country was also offering legal, social and psychosocial support to victims, and economic assistance had been provided to some 20,000 displaced women through “quick impact” programmes.

NZET BITEGUE, Minister of Family and Social Affairs of Gabon, said prevention, action, assistance, empowerment, capacity-building, and the involvement of boys and men were among the most effective ways to combat the scourge of violence against women.  It was essential to eradicate that problem and she urged the international community to do more to that end, urging a focus on the situation of widows.  For its part, Gabon had reviewed its legal framework and removed discriminatory provisions.

Continuing, she said free legal assistance was provided to victims who lacked resources, while a family court now also covered legal fees for poor women.  It was essential to focus on education and awareness-raising to overcome sociocultural obstacles to gender equality, especially among young people.  With that in mind, awareness-raising campaigns focused on human rights and women were regularly carried out with relevant stakeholders.  By acting together, the systematic violence against women would be eradicated.

YANICK MEZILE, Minister for Women’s Condition and Women’s Rights of Haiti, said violence against women in her country was seen as an outcome of social inequality.  It handicapped women’s participation in development.  As such, her ministry was working to ensure that public policies were able to combat taboos and prejudices.  Among the legislative measures taken, Haiti had signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, having ratified it in 1981, which marked a turning point.

Among other things, Haiti had ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, she said, noting that a tripartite structure was in place to ensure synergy among various bodies in combating violence against women.  In August 2012, a decree modified the law on sexual violence and rape, while awareness-building campaigns had been launched to fight sexist stereotypes.  She hoped that the ratification of the framework law on violence would put in place measures to combat violence against women.  Finally, she said the second national plan to combat violence against women and girls for the 2012-2016 period was being carried out in hopes of creating a more equal society.

MARIE THERESE ABENA ONDOUA, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Families of Cameroon, said that surveys from 2011 showed that, in her country, many women by the age of 15 had experienced violence, and that many who had engaged in sexual intercourse by that age had done so by force.  About 43 per cent of women experienced injuries as a result of domestic violence.  Other challenges included early child marriages, poverty, low access to resources and lack of control over resources by women, among others.  As a result, the Government, in collaboration with development partners and civil society, had undertaken a number of measures, including capacity-building of stakeholders, the dissemination of educational materials on harmful traditional practices in local languages and the promotion of the rights of women through public awareness-raising programmes.  There had also been declarations by Muslim leaders who pledged to protect the rights of Muslim women and girls.

The country had established a platform with law enforcement officers, civil society members and sectoral ministries to prevent violence against women, she continued.  There was a pilot shelter for battered women.  It provided legal assistance to widows in the follow-up of inheritance procedures, and training programmes for prostitutes seeking alternate income-generating work.  “We have yet to obtain our objectives,” she said.  However, thanks to such efforts, they would certainly be achieved in the future.  In that respect, Cameroon counted on the multifaceted support of the United Nations and its other development partners.  “Victims have to break the silence and perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions,” she concluded.

RABIHA DIAB, Minister of Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that, like other women, Palestinian women suffered from societal violence, whether at the level of family or work, or from laws to which they were subjected.  But, the harshest and most severe violence was that of the Israeli occupation, which affected all aspects of Palestinian life and all segments of its people — women, men, elderly or children — as it inflicted on them a systematic policy of racial violence without international monitoring, law or deterrent.  The Israeli occupation killed, arrested, assaulted, destroyed homes and evicted inhabitants, built walls and checkpoints, and confiscated lands, all in violation of international conventions and human rights agreements.

Moreover, it must be underscored that the serious political consequences of the Israeli occupation were borne by Palestinian women, and the “oppressive and unjust” siege of the Gaza Strip could not be forgotten.  The Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, for its part, had undertaken a number of actions in partnership with the community and with women’s organizations.  Those included:  the establishment of the Supreme National Committee for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; the ratification of the Strategic Plan for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2011-2019; a draft law for family protection against violence; a draft system for transferring battered women to health, social and police services; the issuance of a resolution by the Council of Ministers to form a national committee for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000); and the formation of a Sensitive National Committee on Social Gender.

JULIANA KANTENGWA, Member of Parliament of Rwanda, condemned all forms of violence against women and girls, including in conflict zones, and urged the inclusion of goals to such abuse in the post-2015 agenda.  “Violence against women and girls is an assault to human dignity,” she asserted, underscoring the need to create services for establishing non-violent behaviour.  In terms of prosecution, she said cases were often withdrawn due to family pressure, which perpetuated the culture of silence, while a lack of capacity to respond to violence cases, especially for children, was another obstacle to progress.

Rwanda had created an environment conducive for gender equality and children’s rights, she said, having shown strong political will in adopting strong policies, including laws to prevent violence.  Several home-grown systems had been created to dissolve disputes, promote reconciliation and serve as channels to end violence against women.  Security bodies — including the national police — were responding to violence against women and girls by operating one-stop centres that provided free services.  The gains made in providing medical, psychosocial and judicial services over the last three years had led the Government to pledge a scaling up of those efforts in the coming years.

LOURDES BANDEIRA, Vice-Minister, Secretariat of Policies for Women of Brazil, said her country’s development model promoted social equality.  A chapter of Brazil’s national policy for women was devoted to eliminating all forms of violence against women, and the Government had pledged to expand services for victims, ensure access to justice, and guarantee both sexual and reproductive rights and women’s empowerment.  Such services were spread throughout the country.  For example, to combat gender violence, a 24-hour hotline had been set up for women to receive information about their rights.  It had received over 3 million calls and was today available to Brazilian women who lived outside the country.

She went on to note that the benefits of such efforts had been felt.  Brazil was working with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) to integrate such services and better assist women affected by violence in border areas.  Next year, Brazil would host the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and the Government was working to prevent any violence that might surround such events.  She underlined the importance of women’s security, urging that progress be made in terms of data collection, education, the development of a global legislative framework, and implementation of measures to combat the trafficking of women.  “We cannot go backwards,” she said, stressing that the document to be adopted by the Commission would benefit women worldwide.

Panel on Multisectoral Services, Responses for Violence-Affected Women and Girls

This afternoon, the Commission held an interactive discussion on multisectoral services and responses for women and girls subjected to violence.  Moderated by Filippo Cinti (Italy), Vice-Chair of the Commission, it featured five panelists:  Eva Giberti (Argentina), Programme Coordinator, Victims of Violence, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; Akima Thomas (United Kingdom), Clinical Director, Women and Girls Network; Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Betty Timba (Zambia), Divisional Coordinator, Community Services, Zambia Police; and Luisa Marcal (Timor-Leste), Coordinator, Fatin Hakmatek.

Kicking off the discussion, Mr. CINTI said that the prevention of and the response to violence were a continuum, and that countries needed both to address the root causes of violence and to respond to the needs of victims.  Multisectoral services and responses must be underpinned by strong legislation, and must include a full range of services, such as gender-sensitive police, access to health services — including those for sexual and reproductive health — legal support, hotlines for support, and many others.  Given the diversity of countries, services should be culturally appropriate and age-sensitive.  There was much left to do, as the implementation of commitments was slower than expected and uneven around the world.

In that context, today’s panelists should consider several questions.  Those included:  how to establish sustainable multisectoral services?  What should be in place to coordinate such services, and make them easier to use?  He asked the panelists to consider:  How to ensure that services were accessible to all women and girls, including those that faced barriers of access?  How to ensure that all services were adequately resourced?  What monitoring and evaluation systems should be put in place to ensure that services were effective?  They should also highlight key initiatives of multisectoral services, he said, and provide clear and concrete recommendations.

Ms. GIBERTI said that, in 2003, Argentina had adopted a milestone, far-reaching and cross-cutting law dealing with the eradication and prevention of all forms of violence against women.  In 2006, it had also established the Victims against Violence programme — which she led — though which specialized teams supported female victims of violence.  First, workers manned a call centre and, if requested to do so, deployed a team comprising two police officers, one social worker and a psychologist.

Continuing, she said that women victims were removed from the scene of the crime and taken to an office that dealt with domestic violence, where they could further decide whether to file a complaint.  Some 38 per cent of those who called did not want to file such a complaint because they were afraid to do so, she said; however, in cases in which complaints were not filed, the team followed up with the victim in a month’s time to offer further support.  The programme also employed civil service lawyers who were constantly on-call answering telephone calls from victims and providing legal assistance if necessary.

Other teams established by the programme provided assistance for victims of a sexual nature, accompanying victims to the hospital, offering the morning after pill if necessary, and staying with her for the duration of her visit.  When contacted by the judge, the victim had to identify the perpetrator, and in order for him to be tried and imprisoned, the complaint must be sustained.  “Victims must never be left alone” throughout the process, she stressed.  Next, the teams continued to provide assistance to ensure that victims received remedial measures.  Among other things, the programme also established teams that dealt with the abuse of children and sexual tourism, she added.

Ms. THOMAS said that, in the United Kingdom, it was estimated that some 3 million females a year would be affected by some form of violence against women and girls.  The country continued to struggle to ensure due regard to women’s equality and compliance with the obligations of the Convention.  One in four local authorities in Britain were without specialist support services for violence against women and girls, and those for black and minority women were the most poorly resourced.  A recent report also found a 31 per cent cut to specialist services for violence against women and girls, creating an uneven and dramatic impact across the country and likely leading to an increase in incidences of violence against women and girls.  The opportunities for women to disclose — and heal from — experiences of violence were “reverting once more to silence”, she stressed, noting that survivors struggled to restore meaning and liberty.

Despite those constraints and limited resources, however, there were some remarkable examples of innovation and good practice in specialist services in the United Kingdom.  The core principles of those best practices included:  understanding sexual and domestic violence and their impacts; safety, security and dignity; diversity and fair access to services; advocacy and support; empowerment and participation; confidentiality; a coordinated, multi-agency response; challenging social tolerance of sexual and domestic violence and holding perpetrators accountable; and accountability and governance.  Moreover, she said, a holistic empowerment recovery model was gender responsive, relational and provided trauma responsive services.  It incorporated a strengths-based approach and a recovery-oriented practice, among other things.  She also issued a number of specific recommendations based on the research of her organization, the Women’s and Girls’ Network.

Next, Ms. MANJOO said Governments had engaged in various activities to protect women, including through institutional and policy measures that had seen the creation of special mechanisms to prosecute perpetrators.  Despite such efforts, violence against women was a pervasive, widespread phenomenon.  Civil society had argued that the problem was reaching epidemic proportions.  It was rooted in multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination and linked to women’s economic situation.  Links also should be made between violence against women and other systems of oppression.  Legislative and policy measures would not bring about change if not embedded in a holistic approach that targeted women’s empowerment and remedies to break the cycle of discrimination.  Risk factors for violence included race, skin colour, intellect, language, ethnic identity and sexual orientation, as well as geographic location, household size and marital relationships.

She went on to say that the lack of a holistic approach had been the main obstacle to identifying, preventing, and ultimately ending all violence against women.  In terms of prevention, the manner in which police responded was a vital first step in identifying victim safety.  Unfortunately, police did not treat such abuse with same seriousness as they did other crimes.  Law enforcement decision-making was shaped by personal and traditional views about women, while responses were often limited by a lack of resources.  The responding officer was often a generalist, rather than a specialist.

In her work, she had seen how State-run services operated with a specific focus on family reunification, rather than on the prosecution of perpetrators — a mistake.  In conclusion, she said violence against women required multiple approaches for its elimination.  Efforts must be localized and take into account differences among communities.  States also were obliged to hold perpetrators accountable.

Ms. TIMBA discussed her country’s coordinated, multisectoral response to sexual and gender-based violence, saying that such a response was first piloted in 2006.  The aim of the project was to create a broad approach for improving service delivery and sustainable support to victims and survivors.  Partners were involved from the onset, paving the way to a truly multisectoral approach.  Two coordinated response centres were established in urban ( Lusaka) and “peri-urban” (Chipata) settings and eventually scaled up.  Contact persons were identified in each participating institution.  The role of the police involved receiving and investigating cases, preparing victims for court as witnesses, and bringing perpetrators “to book”.

Intake was very important, she said, and the receiving officer must be aware of the shame a victim might experience and ensure she was able to give pertinent information.  Among the challenges in creating coordinated response centres was a lack of shelter for abused children and women, transport to the centres, and inadequate staffing at the centres.  High staff turnover, especially in the police force or Ministry of Health, jeopardized coordination and compounded other funding problems.  To overcome those obstacles, she urged involving all partners from the initial programme design phase and transporting victims to the nearest hospitals so they could access services.  Changing the “culture of silence” also required involving community leaders to change perceptions and behaviour.

Describing women’s situation in Timor-Leste, Ms. MARCAL said that 33 per cent of Timorese women had experienced violence since the age of 15.  Rates were higher in urban areas.  Twenty-nine per cent of women thought marital rape was acceptable.  Only 24 per cent of women who experienced violence sought help.  Against that backdrop, the Fatin Hakmatek ( Safe Place) facility was launched in 2002, with funds form the International Red Cross.  Based in a National Hospital in Dili, it had expanded to five district referral hospitals.  In 2012, it had received 293 new referrals.  Between its opening in 2002 and December 2012, Fatin Hakmatek had provided service to 1,544 victims.

Continuing, she said that among the numerous services Fatin Hakmatek provided to women were:  free counselling; medical treatment; forensic documentation of injuries and collection of evidence for a possible court case; practical assistance — such as food or clothes; and emergency accommodation.  An international mentor provided clinical and other support.  Assistance was offered in three languages:  Portuguese, Tetum and English.  The centre also worked with a number of actors, including the police, Government ministries, communities, local leaders and advocacy groups.  Going forward in work to improve services, the centre would work to strengthen implementation of the national action plan on gender-based violence.

In two rounds of questions and comments, delegates reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to addressing violence against women and girls, and laid out national programmes to respond in a coordinated, multisectoral manner to such abuse, which all participants agreed was a pervasive global phenomenon that must be eradicated if societies were to be truly open and equal.  The prevalence of some forms of violence was better documented than others.  As such, some speakers underlined the need for stakeholders to work together, share information and complement the efforts of one another to avoid a duplication of work.

Others discussed the creation of 24-hour crisis hotlines and one-stop service centres, staffed with experts from the police, legal affairs, health care and counselling disciplines.  Care units had been set up in hospitals, courts and police forces, some said, which worked in with other stakeholders to offer, for example, temporary shelter.  Efforts to change national criminal legislation were also discussed.  On that point, the representative of the Russian Federation said criminal liability had been strengthened for crimes such as serious bodily harm, rape, murder and failure to properly raise children.

Still others underlined the importance of evaluating Government and legislative work, especially by non-governmental organizations or others close to women’s realities.  There was a need, some said, for further addressing the role of the police and law enforcement to ensure they did not re-victimize women.  Implementing a regular referral mechanism was also vital for avoiding gaps in protecting victims, as was develop — at the local level — a homogeneous system of notification.

Among the many questions raised, delegates asked about strategies to maximize collaborative opportunities to support women and girls, especially specific experiences in engaging civil society.

Mexico’s delegate pointed out that medical services often pushed women to file a complaint, which ultimately led to them being killed by their abusers.  She asked what could be done so that medical services did not jeopardize women’s safety.  In addition, “You cannot provide one-size-fits-all treatment,” she said, noting that women from urban, rural, aboriginal and other communities required different types of assistance.  She encouraged adopting tailored approaches.

On that point, a representative of the Human Rights Federation of Spain said that femicide, while most prevalent in Latin America, was a global problem linked to torture and forced disappearance.  He asked if support services in Argentina had identified it as a specific problem and whether a tailored response had been developed.

Iceland’s delegate asked how the lack of a police response to domestic violence cases could be addressed.

Other delegates asked about the most effective means for encouraging women and girls to seek help, given the fear, shame and stigmatization around abuse.  Stressing the need to break the culture of silence, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate asked if women avoided reporting abuse out of fear of being separated from their children, and if so, what types of redress could be provided?

Still others pointed out that there were 140 global multisectoral programmes, asking panellists to discuss best practices.  The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo asked why panellists had not drawn attention to increased violence in her country, which included sexual slavery, collective sexual violence and human mutilation.

Responding, Ms. THOMAS said the United Kingdom had limited multisectoral responses and urged more opportunity for legal redress.  To Mexico’s question, she urged the creation of robust criminal justice systems to ensure that women were safe to disclose information about their abuse.

Ms. MANJOO, responding to a question about changing police culture, said that specialization and training were needed, as was women’s representation in police forces around the world.  Violence against women often was not seen as “real” police work, and there must be affirmation that it was indeed significant work.  One aspect that was missing in several countries was accountability for police or State service providers that failed to prevent or protect.

Next, Ms. GIBERTI took on the question of femicide, saying that Argentina had adopted a law on femicide, which had yet to be implemented, as it contained a number of aspects that must be improved.  One non-governmental organization had compiled records of femicide, but there was no official procedure for that as of yet.

She went on to add that Argentina’s experience with femicide had increased significantly in 2010, after a famous musician killed his wife by setting her on fire.  That type of death was “infinitely cruel”.  The femicide law addressed the needs of children exposed to femicide, outlining that they would be handed over to the guardianship of either the family of the victim or the assailant.  Also in 2010, women started calling assistance centres more frequently with questions about how to handle spouses or boyfriends threatening such abuse.

Ms. TIMBA focused on the statistics obtained from the coordinated response centres, saying that between 2008 and 2010, the highest number of cases reported involved assault.  The culture of silence, however, still prevented women from disclosing family matters.  “You have to report, for your own safety,” she urged.  Women’s economic position also might prevent them from reporting, especially if women were not able to leave their households on their own.

She said it was important to put structures in place to elevate the plight of women and children and to protect their rights.  In terms of monitoring, she said she met frequently with stakeholders to determine what was not working.  By way of example, she said courts were being guided on how to handle testimony from children who were afraid or did not use proper terminology in describing their abuse.

Rounding out the responses, Ms. MARCAL said her organization provided training to police in order to improve their response to victims.  It also worked with stakeholders — including the Ministry of Health and victim shelters — to provide coordinated support services.  Her organization only had 24 hours to handle such matters.

Also speaking in the discussion were the representatives of Canada, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Sudan, Italy, Paraguay, Panama, India, Morocco, Brazil, Malaysia, Switzerland, Timor Leste, United States, Uganda, Cuba, Japan, El Salvador, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Israel, Turkey and Albania.

A representative of the delegation of the European Union also spoke.

A representative of Mujer para la Mujer also delivered remarks.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.