Breaking down the wall of silence

“Does it have to take a particularly graphic piece of news – a girl stoned to death, a mass rape, a string of honour killings – to get our attention?” Pillay asks in her media statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. “If so, what can we do to shake ourselves out of this apathy, this acceptance, this assumption that other people are taking care of this issue, so we don’t need to act ourselves? Doesn’t that make us accomplices to what is, in fact, a human rights violation committed day after day on a massive scale with impunity?”.

Human Rights Chief says we must all act to stop violence against women © MONUCIn the statement Pillay said in some countries as many as 60 percent of women may suffer some form of physical violence at least once.  However, she says “Such figures, important though they are as a reminder of the shocking prevalence of the problem, risk numbing us to the damage each and every act of violence does to a girl or a woman.  Numbers mask the personal pain of the individual.”

The High Commissioner urged individual interventions, “When the perpetrator is a friend, or a neighbour or a family member, we can stop turning a blind eye and pretending we are not aware of what is going on… Each and every one of us has it in us to become a human rights defender, acting to prevent or diminish discrimination.”

At a workshop of experts on this issue in Geneva, organized by the UN Human Rights office, the High Commissioner recalled that it is three decades since the global community adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and 15 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women where States again offered commitments to eliminate discrimination against women. “Tangible improvement in the daily lives of millions of women lag well behind stated commitments and intentions,” she said.

In her address Pillay said, “It is our responsibility to break down the wall of silence surrounding the countless women who endure violence and exclusion, whose names and faces are anonymous and whose predicament remains below the radar of national survey or United Nations statistics.”

The High Commissioner suggested that the answer lies with “a holistic strategy”, one which would involve the criminal justice system, health, education, development, humanitarian, peace and security sectors.

The expert workshop requested by the Human Rights Council asked for a discussion of specific measures to overcome problems in investigating, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators of violence against women and girls. It also asked that consideration be given to protection, support, assistance and redress for victims.

The workshop heard from a wide range of experts with different backgrounds and perspectives from many countries including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Spain, and the USA.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is observed annually on 25 November and marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.

2 December 2010