24 November 2005
On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence on 25 November, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk, call on Governments, the wider United Nations system and civil society to strengthen efforts to address violence against women in the private sphere.
Most violence against women is committed in realms which are less visible and open to State intervention. In every country of the world, men beat, mutilate, rape and murder their wives, daughters and other female relatives. In some countries, legislation explicitly legitimizes this violence. In many countries, there is no legislation specifically criminalizing violence against women perpetrated in the private sphere. Where there is legislation and policies to eradicate domestic violence, these are often not implemented, access to services (including social, medical, and legal services) is limited and the perpetrators are not held accountable and enjoy impunity. We urge States to challenge societal values that support discrimination against women and legitimize violence against them; adopt specific legislation addressing domestic violence and end impunity for crimes committed against women.
International law obliges States to prevent, investigate and punish all acts of violence against women, whether they are committed by private or State actors. Failure to meet this obligation is a violation of women’s human rights. Police, members of the judiciary and the broader criminal justice system must ensure that gender justice becomes a reality. Women must have the broadest access to affordable social, health and legal services. In addressing the root causes of violence against women all forms of discrimination and unequal power hierarchies must be eliminated. Women’s economic and political empowerment must be supported and gender roles which relegate women to an inferior status and make them vulnerable to violence must be continually challenged.
We recognize the efforts of Governments to take a strong stand in this context. We welcome the decisions of courts and tribunals that reflect progressive interpretations of international law. For example, gender-based persecution is increasing being recognized as grounds for asylum and more and more courts are recognizing marital rape as a crime. But this is not enough. There is a clear need for greater political will to prioritize violence against women as a fundamental human rights violation, which can be eliminated with appropriate dedication and resources.
We can celebrate the fact that the efforts of the past decade have brought awareness that violence is not a fate and have given hope to women in all corners of the world that it can be stopped. We must respond to that hope.