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A call to “Orange the World” to end violence against women

Sonia, from Barbados, recounts her experience with domestic violence to the UN Human Rights Office, saying that after dating her former boyfriend for 11 months, the once “loving and supportive” man turned “extremely violent and jealous”. “He would hit me with objects, including the flat side of a machete. Some of the beatings were witnessed by my sons,” says Sonia, who sought help at the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPW), the island’s only women’s shelter for victims of violence.

Sonia’s experience is true of millions of women globally. According to data provided by the UN’s UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women, physical violence inflicted by intimate partners is the most common form of violence experienced by women. In the United States one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners, while in South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours and in Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.

“It is disgraceful that even today, for many women and girls everywhere, violence is lurking around street corners, in workplaces or in their very own homes,” said the UN High Commissioner Pillay in November on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which kicked off the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Today Sonia is no longer a beneficiary at BPW Barbados, but instead, works there, helping victims get back on their feet after suffering from domestic violence.

BPW Barbados is currently collaborating with UN organizations, including the UN Human Rights Office, to promote the UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women.

This year, for the 16 Days of Activism, held annually between 25 November and 10 December, the Campaign calls on men, women and children to “Orange the World” in creative and visible ways, in order to create a symbolic vision of a bright and positive world free from violence against women and girls.

Throughout the 16 Days, partner organizations will organize local and national “orange” events, parades and activities, such as projecting orange lights on city landmarks and decorating schools, offices and sports events with anything and everything “orange”.

In addition to generating public awareness and social mobilization, the UNiTE Campaign aims to achieve the adoption and enforcement of national laws to address violence against women and girls in all countries by 2015.

The lack of effective national laws to end violence against women is widespread: the UNiTE Campaign is pushing for stronger domestic legislation, which could close loopholes that allow perpetrators to act with impunity. The Campaign highlights that in some cases, a rapist can go free if he marries, or is married to, the victim, as marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in more than 50 countries.

“Too often justice is elusive,” says Pillay, as she gives an example of a 13-year-old girl in New Zealand, who was raped by three men. When the young girl went to the police to file a report, one of the first questions she was asked was: “What were you wearing?”

“The suggestion that women have a propensity to lie and that their testimony must be treated with caution should be eliminated from every level of the judicial process, as must the idea that women invite sexual violence by being out late or by dressing in a particular manner,” she says.

Nevertheless, many States are addressing violence against women. For instance, in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and South Africa, psychological and economic violence are now incorporated in the legal definition of domestic violence, while in the Republic of Korea, the implementation of domestic violence laws is enhanced by training programmes for police and judicial officials so they can effectively respond to reports of violence.

This story is published in the framework of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs every year from 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day). The international campaign, originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991, calls for the elimination of violence against women and invites everyone to take action against it.

2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights, which led to the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights. Its creation gave a new impetus to the recognition of human rights principles which has seen fundamental progress in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Women’s rights are now acknowledged as fundamental human rights. Discrimination and acts of violence against women are at the forefront of the human rights discourse.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) came into force in 1981 and its Committee was established in 1982. The Convention, often described as an international bill of rights for women, has almost achieved universal ratification. An Optional Protocol to the Convention was adopted in 1999.

18 December 2013

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