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Preventing violence against women, no excuses for inaction

One in three women in the world will be raped or beaten during her lifetime, says the One Billion Rising Organization. Among women aged 15 to 49, approximately 20% of women report being victims of sexual violence as children, according to a study on women’s health and domestic violence by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

A rape victim testifies against her attackers © EPA/Ulises RodríguezThe International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November) and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign aims to raise awareness and inspire people at the local and national levels to take action against gender-based violence.

“There is an extraordinary wealth of evidence and promising practice that show that preventing violence against women is possible. There is no excuse for inaction or for feeling helpless in the face of this horrible phenomenon,” says Marcia V. J. Kran, the UN Human Rights Office Director of the Research and Right to Development Division, during a panel discussion held in Geneva in November. The event, “Working Together to End Violence Against Women and Girls,” was organized by the UN Human Rights Office, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations at Geneva.

Kran discussed the prevention of violence against women from a human rights perspective. Violence against women, she explained, is a human rights violation, which needs an adequate legislative framework, one that is in line with international standards. She also said that States have an obligation to provide a women’s right to a life free from violence. Kran recommended creating an awareness raising campaign as a way to challenge stereotypes, inform the public, and change the attitudes against women.

“Another critical step in prevention efforts is community mobilization strategies with the involvement of local government representatives, community leaders, NGOs and women’s groups,” Kran said. “Education and training initiatives carried out in formal school settings along with capacity-building activities conducted in the wider community, for men and boys, law enforcement officials, the judiciary and other State officials, health and other service providers, and religious leaders, contribute to the prevention of violence against women.”

Kran also suggested utilizing human rights mechanisms to strengthen accountability, criminalizing of all violence against women and providing adequate reparations for women.

Elissa Goldberg, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva, said, “Violence against women is a global challenge and everyone is part of the solution.”

The right to health is another issue that was raised during the event. According to Dr. Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO, violence against women is a serious health issue effecting millions of women and girls. Women and girls are exposed to violence by a parent, an intimate partner, and conflict-related sexual violence. 

Michelle Higelin, Deputy General Secretary at World YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), discussed how women and girls are critical agents of change.

“Every second we sit here, there is a woman subjected to violence,” Higelin said. In order to end these violations, Higelin advocated an increase in resources at every level to ensure the safety of women. She also suggested the implementation of human rights education to young girls, easier access to health care, and services that can help women claim their rights.

According to Dean Peacock, Founding Director of Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, while women play major roles in changing the narrative, men and boys are incredibly important in challenging social norms. “Men and boys are part of the problem and have a critical role to play to end violence against women,” he said. Men’s attitudes, as Peacock explains, will need to change by reshaping their views on violence and women.

20 December 2012

See also