Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to address you today, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 7/24. This year we mark the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. A further opportunity is thus provided to reflect on global developments in the elimination of all forms of violence against women over the last two decades, and to also identify gaps and challenges to address the continuing epidemic. My forthcoming report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014 highlights developments within the UN system and highlights gaps and challenges as identified by the mandate.
Twenty years of the mandate
On 4 March 1994, the Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution 1994/45 in which it inter alia, welcomed the adoption of a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women by the General Assembly, and it decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences. The phenomenal work of women’s rights activists, over many decades, culminated in the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights acknowledging and situating the issue of violence against women within the framework of human rights. The creation of the mandate of Special Rapporteur was an important step in ensuring that violence against women would consistently be viewed through the prism of human rights, and importantly that the mechanism would address the obligation of States to act with due diligence to prevent and respond to violence against women.
In the first decade of its existence, the mandate focussed on articulating and expanding the recognition of different manifestations of violence against women, whether occurring in private or public spheres, and also highlighting their causes and consequences. Applying both a spatial and a temporal lens, and highlighting the continuum of violence principle, the mandate engaged in the examination of legal doctrines and State obligations in relation to the violation of the right to a life free of all forms of violence. During this decade, there was also a focus on identifying implementation gaps, and providing relevant tools to assist States in their national level efforts. Two seminal examples include the development of a checklist on assessing compliance with obligations, and the elaboration of model legislation on domestic violence. In her last report in 2003, a key finding of the first Special Rapporteur, is the need to address global challenge related to gaps in the implementation of standards.
Building on the work carried out in the first decade, the second mandate holder sought to apply the conceptual gains to the practice of compliance, as part of a State’s obligation to effectively implement international standards, at the national level. A major focus has been on addressing more substantively the issue of State responsibility to act with due diligence in addressing violence against women, and also addressing the accountability deficit for acts or omissions as regards such violence. This has included a focus on issues and terminology which reflect women’s lived realities; interrogating the specificity of legal and policy frameworks; highlighting the linkages between violence and inequality and discrimination; facilitating an understanding of the due diligence standard to include both perpetrator and State accountability for violations which impact on women’s ability to effectively enjoy all human rights; and also contributing tools to inform State actions. Two seminal examples here include the work of the second Special Rapporteur on the due diligence standard and on indicators on violence against women and State response.
During my tenure as Special Rapporteur, the work of my predecessors has been deepened through thematic reports which continue to draw the attention of stakeholders to issues that have warranted further conceptual clarification, specifically through a women’s human rights perspective. These issues include: remedy and reparations for victims of violence; multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and the nexus with violence; gender-related killings of women as part of the continuum of violence; violence against women with disabilities; pathways to, conditions and consequences of incarceration for women; and State responsibility to act with due diligence in eliminating violence against women. My reports have provided frameworks for a holistic approach to addressing violence against women as a human rights issue; and also for understanding the obligation of States as both an individual and a systemic level responsibility.
As I have argued previously, violence experienced by women is generally rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and is a reflection and reinforcement of the discrimination, inequality, subordination and oppression to which many women are subjected, in public and private spaces. Violence against women cannot be fully understood without also considering interpersonal, institutional and structural forms of violence which form the reality of women’s lives in many instances. Furthermore, violence is a barrier to the effective exercise of human rights and violates numerous rights, including the right to life, and also the right to a life free of violence.
In the context of the numerous country visits and regional consultations undertaken, the mandate has sought to work in close cooperation with State and non-state actors to shed light on violence against women in specific country contexts and to recommend tangible actions to improve women’s status in these countries. I would now like to turn to the work that my mandate has undertaken in the last year and address two critical issues that will form part of the discussions during this 58th session.
2013 Thematic report to the HRC
In June 2013, I submitted a report to the Human Rights Council on the issue of State responsibility for eliminating violence against women. I wish to thank Member States and civil society organisations who provided country information on the interpretation, application and effectiveness of the measures being undertaken by States in their efforts to eliminate violence against women. Using the principle of due diligence, as articulated in both CEDAW General Recommendation 19 and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, my report provides an overview of the existing practices which include interpretation and basic guiding elements in respect of state responsibility to act with due diligence. The report concludes that for a State to ascertain what constitutes effective fulfilment of its obligations, it is imperative for States to create an assessment framework which includes two categories: individual due diligence which States owe to individual victims of violence; and systemic due diligence which requires States’ to create a functioning system to eliminate violence against women. This dual assessment will allow for a more comprehensive and in-depth assessment by a State of its actions or inactions to address violence against women. Furthermore, I argue that due diligence also requires States to hold accountable those who fail to protect and prevent; as well as those who perpetrate violations of human rights of women.
2013 Report to the General Assembly
My report to the General Assembly last year looked at the issue of pathways to, conditions and consequences of incarceration for women. Many countries are experiencing a significantly disproportionate rate of increase of women being incarcerated as compared to men. Women worldwide face similar human rights violations relating to the causes that lead to their imprisonment, the conditions they face in prison, and the consequences of their incarceration. My report highlights that there is a strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or post incarceration.
The report emphasises that States have a duty to address the structural causes that contribute to women’s incarceration, and also to address root causes and risk factors related to crime and victimisation. In this regard, States are called upon to develop gender-specific sentencing alternatives and to recognise women’s histories of victimisation when considering incarceration. International standards, including the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, provide States with guidance on the standards they should apply to women offenders. My report highlights that some States are discussing or are applying practices are focussing on moving away from incarceration to community sentencing for low-risk female offenders. I encourage these States to share emerging practices.
Country visits in 2013
During the course of 2013, I conducted official visits to India, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan. These mission reports will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2014. I would like to thank the Governments of these countries for inviting me to conduct the missions; and also thank all interlocutors who engaged with and supported the mandate during these missions. I look forward to continued dialogue with regard to the follow-up to the recommendations in these reports.
I am pleased to announce that I have received positive replies to conduct visits to Afghanistan, Egypt, Honduras, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sudan and the United Kingdom. It is my hope to receive favourable responses from the Governments of Columbia, Cuba, France, Israel, Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
Looking forward: the post-2015 development agenda and the Cairo review
Let me now turn to two forward looking global agendas: the post-2015 development agenda and the review of the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and its 5 year review.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are recognised as being important for mobilising global attention to extreme poverty and development. The recognition of gender inequalities and discrimination against women, as barriers to the exercise of women’s agency and empowerment, did result in the inclusion of a specific goal to promote equality and empower women. While this was an important development, the target was confined to ending gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education by no later than 2015. This target was too narrow and precluded a broader focus on a range of factors, including violence against women, which deny women rights and opportunities, and also negatively impact on development goals. The target for MDG 3 was not met and in fact, continuing inequalities, discrimination and violence against women have undermined the achievement of other MDGs.
As observed by the High Commissioner, with regard to the MDGs, “attention to the MDGs provided only a very narrow set of economic and social indicators, none of them rights-based, all of them with low quantitative thresholds, none guaranteeing participatory processes, and none accompanied by legal accountability.” I welcome the progress achieved under the MDGs but also agree with the critical analysis of them.
The development of Sustainable Develop Goals (SDGs) provides an opportunity to redress the shortcomings of the MDGs and to give new impetus to global efforts to achieve equitable, rights-based and sustainable development goals. Many proposals have called for a comprehensive post-2015 framework and SDGs, and a transformative approach to gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. Such calls largely argue for a stand-alone goal structured around three target areas, including freedom from violence. It has been surprising that, despite the acknowledgement of violence against women as a widespread and pervasive human rights violation, there has been no explicit focus on the need for a stand-alone goal on violence against women.
In my submission to the Co-Chairs of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, I highlight how violence against women is a major obstacle to social and economic development, and ultimately to the achievement of sustainable development goals. I argue that clear objectives, defined by such goals, are especially important in evaluating the relationship between violence against women and sustainable development. Furthermore, goals must be accompanied by specific and measurable targets and appropriate indicators to measure whether targets are met. My submission includes a number of suggested indicators, including those relevant to addressing the issue of the culture of impunity and lack of accountability for acts of violence against women.
The 1994 ICPD Programme of Action was a watershed in that Member States recognised reproductive rights using a human rights lens. This was further reinforced through the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which acknowledged that “[t]he human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Denials of certain sexual and reproductive rights constitute gender-based violence, including involuntary sterilisations, forced abortions, and harmful practices including female genital mutilation. Denial of legal abortion services in certain instances has also been considered as amounting to cruel and inhuman treatment. The ICPD review process is a critical moment to recommit to human rights standards on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls.
In the last two decades, we have seen developments and progress in addressing violence against women. Yet, we have a long way to go towards efforts to address women’s human rights broadly, including the elimination of violence against women, which is a barrier to the exercise of effective citizenship for many women globally.
My predecessors’ and I have constantly stressed that the responsibility to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination is primarily the responsibility of the State, as the ultimate duty bearer. In this regard, I have noted that the international community must examine the gaps within the international normative framework in respect of eliminating violence against women, and address more specifically the existing legal gaps in protection, prevention and accountability.
Furthermore at the national level, it is important to note that a legislative and policy approach will not bring about substantive change if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the accountability deficit that continues to exist; the empowerment of women; broad social transformation; and the provision of remedies that ultimately break the continuum of discrimination and violence that women experience.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to the discussions.
As noted in a recent global review of data by the World Health Organisation on the prevalence of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. The report concludes that violence against women is “a global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action.”