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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Šimonović at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council

Madam President,

Distinguished members of the Human Rights Council,

Excellencies, representatives of NGOs, NHRIs

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you very much for the opportunity to present my 3 annual reports to the HRC via video link: Firstly, I will present my thematic report on violence against women journalists and I will then present my two reports on country visits to Bulgaria and Ecuador, after which I look forwards to engaging with you in an online constructive dialogue and responding to your questions.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is heavily influencing my mandate’s activities and my current work is focusing mainly on gender based violence against women, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the COVID 19 pandemic I was prevented from participating in person at the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which was dedicated to commemorating 25 years of the Beijing Platform for Action. However my written statement was distributed to all delegations, and included proposals for combating violence against women based on my work during the past 5 years.

Today, I would like to renew the call I made before the CSW and also the Council last year for the “elaboration of a UN system wide coordinated approach or strategy to combat and prevent violence against women” and for the “elaboration of a global implementation plan to eliminate violence against women”.

These proposals are even more relevant today, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exacerbating gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence, since lockdown measures to stay at home were introduced by many countries to contain the virus. The lockdown measures are also being imposed in the context of pre-existing legal and other shortcomings related to essential services required for the elimination of gender based violence against women - an ongoing manmade social pandemic that existed before COVID-19 and that will continue after it, or in coexistence with it.

For all of these reasons, on 27 March, I issued a Press statement calling upon all governments to combat domestic violence in the context of COVID-19 lockdowns. The main message is that: “Governments must not allow the extraordinary circumstances and restrictive measures against COVID-19 to lead to an increase in gender based violence and violations of women's right to a life free from violence."

Secondly, I compiled a reference document on gender-based violence against women and the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering information on responses to the crisis by the UN system, its agencies, such as UN Women and OHCHR, as well as the IPU, independent expert mechanisms and NGOs. I would like to inform you that the EDVAW Platform of 7 Independent UN and regional Expert Mechanisms on Discrimination and Violence against Women is currently elaborating a joint statement on the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirdly, in order to assess the COVID-19 impact on gender based violence against women, on 14 April this year I issued a Call for submissions, to gather information and data on gender-based violence, including femicide, and measures available at the national level to combat it in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data received so far, some States and civil society organisations are reporting an increase in gender based violence against women, while others have indicated that no such increase has been reported by the officially collected data. There is therefore a need to conduct an in-depth analysis of the current situation. Up to now I have received over 200 inputs and would like to thank all of those who have sent submissions. Let me also highlight the leadership role demonstrated by the UN Secretary-General in his appeal for “Peace at home”, which was joined by 146 States. In order to contribute to this call I am preparing a thematic report on the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence, with a focus on domestic violence for the October session of the General Assembly.

Today I would like to call upon all States to ensure that any measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are gendered and aligned with their human rights obligations on combating gender based violence against women. Access to 24/7 help lines, protection orders, (including e-protection orders) to court, shelters or other safe places and services, should all be made available and be integrated into, and adapted to, the COVID-19 pandemic response . States should also address the pre-existing gaps and shortcomings in combating violence against women that contribute to the ongoing pandemic of gender based violence in the context of the COVID pandemic. I would like to call on States to ensure increased support to civil society organisations that are providing such services during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those operating within restrictive lockdown environments and that have had resources cut off.

Distinguished delegates,

Allow me to now present my thematic report on gender-based violence against women journalists.

My report seeks to highlight the causes and consequences of gender based violence faced by women journalists, which in recent times has been exacerbated by their online forms, and in this regard to provide recommendations to States, and other relevant stakeholders, on how to prevent and combat gender based violence against women journalists

I would like to thank the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University for hosting an online expert group meeting in partnership with UNFPA and the International Association of Women in Radio and Television on 13 March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outcome from which formed the basis of my report.

Men and women journalists are both exposed to violence and threats in the course of their work, however women journalists are disproportionately targeted by gender based violence. Since 1992, 96 women journalists have been killed. In addition to killings, sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape, and in particular the threat of rape, continue to be used as a form of gender-based violence and as a tool to undermine the credibility of women journalists and discourage them from working in the media.

Women journalists are expected to fit into stereotyped roles and sexualized images of women and to operate within unequal power relationships between men and women in the media world. They are often targeted for being highly visible and outspoken and for their work, especially when they are breaking the rules of gender inequity and stereotypes.

When journalists are indigenous women, women belonging to minorities, and/or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex women, they may face increased intersectional discrimination and violence.

Women journalists who challenge patriarchal stereotypes of disapproval of their participation in public life face a situation of gender based violence from State and non-State actors.

Despite the existence of important UN instruments and resolutions, including Human Rights Council resolutions 33/2, 38/7 and 38/5, much remains to be done. A gender-sensitive approach at the international and national level is required to ensure accelerated implementation of human rights instruments that are specifically aimed at addressing discrimination against women and gender-based violence, such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment (190) and other relevant regional instruments, for the creation of an enabling media environment in which gender balance and the right of women journalists to live a life free from gender based violence can be fully respected and fully reflected in their work. In my report I have elaborated more recommendations on actions needed in that respect.

Madam President, allow me to turn now to my two country reports,

Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the Governments of Bulgaria and Ecuador for accepting my visit requests and for the excellent support provided throughout these visits.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria, as a European Union Member State, has developed a progressive framework on women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination and violence against women. However, it also faces significant challenges in implementing of the international standards. This report, based on the county visit carried out from 14 to 21 October 2019, examines those gaps and challenges, and recommends measures for preventing and combating gender-based violence against women in the country.

I would like to express my concern regarding the recent pushbacks on women’s rights in the country and ongoing “anti-gender” campaign that has also led to the failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention, after the ruling by the Constitutional Court that found the Istanbul Convention incompatible with the Bulgarian constitution based on the translation of the term “gender” 

that differed from other translations of the same term, but accepted and implemented in Bulgaria.

I have called the Government to counter the misinterpretation of the term “gender”, to translate, interpret, explain and promote the terms “gender” and “gender-based violence against women”, as contained in the Istanbul Convention, in line with their translations in European Union instruments applicable to Bulgaria, European Union directive 2012/29/EU on victims’ rights and general recommendations No. 24, No. 28 and No. 35 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

During my visit, I also noted the insufficient number of shelters for women victims of violence; the ineffectiveness of and delays in granting protection orders; lack of data on gender-based violence against women, particularly femicide, and the low reporting of domestic violence. The situation of Roma women and girls is particularly concerning, as they are more prone to early, forced child marriages and to dropping out of school, as well as becoming victims of trafficking; they also experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, being disproportionately affected by violence, poverty and social exclusion.

I have also issued several important recommendations related to legislative gaps in Domestic violence Act and Criminal code and well as other recommendations outlined in my report .I hope that the Government will follow up on them in a spirit of constructive dialogue that was initiated during this visit.

Ecuador

My report on Ecuador is based on the county visit I conducted from 29 November to 9 December 2019, and examines the gaps and challenges in preventing and combating gender-based violence against women in the country, and recommends measures for addressing these challenges. In recent years, Ecuador has experienced a number of political, institutional and economic changes and has made considerable progress towards bringing domestic legislation into line with international human rights standards including through the enactment of the Comprehensive Organic Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women in 2018. I commend the Government on the steps it has taken in this regard and I encourage it to continue with the ongoing legal reform process and to address legal shortcomings of the Criminal Code and the Health Code as well as to ensure the full implementation of the Law on eliminating violence against women, by ensuring that any proposed budget cuts do not negatively impact its application.

My visit was conducted at a particularly challenging time with respect to legislative activities related to women rights and violence against women, as the National Assembly rejected proposed revisions to the restrictive provisions on abortion in the Criminal Code (2014), while the Constitutional Court was considering the conformity of the Criminal Code with the Constitution. I hope that my findings and recommendations, which are based on international law standards, including CEDAW General Recommendation 24 and related jurisprudence, will contribute to this important national debate.

Under current Criminal legislation, despite that fact that the level of teenage pregnancies is increasing, women and girls who undergo abortions, even in the case of rape and incest are sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to two years. During my visit I received disturbing information that 250 women were in prison.

Although I am not able to discuss in detail all of the issues addressed in my report, I wish to highlight some of my recommendations in which I call on the Government to :

  • Ensure adequate budget allocation for the full implementation of the Policy to Prevent Pregnancy in Girls and Adolescents and the Comprehensive Organic Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women;
  • Take steps to amend the current definition of rape ;
  • Repeal articles 149 and 150 of the Comprehensive Criminal Code ,
  • Introduce, as an interim measure, a moratorium on the application of criminal law provisions concerning abortion ;
  • Ensure that all possible legal avenues are applied to re-examine and review the cases of women who are in prison on charges related to abortion in order to ensure their release, including through Presidential pardon;
  • Establish a femicide watch or observatory on violence against women.

There are many other important recommendations outlined in my report and I hope that the Government will follow up on them in a spirit of constructive dialogue that was initiated during this visit.

Madam President,

For my next and final report to the Human Rights Council, in 2021, I will address States’ responsibility to criminalize and prosecute rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation, crime and a manifestation of gender-based violence against women, in line with international human rights standards. I also intend toelaborate a Model law on rape to guide the harmonization of national criminal and other laws with international standards.

I invite all Member States and relevant stakeholders to submit their contributions to this report in line with the questionnaire I issued. I would further like to encourage States’ and other stakeholders to support this initiative, and others taken by this mandate, such the work on encouraging States to establish a Femicide watch and the previously mentioned EDVAW Platform by contributing extra budgetary funds for this purpose, which I believe is even more relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you.