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UN News
Last Updated: 03/06/2009
News Roundup: Recent UN statements regarding violence against women
UN News Service

Even more so than previous leaders, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has made the struggle to overcome gendered discrimination and sexual violence a top UN priority. The Secretary General has argued passionately that presisting inequality between women and men is a major barrier to achieving the Millineum Development Goals, and that violence against women and girls is a moral abomination that cannot be tolerated in the international community.

The following news summary contains Ban´s latest statement, announcing the theme of this year´s International Women's Day activities, as well as a statement by Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women to the UN.

Silence surrounding violence against women has been broken – UN expert

5 March 2009 – Women around the world are no longer fearful of speaking out against the violence they encounter, according to Yakin Erturk, whose mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, expires in June.

“As I leave, what gives me encouragement is that the silence about violence against women has been broken,” Ms. Erturk said. “It’s an initial step, but it’s a prerequisite for us to respond to that violence. I think women in all parts of the world now realize that violence is not their fate.”

The Special Rapporteur spoke to the UN News Service ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March), whose theme is ‘Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls.’

Ms. Erturk said she found inspiration in the impressive struggle by survivors of violence to rebuild their lives and those of their families, sometimes against enormous odds.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo comes to mind,” she said. “Some women there have experienced total destruction. It’s impossible to describe the extent of the violations women and little girls go through. Then those who try to speak out face threats.”

The creation of an international mechanism to protect such women should be an urgent priority for the future, she noted. Ms Erturk, in addressing the UN Commission on the Status of Women's current session, spoke about how the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council's complaint procedure, among the most powerful mechanisms through which women's rights violations could be brought to Government's attention for redress, was not sufficiently used by women's rights defenders.

“We don’t have a mechanism to protect these women who speak out, where States are dysfunctional or can’t respond,” she said. “Sometimes the only solution is to take the women out of the situation – but sometimes they don’t want to leave because they have husbands and families. It’s a complex issue, but we should not be afraid to act.”

The Special Rapporteur pointed out that until relatively recently, the issue of violence against women was itself seen as too complex for legislation or intervention, but that attitudes had changed. In her six years as the UN’s expert on the issue, Ms. Erturk has travelled to many countries advocating for action to address violence against women, including its most extreme form, feminicide.

Before leaving office, she will submit mission reports to the Human Rights Council in June on Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Moldova, and on her last country visit to Kyrgyzstan.

Looking back on her time in office, Ms. Erturk said she believed that her 2007 report on the intersections between culture and violence against women had played a key part in changing perceptions, and had inspired some civil society groups to start to look at culture and religion in a more critical manner.

“Anything built in the name of Islam is based on certain interpretations of Islam, and these groups are starting to challenge hegemonic interpretations of Islam which reject universal human rights norms,” she said. “I believe that cultural excuses will be challenged more and more in future years, and I consider this to be one of my strongest achievements in fulfilling my mandate.”

Considering the different countries she has visited during her mandate, Ms. Erturk said she had particularly enjoyed returning to Saudi Arabia, where she spent time working before joining the UN.

“From a personal perspective, it was amazing to go back,” she said. “There’s an interest in making changes; for example, a woman has been appointed to the post of deputy minister in the Saudi Government. These changes may appear small but we must contextualize our understanding – while pushing for universal norms.”

Ms. Erturk regretted that media outlets and human rights stakeholders were attracted to problems when they erupted in violence, “but we can do more to prevent problems if we deal with them before they reach that point.”

She welcomed what she described as “promising gestures” on human rights by the new United States administration, but added: “We need to see action – at home, at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq.” She said she was hopeful that the US would ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“Ratifying CEDAW would be one very visible outcome that could give us hope about what to expect from the new US administration,” Ms. Erturk said.

Ban decries violence against women as ‘abomination’

5 March 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reiterated his urgent call to bring an end to violence against women, a scourge whose impact is devastating and immeasurable, as the United Nations began a series of events to mark International Women’s Day.

“It is sometimes said that women are weavers and men are too often warriors,” Mr. Ban said in an address to the commemoration of the Day, observed annually on 8 March, in New York.

In the address, which also appears as opinion piece on the International Herald Tribune’s website today, as well as its print edition tomorrow, he stressed that: “Women bear and care for our children. In much of the world they plant the crops that feed us. They weave the fabric of our societies.”

“Violence against women is thus an attack on all of us, on the foundation of our civilization.”

He added that violence against women is an “abomination” and stands against everything in the UN Charter.

The Secretary-General, who last year launched a global campaign called “Unite to End Violence Against Women,” cited statistics of one in five women worldwide suffering from rape or attempted rape, while in some nations, up to one in three women are beaten or abused.

He recently visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where at a hospital in Goma in the vast country’s far east, he met an 18-year-old woman who had been brutally and violently abused by four soldiers at gunpoint.

Not only is she bearing physical injuries, “she also bears the curse of stigma,” having been shunned by her family and village “from a false sense of shame,” Mr. Ban said, expressing his outrage and sadness.

“The consequences of violence go beyond the visible and immediate,” he stressed, adding that death, injury, medical costs and lost employment are only a small facet of the larger problem.

The Secretary-General also underscored the importance of men speaking out against the scourge, teaching each other that “‘real men don’t hit women,’ let alone rape them.”

He appealed for greater cooperation to end violence against women, emphasizing that “the time to change is now.”

A new database on the extent and consequences of all forms of violence against women and means to combat it was launched today by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro.

“This is the first global ‘one-stop-shop’ for information on measures undertaken by Member States to address violence against women in terms of legal, policy and institutional frameworks,” she said.

Recalling her own experience as Tanzania’s Minister for Gender Equality, she said that this tool will come in handy for decision-makers seeking out examples of action plans and strategies undertaken by other countries.

Panel discussions on the topic of violence against women were held today to mark the International Day, with the Secretary-General’s top adviser on children and armed conflict speaking on the situation of the girl child in conflicts.

Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy said that not only are girl children victims of direct violence, but are also often the heads of households and must provide care to their siblings.

“The international community, at least with respect to the issue of impunity, has begun to do something,” she said, pointing to the International Criminal Court as well as UN tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia which have started dealing with sexual violence and the recruitment of children by armed groups.

The commemoration of the Day in New York will wrap up with a theatre performance inspired by the “Unite” campaign. It will also be celebrated worldwide, from Botswana to Kazakhstan and Peru, among other countries.


“Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls” -- the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day -- ties in with the Secretary-General’s wider campaign against gender-based violence, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Launched in 2008, “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” will run through 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Speaking to the press were the participants at the morning panel on the theme: the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel N. Mayanja; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy; human rights lawyer and adviser at the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team, Imrana Jalal; and the International Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, William Lucy.  (See also Press Release OBV/766-WOM/1719)

Describing her address this morning, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that girl children were victims of direct violence during armed conflict.  Many of them were killed, sexually violated or trafficked.  They were also increasingly recruited into armed forces or armed groups.  As a result of armed conflict, girls were also often forced to become caretakers of their siblings if their parents were killed.  Internally displaced children were among the most vulnerable groups in the world.

The international community had begun to address the issue of impunity, she continued.  It was an important step forward that the International Criminal Court, the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia Tribunals, and the Sierra Leone Court was dealing with issues of sexual violence and recruitment of children.  Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) dealt with the possibility of introducing targeted measures against those who recruited and used children, and her Office was pushing for the inclusion of sexual violence as a trigger for sanctions.

Ms. Jalal advocated a comprehensive and integrated approach to anti-violence legislation, saying that it was most disappointing that less than half of the United Nations Member States had laws targeting violence against women.  In general, countries dealt with the issue in a piecemeal fashion, with “bits and pieces of legislation all over the place”.  This morning, she had suggested that that was not an effective way of dealing with violence against women.  A radical shift was needed in terms of countries’ approach to the issue.  It was also important that Member States drew from existing good practices and legislation.

Mr. Lucy stressed the importance of raising the level of understanding of the moral and socio-economic consequences of continued violence against women in the workplace. In that regard, it was necessary to build the political will among Governments and employers to make the workplace safe for women. He also raised the question of the economic impact of violence on productivity, as well as other costs associated with violence in the workplace.

A correspondent asked about the achievements over the past 20 years in terms of combating violence against women.  Ms. Coomaraswamy said that, during the first World Conference on Women in 1975, it had been impossible to even include language on violence against women in the final declaration.  Ten years later in Nairobi it had been impossible to even mention the subject. Given that history, the world had come quite far.  By the beginning of this century, every country had “done something”, including the adoption of legislation, or creation of plans of action.  Now, there was an awareness of the problem and frameworks to address it.  It was now “the era of application”, to make sure that those frameworks were used and individual women got justice.

Ms. Jalal agreed that the world had come “an enormously long way” in the fight against gender-based violence.  However, despite the fact that a wide range of good practices and legislation existed, bad practices still outweighed good ones in most countries.  Against some people’s expectations, the best practices and legislation during the last two decades had been adopted by developing countries.  Now, it was a question of putting political will and sufficient resources behind that good legislation.

Mr. Lucy said that the issue had become visible and was now widely discussed.  One of the important areas that still needed to be looked into related to the economic consequences of violence in the workplace.  Along with the physical and emotional aspects of violence against women, the United Nations and its agencies should discuss economic parity and justice for women in the workplace.

In response to another question, Ms. Jalal said that all the regions of the world had customs and beliefs that went against women’s rights to equality, and it was an ongoing battle to deal with them.  As an example, she cited the situation in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, which had a tradition of the family of the groom paying a “bride price”.  Many husbands argued that it gave them the right to beat their wives and receive child custody after separation or divorce.  “Taking custom head-on”, Vanuatu had recently passed a law which said that no customary forgiveness or traditional practice shall be used as a defence to prosecution or punishment.

To a question about men’s involvement in the efforts to stop violence against women, Mr. Lucy said that, this morning, the participants of the panel had discussed how trade unions approached that problem.  Among other things, men often stood at the head of institutions that advocated collective negotiations to protect women in the workplace and deal with employers with regard to their responsibilities.  He also referred to a massive education programme within the world labour movement regarding the role of trade unions in the fight against violence and discrimination, which needed to be dealt with along with wages and conditions of employment.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the Special Rapporteur on violence against women had talked this morning about the importance of getting men on board in the efforts to stop violence.  It was important to engage men in dialogue regarding negative masculine role models.

Ms. Mayanja added that the Secretary-General had also emphasized the role of men this morning.  In fact, it was critical to involve men and boys, and the United Nations was partnering with many men’s organizations, without which the efforts to stop violence would not be successful.

Asked about the Commission on the Status of Women discussion on sharing responsibilities between women and men, Ms. Mayanja said that the debate of that issue was most pertinent at the time of the global economic crisis, when the question of who should take care of the sick, the elderly and the children became even more acute.  It was time to come up with policies to address that issue.  Society needed to recognize care-giving as a job that deserved to be respected and paid for.  Also needed were day-care centres in all communities and clinics in rural areas.

She added that, last year, the President of Chile had expressed her intention to introduce social security for the non-paid work of care-giving.  That was an important initiative, which she hoped others would join.

Asked if any of her efforts as a Special Advisor on Gender Issues had dealt with getting the General Assembly to recognize abortion as a human right, Ms. Mayanja said that was not an issue that she dealt with.  However, the United Nations had a policy on abortion and she believed the Assembly followed that policy, as well.  The policy said that abortion was not a form of birth control, but when it was in the interest of the life of the individual concerned, it had to be provided for, and provided for safely.


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