- Womenwatch :
against Women - may 2000
against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. It knows no
boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot
claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace."
United Nations Secretary-General
Violence against women takes various
forms. It includes: domestic violence, rape, trafficking in women and girls,
forced prostitution, and violence in armed conflict, such as murder,
systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy. It also includes honour
killings, dowry-related violence, female infanticide and prenatal sex
selection in favour of male babies, female genital mutilation, and other
harmful practices and traditions.
The Declaration on the
Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly in 1993, testifies to the international recognition and understanding
that violence against women is a violation of human rights and a form of
discrimination against women.
The Platform for
Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995,
identified violence against women as one of the 12 critical areas of concern
requiring special attention of governments, the international community and
During its forty-second session in 1998, the United Nations Commission on the
Status of Women proposed further action and initiatives to be taken by member
states and the international community to end violence against women, including
the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all relevant policies and
programmes. Among the agreed conclusions of the session were measures to support
the work of non-governmental organizations, to combat all forms of trafficking
in women and girls, to promote and protect the rights of migrant workers,
especially women and children, and to encourage coordinated research on violence
Response by the
Since the Beijing Conference five years ago, important steps have been taken at
the international level towards eliminating violence against women:
- An Optional Protocol to the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 6 October 1999, gives women
the right to seek redress for violations of their human rights, including
- Model Strategies and Practical
Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of
Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice were adopted by the General Assembly
- The Statute of the
International Criminal Court, adopted in June 1998, specifically addresses
gender-based crimes, as do the Criminal Tribunals for the Former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
- A draft protocol to a new
treaty — the proposed United Nations Convention against Transnational
Organized Crime — focuses on trafficking in human beings, especially
women and children.
especially wife battering, is perhaps the most widespread form of violence
against women. In countries where reliable, large-scale studies on gender
violence are available, more than 20 per cent of women are reported to have been
abused by the men with whom they live.
Rape and domestic
violence lead to the loss of more healthy years of life, among women ages 15 to
44, than do breast cancer, cervical cancer, obstructed labour, war or motor
vehicle accidents, according to the 1993 World Development Report of the World
In response to the
Beijing Platform for Action, UN member states and the international community
have sought ways to address domestic violence more effectively:
- Many states have adopted
legislation recognizing that violence by a husband should be treated in
the same way as violence by a stranger. In Sweden, such acts are defined
as gross violations of a woman's integrity and attract more severe
punishment than in cases of the same acts directed against strangers.
- Austria, Belarus, Bhutan,
Hungary, Mexico, Portugal and the Seychelles have, for the first time,
criminalized sexual violence against women by their husbands.
- In Sri Lanka, the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has worked in close collaboration with
authorities and non-governmental organizations to prevent domestic
violence through public education using the media and workshops intended
to sensitize the judiciary and law enforcement officers.
- Belarus, Poland, Russia and
Zimbabwe are among the states that have sought to introduce services, such
as shelters, refuges and "hot lines", to support victims of
- States including Algeria and
Brunei Darussalam have introduced domestic violence units within their
- Iceland has introduced a
two-year experimental project aimed at violent men entitled "Men of
Responsibility". The project is monitored on a day-to-day basis
by the Icelandic Red Cross and will be evaluated on its completion.
Trafficking in women
and children, most often for commercial sexual exploitation, is estimated to
generate up to $8 billion each year, according to the International Organization
for Migration (IOM). The huge profits reaped by the perpetrators, increasingly
linked to organized crime, have turned this trade into a rapidly growing global
Poor women and girls
are among the key target groups of traffickers, because of their marginalization
and limited economic resources. Some are willing participants because of the
promise of higher incomes and an escape from poverty. Others are coerced, many
into prostitution against their will. To combat this:
- The Philippines has launched
an initiative, in cooperation with civil society and other Governments,
which involves training and the development of procedures for front-line
agencies combating trafficking in women and children.
- As part of its investigation
of organized crime, the Lithuanian Police established a Division to Combat
Trafficking within the Police Department.
- China has introduced
amendments to its criminal code with regard to the abduction of women and
children and forced prostitution.
- In border areas, Myanmar has
created eight vocational centres for women and girls in order to stop
- The Netherlands has appointed
a national rapporteur to provide a comprehensive overview of data on
trafficking in women and on methods of prevention.
- Albania and the Russian
Federation have launched education campaigns directed at potential
Female Genital Mutilation
According to the
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it is estimated that between 85 to 114
million women and girls, most of whom live in Africa, the Middle East and Asia,
have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).
The practice of FGM,
or "female circumcision", refers to the removal of all or part of the
clitoris and other genitalia. The extreme form, infibulation, involves the
removal of the clitoris and both labia and the sewing together of the vulva,
leaving only a small opening to allow the passage of urine and the menstrual
This mutilation of
girls has significant short-term and long-term consequences. It is extremely
painful and may cause infections and death as well as difficulties with
childbirth and an increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS. This practice reflects a
prevailing social consensus that the virginity of girls and women must be
preserved until marriage, and that their sexuality must be controlled. Men
in these cultures often will not marry uncircumcised girls or women whom they
view as "unclean" and "sexually permissive".
Since the Beijing
Conference, actions against FGM include:
- As a part of an international
advocacy campaign, UNFPA appointed Waris Dirie, an activist and fashion
supermodel, as a Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital
Mutilation, in September 1997.
- The World Health Organization
(WHO) has developed training materials and conducted workshops to raise
awareness among nurses and midwives in the African and Eastern
Mediterranean region in an attempt to solicit their active involvement as
advocates against FGM.
- Tanzania is one of ten
countries where female genital mutilation is practiced widely to have
enacted laws to criminalize the practice. Penalties include fines
and imprisonment. The other nine countries are: Burkina Faso, Central
African Republic, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire
- Countries such as Australia,
Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, which all
have immigrant populations that practice this ritual, have passed similar
statutes to seek to eliminate it.
- Nigeria has set up a
Vesico-Vaginal Fistula theatre and rehabilitation centres to provide care
for under-aged married women affected by female genital mutilation.
sheet is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the
Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General"
the United Nations Department of Public Information