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Violence against women and girls still a global epidemic 

More and more organizations around the world emphasize and support the role of men and boys as partners against gender violence and for equal rights. In addition to benefits for women and girls from this approach, there are benefits for men and boys, - and for families, communities and development itself. More exchange of lessons learned by organizations working with men and boys against gender violence could strengthen the work of those involved, and stimulate the creation of  even more such organizations. They have a vital role to play in eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls, as well as freeing men and boys from the limits and risks of stereotypic definitions for their own gender roles.

This is so because the primary cause of gender-based violence is the unequal relationship between men and women based on stereotypes of the male as privileged and powerful, the female as inferior and submissive.  Such stereotypes have been taught the world over to boys and girls from early childhood. All too many men, prompted by their sense of what is “masculine,” use violence and intimidation to keep women and girls “in their place” – a submissive one. They also seek to reaffirm their masculinity in many ways among their male peers. To end gender violence, then, it is necessary to challenge the very narrow stereotypes of masculinity and femininity wherever they are found and the related norms. In short, it will be necessary to socialize children for equality, ending discrimination by gender from the earliest age onwards, if gender based violence is to end and human rights are to be fulfilled. Parents, teachers, community leaders, policy makers, the media – all have a role to play.

Empowerment of girls and women is obviously an important part of the formula. But it is both unjust and impractical to expect those who are discriminated against to end the discrimination by themselves. Working with men and boys to  question the idea and practice of  “automatic” male power and privilege, along with “female inferiority,” based on gender definitions, is essential, but it is a newer idea.  It will require a revolution in attitudes and behaviors as well as in the nature of institutions.

Ruth Hayward, Sr. Advisor
Ending Violence Against Women & Girls
Gender, Partnerships & Participation Section
Programme Division


Consider these global figures. Up to half of all women and girls in some countries have  experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner or family member. More than 60  million females are missing from population statistics -- killed by their own families deliberately or  through neglect, because of their gender. Only 44 countries have adopted specific legislation to  address domestic violence.

 These disturbing findings come from a new UNICEF report, Domestic Violence Against Women  and Girls (PDF, 426 KB--you will need the Acrobat Reader from Adobe Systems to read this  document - On EuroWRC CD-Rom), which asserts that domestic violence has reached global epidemic proportions.  Compiled by UNICEF's Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy, the report seeks to overturn  the prevalent assumption that domestic violence is insoluble because it takes place within the  "private" sphere of the family.

 While understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence has grown in recent  years, institutions -- from the family to national governments -- must address this crisis directly.  Change is possible. UNICEF supports several programmes to combat domestic violence, such  as: promoting education and awareness-raising efforts, training the judiciary and law enforcement  agents to be gender sensitive, and developing women's police stations. "Now that strategies for  dealing with (domestic violence) are becoming clearer, there is no excuse for inaction," says  Innocenti Director Mehr Kahn.

 The release of the these findings provided a sobering prelude to a major assessment of the  progress of women's rights, which took place at the United Nations General Assembly in New York  from 5-9 June 2000. The special session reviewed the implementation of a platform for action  adopted by The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China in 1995. For the  meeting, called Beijing +5, UNICEF produced a separate report, Equality, Development and  Peace, which highlights some of the key issues that must be tackled in order to accelerate  progress for women and girls.