Eliminating violence against Women – everywhere

Article Date

07 March 2013

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

I’ve just come from the United Nations, where meetings for the annual review of the status of women are ongoing. The priority theme this year—or the organizing theme around which the relevant UN body, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), is concentrating its review—is ending violence against women. As I hear the headlines coming out of Mali and Syria, coming close on the heels of December’s attacks in Steubenville and New Delhi, I’m struck that this topic couldn’t be more timely.

The statistics are staggering: One in three women will be abused in her lifetime. This was the rallying cry under which hundreds of events were organized around the world last month under the banner of “One Billion Rising.” Ninety-five percent of women in the city of New Delhi feel unsafe, and 75 percent have experienced violence in their homes or neighborhoods, finds a new study by my colleagues at the International Center for Research on Women, released just days before the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman that sparked protests and public outrage from the streets of Delhi to the halls of the U.S. Congress. Over the next decade, 142 million girls will be married before the age of 18, predicts a report released by the UN marking the first-ever International Day of the Girl last fall. Everywhere we look the numbers are testifying to a global epidemic of violence against women.

It strikes me that we are at a critical tipping point for the credibility of international efforts on this issue. First, there was the news that the United States Congress finally passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which extends services and protections to survivors of domestic, sexual, dating and other forms of gender-based violence in the United States. Though the politicized fight over a fundamental piece of legislation like VAWA inspired no small amount of despair, the recently-passed version brings a number of new wins to the quest to end gender-based violence. At home in the U.S., it has new protections for Native American and Alaska Native women, immigrant women and LGBT individuals. Internationally, it opens new protections for women and girls who are victims of human rights abuses like human trafficking and child marriage.

In the U.S., these are encouraging new developments that come on the heels of recent wins like the launch of a National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Both policies provide important commitments to violence prevention and response, among other critical provisions for women’s social, economic and political advancement. If implemented and resourced, these policies could substantively alter the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy, making violence and other abridgements of women’s rights policy priorities for American defense, development and diplomacy. A bold next step would be for the U.S. Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, an international companion to VAWA, which has been brought before the last 3 Congresses but has yet to be signed into law, or to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a 1973 UN treaty to which nearly all Member States have signed, save a handful of holdouts like Iran, Somalia… and America.

At the UN, there is renewed pressure to produce agreed conclusions that advance the benchmark for women’s rights following last year’s debacle, when an embarrassing total of zero agreed conclusions were reached due to extremist opposition to long agreed-upon language around sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. This continues to be a debilitating sticking point for policy-makers in Washington and New York, although it should be noted that last year’s Bali Declaration, an official UN document, has put forward some of the most progressive recommendations we’ve seen to date, including protections from violence and discrimination for marginalized populations, including young people, HIV-infected and LGBT individuals, as well as the elimination of harmful traditional practices like female genital cutting and forced marriage.

If we are to eradicate violence against women and girls, we need all the tools at our disposal: strong and comprehensive policies that do not shy away from difficult issues like sexual and reproductive health or ignore the needs of marginalized populations like LGBT youth, and robust investment in programs and services that make a real difference in the lives of individuals who are either surviving violence or working to prevent it. We need them on the global level, where bodies like the UN can develop global standards and facilitate international cooperation to achieve them, and we need them at the national level, where those standards are given weight through codification and enforcement.

I’m hopeful that by next International Women’s Day, we’ll be much closer to that goal.

A version of this blog also appears on TrustLaw Women.