UN joins in 16-day campaign to fight violence against women

24 November 2006

From bride burning and sexual violence as a weapon of war to genital mutilation, date rape and child marriage, gender-based violence will be the focus of a United Nations-backed 16-day-long campaign being launched tomorrow.

“We are working with partners to end impunity, to promote and protect the rights of women, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, and to foster equal opportunity, participation and decision-making,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said in a message ahead of tomorrow’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Day marks the first of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women in which UNFPA is joining with rights organizations worldwide to bring greater attention to this pervasive and deeply entrenched human rights violation, proposing a range of steps from greater overall publicity and an ending to silence over spousal abuse to pushing for legislative reform and providing safe havens for girls escaping coerced marriages.

To kick off the event UNFPA is highlighting five under-reported stories relating to gender-based violence for 2006:

  • Bride-napping: the abduction, rape and forced marriage of young women throughout Central Asia;

  • Breast-ironing: a traditional practice in some West African countries involving crushing the breasts of young girls in order to deter male attention;
  • The epidemic of traumatic fistula in Africa: this is often caused by gang rape and forced insertion of foreign objects into the rape victim, tearing the tissues between the birth canal from the bowel and/or the bladder and leading to incontinence and ostracization;
  • Ongoing femicide in Guatemala: unlike in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, the wholesale murder and mutilation of Guatemala’s women continues under a cloak of media silence and official neglect.
  • Child marriage: the forced marriage of girl children, mostly against their will to older men in the world’s poorest nations mean girls cannot complete their education and are at greater risk of being exploited and contracting sexual infections, including HIV.

More common examples of gender violence cited by UNFPA include:

  • At least 130 million women have been forced to undergo female genital mutilation with 2 million more at risk each year;
  • Killings in the name of 'honour' take the lives of thousands of young women annually in Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia;
  • At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to live are 'missing' due to sex-selective abortions or neglect.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour drew attention to the plight of women migrants. “Unfortunately, human rights violations in various forms such as trafficking in women or different types of exploitation often run parallel to women’s migration,” she said in a message for the International Day. “Local and supposedly ‘traditional’ forms of violence against women, such as female genital mutilation or forced marriages, globalize as well, moving along with their potential victims. These human rights violations are not inevitable consequences of women’s migration.

“They can be curbed if states are truly committed to protecting migrant women against violence, trafficking and exploitation, without denying them the option to migrate legally, if they choose to,” she added in the statement in which she was joined by he Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk and the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante.


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