The United Nations commission focusing on women today kicked off its annual session with a call to eliminate violence against women and girls, a global scourge that affects millions around the world.
“Ending violence against women is a matter of life and death,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the opening of the two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. “The problem pervades all countries, even in the most stable and developed regions.”
Mr. Eliasson stressed that it will take multiple approaches to tackle this issue, from governments implementing policies to empower victims and prosecute perpetrators, to creating a culture where gender stereotypes are broken by encouraging men and boys to take an equal share of responsibilities in their home and families.
“Violence against women pervades war zones as well as stable communities, capitals as well as the countryside, public space as well as the private sphere,” Mr. Eliasson said. “Since it is an unacceptable feature of daily life, we have to respond everywhere and on every level.”
According to the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), up to 70 per cent of women in some countries face physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for 40 to 70 per cent of female murder victims. In addition, some 140 million girls have suffered female genital mutilation and millions more are subjected to forced marriage and trafficking.
Mr. Eliasson underlined that eliminating violence against women and girls is also an issue intricately linked to development and peace. It is critical to achieve the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he said, as access to sanitation, is essential to guarantee women have safe places to seek privacy. This is not possible when there are currently more than one billion people without access to toilets.
“The same is true for our pursuit of peace. Women are especially vulnerable in conflicts. They are far too often subjected to unspeakable atrocities,” Mr. Eliasson said, noting that sexual violence in conflict has become a weapon of terror to instil fear among women and civilian populations.
The Executive Director of UN Women told the Commission that “the world can no longer afford the costs of violence against women and girls, the social and economic costs and the costs in deep human pain and suffering.”
Michelle Bachelet pointed to various incidents that have occurred during the past year around the world against women and girls that have sparked massive public outcries, and stressed that it is more urgent than ever for governments to act on this issue.
“Over the past few months, women, men, and young people took to the streets with signs that ask ‘Where is the justice?’ They declared solidarity with a Pakistani girl shot for defending the right to education. They pledged justice for a young woman in India and another in South Africa who were brutally raped and later died. They demanded an end to the endless cases of rape and violence that threaten the lives of countless women and girls in every country but never make the headlines.”
Ms. Bachelet said that while there has been progress over the past decades in establishing international norms and standards to protect women against violence, the issue remains widespread and impunity is still the norm rather than the exception.
“This is an issue of universal human rights and inherent human dignity that concerns us all, involves us all, and requires concerted and urgent action from all of us.”
The Chair of the Commission, Ambassador Marjon V. Kamara of Liberia, said that during its two-week session, the Commission would examine ways for more effectively preventing violence against women and girls and ensure that action is taken on the ground to create real change in women’s lives.
“We have assembled here with a clear mandate: to create a world where gender equality is never in question and discrimination and violence against women and girls are a thing of the past,” she said.