The importance of strong laws against sexual, domestic and other gender violence was highlighted today as members of parliaments from around the world gathered on the sidelines of the annual session of the United Nations women’s commission on its second day.
“Legislative change is fundamental to halting the violence epidemic, and it is you, the representatives of the people, who can make it happen and make a real difference for women and girls,” the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet, said at a side event of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
This focus of this year’s session is ending violence against women and girls. According to UN Women, up to 70 per cent of women in some countries face physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In addition, some 140 million girls have suffered female genital mutilation and millions more are subjected to forced marriage and trafficking.
At today’s event, also addressed by the President of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) and other legislative figures, Ms. Bachelet welcomed the fact that two-thirds of countries have legislation criminalizing domestic violence.
She stressed, however, that the current framework is far from adequate.
“All countries should have legislation that penalizes violence against women in all spheres and all forms of violence,” she said, adding that “parliaments must identify gaps and amend weak legislation.”
She noted proposals for strengthening Indian laws on sexual assault made by a Government panel after the horrific rape and death of a young woman and the tremendous public outrage that followed.
The new proposals will go a long way in strengthening Indian laws, she said, because they currently prohibit acts that “outrage a woman’s modesty,” but do not define specific off-limit behaviours.
“So I urge all of you to review and strengthen laws in your countries to end violence against women,” she said.
Parliamentarians, she added, could also use their good offices to bring police, prosecutors, judges, health care providers, social workers and religious and community leaders on board to ensure that laws were enforced.
“Ending violence against women requires the full engagement of all sectors of society,” she stressed.
Among other events under the CSW umbrella today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with heads of UN agencies on the issue of boosting coordination to fight violence against women and girls.
Mr. Ban said that he launched the campaign called “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” in 2008 because, among other necessities, women need to live free of fear and girls need to safely enjoy their right to education.
“These are basic rights. The United Nations must do all it can to make them facts of life,” he said.
Other events today included a presentation by the Minister of Women’s Rights of France and a discussion on ending gender-based violence in schools organized by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).