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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: AN END IN SIGHT

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NEW YORK, Nov 20 2006 (IPS) - Violence against women during conflict has become an international scandal, writes Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25. In this article, the author writes that violence against women is not limited to conflict and post-conflict situations; it is a daily reality for millions of women, in all ranks of life, in every country in the world. This violence, because it is so ordinary, does not provoke the same response–either at the international, the national or the local level. To make matters worse, in many cases, women no longer trust the courts and police to help deal with this violence because their experience with legal and law enforcement institutions has shown them that the gender bias and indifference which gives rise to such violence simply runs too deep. What women have learned in almost two decades of work to end violence against women is that change is possible. It requires engaging men in transforming power relationships and working at multiple levels and across sectors to address the social and economic causes of gender violence and the links between violence, poverty, and conflict.

But violence against women is not limited to conflict and post-conflict situations; it is a daily reality for millions of women, in all ranks of life, in every country in the world. This violence, because it is so ordinary, does not provoke the same response, either at the international, the national, or the local level. To make matters worse, in many cases, women no longer trust the courts and police to help deal with this violence because their experience with legal and law enforcement institutions has shown them that the gender bias and indifference which gives rise to such violence simply runs too deep.

In mid-November, after years of struggle, women’s rights activists in Pakistan succeeded in getting rape laws amended to eliminate the need for four male witnesses, so that women can bring such charges to court without themselves being charged with adultery. It may take years more for women to feel safe in doing so, however, wherever they may live. In some countries, women who have been raped are stoned or beaten or even killed so that family ‘honour’ can be avenged, community vengeance enacted, social harmony restored. In many more, violence against women by husbands or partners is regarded as normal, and women who report such violence are subject to further abuse from those they appeal to. Without support from police or judicial officials, community or religious leaders, where can they turn?

Gender-based violence –and the failure to stop it– reflects deeply-rooted patterns of gender inequality and discrimination that run throughout the political, economic, and social norms and institutions of society and permeate the attitudes of communities and families. For this reason, it sometimes seems that the multiple forms of violence that women face, both during conflict and in times of peace, will continue with no end in sight.

The truth is that the end is already in sight. What women have learned in almost two decades of work to end violence against women is that change is possible. It requires engaging men in transforming power relationships and working at multiple levels and across sectors to address the social and economic causes of gender violence and the links between violence, poverty, and conflict. The UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, which UNIFEM manages, supports coordinated strategies for on-the-ground implementation of the legislative provisions against domestic violence that now exist in 89 countries. These include campaigns to raise awareness of existing laws and to align these with human rights principles; analysing budgets and ensuring allocations needed to implement laws; working with judicial, law enforcement, and health officials to facilitate the creation of women-friendly legal and law enforcement systems; and supporting women’s rights advocates to maintain a watching brief on the extent to which laws and policies are making a difference.

For example, in Rwanda, UNIFEM’s support for women leaders has helped to promote women’s perspectives in government policies and within parliament, the judiciary and the police-letting them know that violence is unacceptable. Years of advocacy by women parliamentarians and civil society groups resulted in the passage of a measure to outlaw gender-based violence, with penalties for those found guilty. Local court judges were sensitised to the gender power relations that make it difficult for women to meet demands for witnesses to rape and sexual violence so that women are able to access justice under this law.

A genuine end to ongoing violence against women lies in constitutions with strong and clear guarantees of gender equality. It is to be found in legal reforms that ensure equality in marriage and family relations, in property ownership, and in equal access to secure employment and livelihoods. It depends on women being supported to participate in elections as voters and candidates and in ensuring their equal representation in all facets of government. It relies on judicial processes that fully ensure and protect women’s entitlements on a basis of equality with men. And it requires bringing to justice those who violate women’s human rights so that women can begin to trust the institutions of justice and law enforcement that have too often let them down.

We owe it to women everywhere to adopt these strategies on a scale that can bring the vision of a life free of violence for all women within dazzlingly plain sight.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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