Denouncing violence against women as “one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has vowed to lead a campaign against the scourge.
In a message marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, commemorated on 25 November, Mr. Ban hailed progress in addressing the issue, but said there is “so much left to do to tear down the veil of tolerance which still sometimes surrounds it.”
He pledged to spearhead a system-wide campaign through 2015 for the elimination of violence against women focused on global advocacy; UN leadership by example; and strengthened partnerships at the national and regional levels to support the work of Governments, civil society, the private sector and others.
“I have proposed that the General Assembly devote an agenda item every year to considering the question of violence against women. And I have called on the Security Council to establish a mechanism dedicated to monitoring violence against women and girls, within the framework of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security,” Mr. Ban said.
He also repeats his longstanding support for a proposal to replace several current UN structures with one “dynamic” entity able to call on all of the UN system’s resources in the work to empower women and realize gender equality worldwide.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in her statement on the occasion of the Day, spotlighted the problem of immunity for violent crimes against women.
“Every day, in all corners of the world, countless women and girls are killed, mutilated, beaten, raped, sold into sexual slavery or tortured. Most of the survivors of this violence have little hope of seeing their tormentors pay for their crimes. And so the violence goes on,” she said.
Impunity “is built on a foundation of discrimination and inequality,” Ms. Arbour said. States have largely accepted the international human rights framework in place to prevent, condemn and punish discrimination against women, but she stressed that inequalities remain.
She emphasized that a sustained effort to end violence against women requires a commitment to ensure equality with respect to economic and social rights. “This contributes not only to the equitable allocation of public goods and services but also leads to improved law enforcement by facilitating accountability for violence against women.”
Both Ms. Arbour and Mr. Ban said the issue must be addressed not only in commemoration of the International Day but every day.
Also marking the Day, two independent UN human rights experts issued a statement pointing out that despite progress, many countries fail to recognize some forms of violence against women as crimes.
“Cultural or religious paradigms are still invoked to condone female genital mutilation, the execution and murder of women, marital rape and other forms of violence,” said the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak.
They note that the application of international instruments and the development of strategies to condemn and punish torture “have been slow to take into account gender-based aspects of torture, such as sexual violence, and have treated severe pain or suffering inflicted on women in the private sphere as a ‘domestic affair.’”
The experts appeal to the international community, to States and civil society to make full use of all existing instruments and mechanisms designed to combat violence against women.
Commemoration of the Day kicks off 15 days of activism,” an initiative from 25 November through 10 December, which is International Human Rights Day.
In Sierra Leone, the UN is working with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a number of activities, including awareness raising workshops on the three Gender Acts recently adopted by the House of Parliament – the Domestic Violence Act; the Devolution of Estates Act; and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act.