Human Rights Monitor
Women and violence
VIOLENCE affects the lives of millions of women worldwide, in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right of women to participate fully in society.
Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female circumcision. All are violations of the most fundamental human rights.
Violence against women is a universal problem that must be universally condemned. The problem continues to grow. Violence against women constitutes a violation of basic human rights and is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace.
Incest, rape and domestic violence
Rape in armed conflict is a war crime -- and could, under certain circumstances, be considered genocide.
Some females fall prey to violence before they are born, when expectant parents abort their unborn daughters, hoping for sons instead. In other societies, girls are subjected to such traditional practices as circumcision, which leave them maimed and traumatized. In others, they are compelled to marry at an early age, before they are physically, mentally or emotionally mature.
Women are victims of incest, rape and domestic violence that often lead to trauma, physical handicap or death.
And rape is still being used as a weapon of war, a strategy used to subjugate and terrify entire communities. Soldiers deliberately impregnate women of different ethnic groups and abandon them when it is too late to get an abortion.
The Platform for Action declared that rape in armed conflict is a war crime -- and could, under certain circumstances, be considered genocide. More women today were suffering directly from the effects of war and conflict than ever before in history. There is a deplorable trend towards the organized humiliation of women, including the crime of mass rape. International legal action ought to be pressed against those who perpetrate organized violence against women in time of conflict."
Three areas of concern where women are particularly vulnerable: in the family (including domestic violence, traditional practices, infanticide); in the community (including rape, sexual assault, commercialised violence such as trafficking in women, labour exploitation, female migrant workers etc.); and by the State (including violence against women in detention as well as violence against women in situations of armed conflict and against refugee women).
Defining gender-based abuse
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women is the first international human rights instrument to exclusively and explicitly address the issue of violence against women. It affirms that the phenomenon violates, impairs or nullifies women's human rights and their exercise of fundamental freedoms.
The Declaration provides a definition of gender-based abuse, calling it "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".
The definition is amplified in article 2 of the Declaration, which identifies three areas in which violence commonly takes place:
-Physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs in the family, including battering; sexual abuse of female children in the household; dowry-related violence; marital rape; female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women; non-spousal violence; and violence related to exploitation;
-Physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs within the general community, including rape; sexual abuse; sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere; trafficking in women; and forced prostitution;
-Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.
Groundwork is laid in Vienna
The importance of the question of violence against women was emphasized over the last decade through the holding of several expert group meetings sponsored by the United Nations to draw attention to the extent and severity of the problem. In September 1992, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women established a special Working Group and gave it a mandate to draw up a draft declaration on violence against women.
The following year, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, in resolution 1993/46 of 3 March, condemned all forms of violence and violations of human rights directed specifically against women.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in June 1993, laid extensive groundwork for eliminating violence against women. In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Governments declared that the United Nations system and Member States should work towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private life; of all forms of sexual harassment, exploitation and trafficking in women; of gender bias in the administration of justice; and of any conflicts arising between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism.
The document also declared that "violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflicts are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law", and that all violations of this kind -- including murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy -- "require a particularly effective response".
Criminalise violence against women
States should ensure that national legislation, once adopted, does not go unenforced. State responsibility is clearly underlined in article 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which stipulates that "States should exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private persons".
Any approach designed to combat violence must be twofold, addressing the root causes of the problem and treating its manifestations. Society at large, including judges and police officers, must be educated to change the social attitudes and beliefs that encourage male violence.
Source: United Nations Department of Public Information.