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Neither violence against women nor poverty are inevitable

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Irene Khan, Amnesty International writes about the links between violence against women and poverty to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

As women around the world come together to celebrate the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, violence against women remains endemic in many forms, in all societies.

Just last month, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death by a group of 50 men in Somalia. The thirteen year-old was accused of adultery, though according to her father she was raped and had tried to report it. None of those accused of her rape nor murder have been arrested.

Violence against women and girls is a priority concern for Amnesty International and in 2004 a global campaign to Stop Violence against Women was launched. So far the campaign has contributed to successes that have brought a number of legislative and policy changes at national levels, as well as supported efforts in the international arena for the adoption of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 by the United Nations Security Council.

These resolutions on Women Peace and Security aim to ensure women's equal participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding and to increase the human rights protection of women and girls in conflict situations.

Despite these advances, violence against women and girls remains widespread across the globe. Recent research in Afghanistan, Armenia, Canada, Cote D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Venezuela, and the USA has shown that this violence is not only a human rights violation but also a key factor in obstructing the realization of women's and girls' rights to security, adequate housing, health, food, education and participation. Millions of women find themselves locked in cycles of poverty and violence, cycles which fuel and perpetuate one another.

Poverty is characterised by the daily experience of human rights abuses that lead people into deprivation, insecurity, exclusion and voicelessness. Poverty is an affront to human dignity and the worst human rights crisis in the world. It exists in all countries and affects women disproportionately - 70% of the world's poor are women.

Neither violence against women nor poverty are inevitable, though they combine to restrict women's choices and put women at risk from violence. While all girls have the right to education, which is vital in allowing them to choose their futures, this right is often curtailed by violence and poverty. In countries such as Haiti, girls may have little choice but to grant sexual favours in order that they can pay their school fees.

Others who go in search of a public place with lighting by which to do their homework because their home has no electricity, are attacked by groups of men. As a result of the abuse, it is likely that girls' education will be disrupted or discontinued.

Violence against women is human rights abuse for which states are responsible. Amnesty International will continue to demand accountability from both national and international actors for these violations. It will continue to call upon states and the international community to ensure equal access to rights and services for women and girls.

This includes systemically incorporating the analysis of the impact on the enjoyment of women and girls' human rights into all strategies, programs and reporting related to poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

This must also include progress made in the elimination of gender-based violence. Human rights violations cannot be stopped, poverty ended, nor development achieved without the active participation of the people affected by these abuses, in particular women and girls.