Sexual and sexist violence against women

FIDH, meeting in its 40th Congress:

Alarmed by the current offensives against the fight for the elimination of sexual and sexist violence by some governments and conservative groups, often for economic and political purposes.

Recalling that restrictions on women’s sexual and reproductive rights constitute violence against women and a flagrant violation of their human rights. Reiterating that worldwide, 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year, leading to 13% of maternal deaths. Denouncing recent attacks on these rights in countries on different continents, such as the United States, which, since the election of Donald Trump, has multiplied legislative stepbacks and budget cuts in the area of sexual and reproductive rights, drastically limiting access to abortion; Poland, where the parliament approved a bill in October 2019 to criminalize sex education; Ecuador, where the parliament voted in September 2019 against decriminalizing abortion, including in cases of rape; and Morocco, where journalist Hajar Raissouni was sentenced in September 2019 to one year in prison for "illegal abortion and sexual relations outside marriage " before being pardoned;

Alerting that one in three women worldwide has been subjected to physical or sexual violence through her life; that 15 million girls and adolescents were victims of sexual violence in 2017; and that in the United States of America, one in 16 women is raped during her first sexual experience;

Recalling that 137 women are killed every day by their partners or family members, or six women per hour, and that on no continent are women safe from femicide: in South Africa, one woman is killed every three hours; in Mexico, 10 women are killed every day; and in Russia, up to 14,000 women are killed by their partners every year, or 38 women every day, one every 40 minutes;

Considering that these figures largely underestimate the reality of sexual and sexist violence, which, despite its structural and massive nature in all countries of the world, remains under-documented and very little denounced;

Considering in particular the Declaration and Programme of Action of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development; the Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention); the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para); the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol); General Recommendation No. 35 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) on gender-based violence against women, updating General Recommendation No. 19; General Comment No. 36 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) on the right to life; the Guidelines of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on combating sexual violence and its consequences in Africa;

Welcoming the adoption by several countries, such as Spain and Tunisia, of comprehensive laws to eliminate all forms of violence against women, regardless of who perpetrates it or where it occurs;

Recalling that other countries, such as Algeria, Morocco and France, have also adopted legislation to combat violence against women, but that these initiatives, either because of their partial nature or because of the persistence of provisions that do not make it possible to combat impunity effectively, have failed to take into account the demands of feminist and women’s rights organizations;

Denouncing the rejection by the National Assembly of Mauritania, in December 2018, of a draft law that could still be largely improved, but which would have strengthened the fight against violence against women, in particular by increasing the penalties incurred in cases of rape and criminalizing sexual harassment;

Aware that countries such as Mali are currently involved in a legislative process aimed at adopting such legislation and of the importance of the mobilization and monitoring carried out by civil society in order to ensure that these texts meet as far as possible the highest international standards in this area and take into account survivors’ needs; Concerned about the prospect of serious setbacks in areas such as the fight against sexual violence in conflict and the access of rape victims to their sexual and reproductive rights. Particularly concerned by Resolution 2467 on sexual violence in situations of armed conflict adopted on 23 April 2019 by the United Nations Security Council after the provisions on sexual and reproductive health, including references to women pregnant as a result of rape, were withdrawn, under pressure from the Government of the United States of America, and while Russia and China abstained, breaking 25 years of consensus on these issues and the achievements of international conferences; Alarmed at the particularly horrific forms of sexual and sexist violence perpetrated in conflict and crisis situations – and the resulting migration – , where women are victims of rape, including gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, crimes committed both by the defence and security forces and their auxiliaries and by extremist non-state groups;

Concerned about the persistence of some legislation tolerating the purchase of sexual acts, and their impact on the normalization of sexual violence and the perpetuation of the culture of rape. Convinced that the elimination of sexual and sexist violence requires banning the commodification of women’s bodies and taking measures to combat male appropriation of women’s bodies. Welcoming the introduction, over the past decades, of legislation in several countries, such as Sweden and France, decriminalizing prostitution and prohibiting the purchase of sexual acts in order to combat the sexual exploitation of women;

Regretting that victims in all countries of the world face multiple obstacles to access to justice: inadequate laws, culture of rape, culture of impunity, stigmatization and questioning the credibility of victims’ testimony, lack of training for judicial and law enforcement personnel, amicable settlements, cost of proceedings, gaps in the protection and medical, psychological and social care of victims, among others;

Concerned about the charges sometimes brought against victims of sexual and sexist violence, who are then considered accomplices to the violence they suffered, and may be accused of immorality, indecent behavior or adultery;

Considering that sexual and sexist violence against women is massively committed by men and, insofar as it poses the threat of male violence to all women, can be qualified as patriarchal terrorism;

Recalling that patriarchal violence is promoted by all forms of discrimination against women, including in the areas of marriage, divorce, inheritance, education, work, political life and access to property, and that such violence is based on the denial of the principle of gender equality;

Recalling that sexual and sexist violence can have serious, multiple, immediate or not, and sometimes long-term consequences on the health and lives of survivors, including medical, psychological, social and material consequences such as vaginal and anal tears, unwanted pregnancies, early and forced marriage, sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS, stigma and shame, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, risky behaviour including suicidal behaviour, school drop-out, loss of employment, "honour" crimes, death, community destruction in the case of violence related to crises and conflicts;

Deploring that women’s rights defenders involved in the fight against sexual and sexist violence encounter strong resistance and are subjected to threats, denigration campaigns, harassment or violence;

  1. Affirms that women’s right to live a life free of violence is a fundamental right that conditions the enjoyment of their other human rights such as the right to life, health, non-discrimination, work or participation in social, public and political life.

  2. Condemns all forms of sexual and sexist violence against women and undertakes to continue to prioritize the fight against sexual and sexist violence in its actions on all continents, in particular by documenting and denouncing such violence, accompanying the victims, advocating with decision-makers for its elimination and mobilizing its members.

  3. Calls on States to adopt and implement specific legislation, based on a human rights perspective, to combat all forms of violence against women in order to better define and address the various forms of violence, and to ensure the effectiveness of the system for preventing, punishing and repairing such violence and supporting women survivors.

  4. Urges States to ensure the protection of defenders involved in the fight against sexual and sexist violence, in order to enable them to carry out their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights, in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998 and other relevant international and regional instruments.

  5. Calls on States to ratify and implement as soon as possible relevant international and regional instruments in this field.

  6. Affirms its full support to women, feminist and women’s rights organizations and all women human rights defenders who fight daily against sexual and sexist violence; Strongly opposes any form of shaming aimed at blaming women human rights defenders for the attacks and threats they face; and Calls on the general human rights movement to strengthen its solidarity and support to women’s movements and to the fight against impunity for all forms of violence against women.