Societies Must Be Willing to Examine Root Causes, Exacerbating Factors of Gender-based Violence, High-level Speakers Tell Women’s Commission

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Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-seventh Session
5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Panel Discussion Hears Calls to ‘Break Culture of Silence’, Help Women, Girls Overcome Fear, Stigma Surrounding Sexual Violence

Societies must be willing to examine the underlying causes of gender-based violence, the systems that facilitated it and the factors that exacerbated it, in particular, armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and poverty, senior Government officials stressed as the Commission on the Status of Women moved into the third day of its fifty-seventh annual session.

High-level delegates throughout the morning’s general debate segment underscored the need for far-reaching, multisectoral approaches which both tackled the roots of violence and provided services to its victims. In that regard, a number of speakers outlined national programmes across the spectrum of prevention and response, ranging from awareness-raising campaigns and social change programmes to emergency health services for victims.

Moreover, some said, the cycle of silence must be broken and long-held feelings of shame eradicated. “We cannot tolerate a world in which victims of violence do not dare to talk about what has happened to them […] and in which women cannot hold their heads up high and claim their rights,” said Jet Bussemaker, Minster of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. She urged delegates to consider, in particular, vulnerable groups, such as migrants, refugees and women in conflict situations, and to explore factors such as financial and social dependence on men, lack of education and forced marriage.

“When one woman suffers abuse, our common humanity is assaulted with her,” said the representative of the United States, adding that, whether a woman was assaulted by a family member or stranger, a State-backed militia or intimate partner, so was her full participation in society. Violence against women weakened communities, stunted economies and eroded common values. While strides had been made around the world, much remained to be done, and she noted that more than 600 million women and girls still lived in countries that had not declared domestic violence a crime. Women from vulnerable groups still faced higher risks of abuse, while thousands of women in conflict or post-conflict zones were exposed to daily rape. Six thousand girls were assaulted a year while simply trying to get to school, she said.

Anita Kalinde, Minister of Gender, Children and Community Development and Member of Parliament of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that, despite tireless efforts, SADC countries still experienced high rates of gender-based violence, particularly violence against women due to poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict, which were closely linked. “The situation is exacerbated by gender inequality, harmful practices, beliefs, attitudes and patriarchal systems,” she added.

A number of countries in conflict also addressed the Commission today, issuing moving calls to the international community on behalf of millions of women who were experiencing rape, exploitation or even murder at the hands of armed groups. Geneviéve Inagosi-Bulo Ibambi Kassongo, Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that in the context of the ongoing Congolese war, millions of women had died in a silent conflict that was tantamount to genocide. “How long will their cries fall on deaf ears?,” she implored, noting that most women who suffered in silence lived in the east of the country — a stronghold for 23 March Movement militants — far from the eyes of international media.

Meanwhile, Alwata Ichata Sahi, Minster for Family and the Advancement of Women and Children of Mali, said that rebels and jihadists were presently wreaking havoc in the northern part of her country. There were reports of rape, gang rapes, stonings and amputation, as well as the desecration of schools and religious heritage. All kinds of violence against women and girls represented a serious threat to the advancement of women in Mali, and the country’s security and humanitarian crisis had led to a social upheaval. For example, she said, health and support centres had been completely destroyed, leading to the death of many pregnant women.

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said that her country’s 14-year civil war had created a culture of violence, and despite a number of measures put in place by the Government, there was still unacceptably high incidence of rape and domestic violence. Some 200 to 220 gender violence cases were received each month by her Ministry, of which 15 to 20 per cent were domestic violence.

As a response, Liberia had taken various actions to prevent and respond to sexually based violence, including through the creation of a sex crimes unit at the Ministry of Justice, as well as a special criminal court to fast-track gender-based violence cases. It had also passed legislation to protect the rights of women and girls, including an amended rape law in 2006. To support abuse victims, a “one-stop” facility to provide health, psychosocial and other services to victims had been set up as had safe homes. An outreach programme engaged ministries, development partners, civil society and traditional leaders.

Another “daunting challenge” identified today was the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic. In that vein, Ralebitso Tebello, Senior Gender Officer, Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, said that the effects of HIV and AIDS, coupled with heavy care-giving responsibilities and domestic violence, had been devastating. She called on the international community to expand access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS protection, treatment and care in affected countries. Lamenting the fact that violence against women and girls remained one of the most pervasive violations of human rights around the world, she stressed that “it is time to confront that challenge and break the chains of fear”.

In a panel discussion this afternoon, which tackled multisectoral services and responses for women and girls subjected to violence, delegates laid out national measures to respond to abuse in a coordinated, cross-cutting manner. Among other things, speakers underlined the importance for all stakeholders to work together, share information and complement the efforts of one another to avoid a duplication of work.

Additional speakers in the general debate today were ministers and other senior officials of Canada, Guinea, Mauritania, South Africa, Samoa, Nicaragua, Botswana, Tonga, Namibia, Niger, Burundi, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Gabon, Haiti, Cameroon, Rwanda and Brazil.

Also speaking was the Minister of Women Affairs for the State of Palestine.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 7 March, to continue its work.