Speakers in commission on status of women grapple with reality of risk, prevalence, severity of gender-based violence, mapping better response

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Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-seventh Session
3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

Status Quo Deemed Intolerable by Regional Groups, Expert Panellists

As the recent “horrific” abuse of women in India and around the world had laid bare, it was not a lack of normative or legal frameworks — but rather their effective implementation — that impeded efforts to combat such violence and end the culture of impunity that protected perpetrators, senior Government officials said today, as the Commission on the Status of Women moved into day two of its general debate.

Throughout the day, speakers from all regions of the world highlighted national and regional measures to support gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as tackle the wide-ranging factors that aggravated gender abuse, among them, entrenched religious or cultural norms, HIV/AIDS, poverty, climate change and skewed attitudes that elevated men and suppressed women.

For its part, India had set up fast-track courts to try abuse cases, said Krishna Tirath, that country’s Minister of Women and Child Development. It also had promulgated an ordinance in February, which amended the criminal law to broaden the definition of sexual assault and harassment to include new types of violence, such as stalking. Those changes sought greater accountability for public officials. Around the world, a lack of implementation hampered Government efforts to stem abuse. “These gaps must be identified and plugged,” she urged.

The Minister of Family and Social Policies of Turkey, Fatima Sahin, said her country had been the first to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence — also called the “Istanbul Convention”. The milestone text was the product of a persistent grass-roots struggle that had taken on regional and global dimensions. Turkey also had put in place a “panic button system” to give abuse victims easy access to authorities.

Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said that, in February, she had been sworn in as head of a newly created ministry to promote the welfare of women and children. Ghana also had enacted legislation to criminalize violence against women and girls, including the Human Trafficking Act.

The need for implementation rang true for many of today’s speakers, who decried that, while laws had been passed, the physical and emotional safety of women and girls had not received the attention it deserved on even the most progressive national agendas. Elite Cabinet members allocated time and resources to issues of their choosing. Violence could be reduced — even prevented — many said, with political will, well-funded strategies and accountability mechanisms to ensure their implementation.

Willy Telavi, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, stressed that costing and resourcing the implementation of policies and legislation across all sectors — especially health, justice and education — was necessary for turning commitments into action. There was a need to enact appropriate policies that were supported through approved budgets.

Broadly agreeing, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights and Spokeswoman of the Government of France, cautioned against using “cultural relativism” to explain women’s situations, which would leave the battle for gender equality by the wayside. The Istanbul Convention had established a legal framework for sanctions against the perpetrators of violence against women. While it had been written in Europe, it was not reserved for Europeans; it could inspire laws and policies throughout the world.

Implementation of tough laws for the perpetrators of abuse could not come soon enough, a number of speakers stressed. Violence against women was the leading cause of death and disability among women of all ages, said Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway, causing more deaths among young women than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Impunity stemmed from a lack of resources and interest — not legislation. “We cannot afford to overlook these facts,” she asserted, urging all States to act on them and end their common failure once and for all.

Also today, the Commission held a panel discussion on “Prevention of violence against women and girls”, during which experts from academia, civil society, a national women’s advocacy entity and the World Health Organization (WHO) examined ways to address violence against women at its roots and to support victims in a comprehensive manner.

In the lively discussion that followed, delegates described national efforts to prevent abuse through attitude and behavioural change. Many underlined the importance of taking a comprehensive approach, spotlighting programmes ranging from sensitization “camps” to public “say no to violence” campaigns. Educational programmes and the involvement of men and boys were also deemed essential.

Additional speakers in the general debate today were ministers and other senior officials from Samoa (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Tuvalu (in national capacity), Kiribati, Iran, Philippines, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Italy, Afghanistan, Morocco, Australia, Bahamas, Spain, New Zealand, Nigeria, Finland, Dominican Republic, Uganda, Andorra, Sweden, Luxembourg, Côte d’Ivoire and Fiji.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 6 March, to continue its work.