NEW YORK (TrustLaw)—Strengthening and implementing laws to combat violence against women and persuading more countries to adopt them will be key goals for the 2013 Commission on the Status of Women, according to a forum of diplomats and experts at the United Nations this week.
“Eliminating violence against women must be our common effort and can be our common achievement,” said Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN Women.
UN Women, the UN’s Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, organised the two-day conference, which ended Friday, to identify and discuss the most pressing problems in preventing and eliminating violence against women, which it called a global “problem of pandemic proportions” that is experienced by up to 70 percent of the world’s women and girls at some point in their lifetime.
Progress has been made and many countries are adopting laws, “but these documents remain empty without implementation,” said Puri.
“Violence against women remains a global phenomenon, occurring in every corner of our globe, leaving very few safe spaces for women and girls,” said Marjon Kamara, Ambassador from Liberia to the U.N. and chair of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which will take place March 4-15 at the UN in New York.
Among the obstacles to achieving the goal of eliminating this violence has been the failure of some governments to implement laws or meet the commitments they have made in this area at the international and national levels, several forum participants said.
“Most importantly, governments should propose legal structures that work,” said Ambassador Henry Mac Donald of Suriname.
To encourage governments to do that, UN Women executive director Michelle Bachelet launched a new program called COMMIT on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
COMMIT calls upon governments to publicly make concrete new national commitments ranging from laws and improved services for survivors of violence to national advocacy and educational campaigns.
On Friday, UN Women announced that 12 countries so far had announced such initiatives. They made the following commitments:
--Australia: a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence and sexual abuse
--Austria: ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women
--Belarus: combat trafficking in persons and domestic violence
--Denmark: a special focus on violence against young women;
--Dominican Republic: expand and strengthen programmes to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls
--Finland: improve women’s access to justice
--France: ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on violence against women and pass a new law
--Germany and Greece: implement the Council of Europe Convention on violence against women;
--Republic of Korea: strengthen prosecution of violence against women, improve protection for survivors and implement education programmes
--Togo: strengthen a national strategy to end gender-based violence
--United States of America: take concrete measures to prevent and respond to violence against women.
The U.S. came under criticism at the forum for being one of the few countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a document adopted by the United Nations in 1979 that generally is viewed as an international bill of rights for women.
Only six countries out of 193 have failed to ratify CEDAW, including the United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Palau and Tonga, two small Pacific Island nations.
The failure of the U.S. to ratify CEDAW currently is particularly problematical in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, said Hibaaq Osman, founder and chief executive of Karama, a network of activists working to end violence against women in that region.
She noted that women’s rights are at issue in many of the countries of the Arab Spring. “Regardless of how conservative some of these governments tend to be…they also care about their international image. So, when you have the United States of America not sign CEDAW, it’s a problem. It’s easy for conservatives in our countries to say, ‘See, even the U.S. hasn’t signed CEDAW.’”
To the U.S., Osman said, “Don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk. Please.”
(Editing by Stella Dawson)