Key UN women’s conference must act to end violence against women

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Delegates from over 190 governments meeting at the UN-led Commission on the Status of Women this week in New York have the chance to take a critical step against the global scourge of violence against women, said international aid agency Oxfam. The agency said the two-week conference must go beyond discussing agreements made some 20 years ago at the landmark women’s rights conference in Beijing in 1995.

The Commission is the principal policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. This year, for its 57th session, representatives of Member States, UN officials and Non-governmental representatives could finally give teeth to the global agreement on women’s right that it made in Beijing.

“The danger is that this year’s commission could simply rehash this 18-year-old agreement and call it a success. This must not boil down to some glib PR exercise. Violence against women is the most under-resourced and ignored human rights scandal in the world today,” said Farah Karimi, Executive Director of Oxfam Netherlands from New York. “Governments will be shamed to walk away from this meeting without meaningful action.”

International action plan needed

While some member states are working hard to move the agenda forward, Oxfam said the Commission must also commit to an international plan of action for governments to pursue. The plan would aim, among other issues, to deliver standards already agreed at Beijing. An example is strengthening the legal base for women's rights, criminalising the act of violence against a woman, along with prioritising funding. With one in three women experiencing some type of violence in their lifetime, there was no time to waste to end the discrimination and violence against women.

“Women have taken to streets all over the world, raising their voices and taking great risks to speak out against the violence committed against them. Meanwhile, it feels like Groundhog Day in New York,” said Ms Karimi,.

Oxfam says that the language in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the International Women Rights Treaty (CEDAW) was robust and meaningful.  It said that the problem facing the international community today is not an absence of global standards on violence against women but the lack of concrete steps from governments at national level.
“Women and girls are being abused every day, beaten, raped, forced into marriage far too young, suffering acid attacks and torture. Recently, we’ve seen an increase of violence against women human right defenders, on girls like Malala in Pakistan who campaigned for girls’ rights to education. By calling on governments to commit to a global instrument with concrete targets and timelines, the commission could take a big step in the right direction,” said Karimi.

Oxfam proposes the following elements for an international action plan to eliminate violence against women.

  • Develop and strengthen laws for women’s rights and gender equality, especially in countries where there is no legal base for gender equality and women’s rights.
  • Prioritize and reallocate financial resources to end violence against women  at all levels of government and to women’s rights organizations.
  • Ensure that ending violence against women is a top government priority led by high-ranked officials.
  • Develop strategies in fragile states for organizing responses to violence against women in conflict settings.  In many conflict settings where violence against women takes place, states and governments are not able to provide protection.

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For more information:

Juliet O'Neill
Oxfam Canada media relations


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