Commentary

Time to end violence against women and girls

  • By Lamin M. Manneh
  • March 08, 2013
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Lamin M. Manneh

The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March during International Women’s Year 1975. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.


Women celebrate the International Women’s Day in Kigali last year. The New Times / File.
Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

Every year, the UN announces an International Women’s Day theme and for 2013 it is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. The purpose of this theme is to promote on-going efforts at the national level and globally to end violence against women, share experiences and innovations in delivering on commitments to women and girls, and support efforts and strategies, particularly at the national level to increase investments focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The theme is aligned with that of the Commission on the Status of Women at its fifty-seventh session, which is currently taking place in New York and is attended by a delegation from Rwanda.

According to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women adopted by the UN in 1993, violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life, and whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or private persons. Violence against women and girls has been recognized as a form of discrimination and a human rights violation. As such, states have obligations to take appropriate measures to prevent, prosecute, and protect women and girls from all forms of violence.

According to UN-Women, progress of World Women 2011-2012, as many as 7 in 10 women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Statistics indicate that violence against women and girls is a universal phenomenon, irrespective of income, class and culture.

In order to effectively address the root causes of violence against women and girls it is essential to develop evidence-based and multi-sectorial strategies. Community mobilization, changing social norms and economic empowerment of women and  girls are crucial. An important new area of the work is the engagement of men and boys to address the harmful norms and factors associated with men’s use of violence against women.

Holistic and effective legal and policy frameworks which criminalise and provides for prevention and protection measures for survivors form a foundational approach to addressing violence against women and girls. The allocation of adequate resources to ensure their effective implementation is critical. States have initially focused their legislative responses on criminalizing such violence, with indications that rates of violence against women and girls can be reduced in settings that hold perpetrators accountable.

Several gaps have been identified, however, in legislation and its enforcement. In its report entitled “Progress of the world’s women: in pursuit of justice (2011-2012)”, UN-Women indicates that complementary measures, including capacity-building of law enforcement officials, and the establishment of specialized police units and courts, are required.

In Rwanda, gender-based violence among women and girls remains an area of serious concern – according to the2010 DHS at least 56% of women aged 15-49 years had experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, with adolescent girls being at particular risk.

As part of the response, the Government of Rwanda in partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA and UNWOMEN, created the Isange One Stop Centre at the Kacyiru Police Hospital in Kigali in July 2009.Thecenterprovides comprehensive response, care and support services – including medical, legal and psycho-social services – for girls and boys, women and men who had survived gender based violence (GBV) or child abuse. Isange’s location in a public hospital helps survivors avoid the stigma that usually follows persons who visit support services specifically targeting GBV survivors. Within five months of its establishment, the centre received 299 cases of survivors of SGBV. Confidence in the services provided and awareness at a community level have resulted in an increasing number of visitors at the center

In 2010, the Government of Rwanda in partnership with the One UN was also able to open another OSC at Gihundwe Hospital in South-Western Rwanda. The challenge now is to meet the needs of Rwandan women, men and children who are survivors of GBV and child abuse in other areas of the country. The Government of Rwanda intends to expand the services provided by One Stop Centres to each of the 30 Districts in the country so that all survivors of GBV and child abuse have access to comprehensive care and support. This process has already been initiated and the Government is actively seeking the support of the donor community.

The success of the One Stop Centre model in Rwanda has extended beyond its borders. Rwanda has now been chosen to host a centre of excellence in the area of GBV prevention and response in the region. However, all crimes are still not reported to the police, as some community members consider domestic violence a private family matter.

Freedom from violence is a human right. Yet today, many women and girls still suffer disproportionately from violence.  Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women and is rooted in a global culture of discrimination.

Sexual violence can result in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV—all of which can be fatal. As part of the global community, we have an obligation to ensure that these human rights violations come to an end. It is time to act. People are mobilizing everywhere, and governments are committing to improved laws and policies. From 4 – 15 March, the United Nations will convene governments and activists from around the world to discuss strategies to end violence against women and girls at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women.

Harness the momentum with us. Tell everyone you know that they can be part of a global movement to end violence against women.

Join us to say no to violence against women and girls.

The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Rwanda


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