“I welcome the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence
that affect an estimated one in three women in her life time.
I applaud leaders who are helping to enact and enforce laws and change mindsets.
And I pay tribute to all those heroes around the world who help victims heal
and to become agents of change.”
These were the words of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, on the commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In 1999, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) designated November 25th of every year as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In a resolution, the UNGA invites governments, organizations (including NGOs), and groups to utilize this particular day to raise awareness on violence against women, using various activities. The UN considers violence against women a very serious human rights violation and has made efforts to address this issue. In 1979, the UNGA adopted what is described by many as the international bill of rights for women, that is, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
According to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, it is particularly important to set aside a special date as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women because:
- Violence against women is a human rights violation
- Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, both in law and in practice, and as a result persists inequalities between men and women
- Violence against women impacts and impedes progress in many areas, including movements toward poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and promoting peace and security
- Violence against women and girls is not inevitable and incidence can be reduced through preventative actions, advocacy, and progressive movements for women that are both possible and essential
- Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic with up to 70 percent of women experiencing violence in their life time
The fight to end violence against women must be fought, not just by women themselves, but also by men. This notion was reiterated by the Permanent Representative of Italy to the UN, Sebastiano Cardi, at a presentation sponsored by Italian Mission at the UN to mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Mr. Cardi noted that “while he was the only man at the panel, the issue mainly concerns men since they are traditionally the perpetrators of the violence.”
Despite efforts by the UN, some of its agencies, and some NGOs dedicated to eradicating this societal menace, violence against women and girls still pervades in various societies and situations. The fact that one out of three women experiences violence in her life time makes violence against women and girls a global crisis that not only affects the individual but also “harms our common humanity.” There is no acceptable cultural or religious justification for any form of violence against women in this day and age.
In conflict or war situations, sexual violence against women and girls is often used as weapon of war. Thousands of women around the world are being held as sex slaves both within and outside their countries by unscrupulous people. In this age of globalization and technological advancement, transnational trafficking and the use of women and girls as pornographic objects has become a multi-billion dollar industry. However, it is most shocking to learn that the most common place for violence against women and girls is within their own homes, and by the very people they love and trust. The home is the place where one is supposed to feel the safest, yet this is not the case for millions of women and girls around the world. It is within the home that some of the most horrific domestic violence occurs; such examples are girls that are sexually abused by members of their own family or given in marriage as child-brides. Additionally, the practice of female genital mutilation, which deprives girls and women of their bodily dignity and jeopardizes their physical health forever, is often carried out by members of the family.
Although women in some parts of the world fare better than others with regards to access to opportunities and protection from the state, women are still generally marginalized in many cultures. Until every segment of every society is free, no one in that society is truly free. Therefore, the fight to eliminate all forms of violence against women in every culture and society must be taken very seriously by everyone. This observation was made by Moni Pizani, the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). He noted that “no country in the world has fully achieved gender equality and no country is free of violence against women and girls. It will take the leadership of governments, communities, and individuals in all countries to join forces, break the silence, and stand up for the fundamental rights of half of our human family.”
It was to this end that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign on November 25 in 2008. This date also marks the start of 16 days of activism to end violence against women. This culminates with the UN International Human Rights Day which is celebrated on December 10 of every year. These efforts are aimed at encouraging UN agencies, NGOs, and individuals to organize activities to raise awareness and push for change in mindset within society and to call for legislation to protect the rights of women and girls by the state.