What will it take to end violence against women?

Gender, Governance, Rights

Fresh from the Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York, Daniela Rosche argues that there is too much rhetoric and not enough action in the struggle to end violence against women.

Right now, at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), governments are negotiating a set of policy recommendations (known as agreed conclusions in CSW-speak) to end all forms of violence against women. 

Michelle Bachelet addresses participants at a CSW side event. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon looks on. UN Photo/E. Debebe

As negotiations enter their critical phase, in the second week of CSW, it is unclear whether an agreement can be reached, nor how effective the agreement will be in ending violence against women. Oxfam is concerned that when it comes to ending violence against women (VAW), there is a lot of rhetoric but too little action.

It is estimated that one in three women has been subjected to some form of violence. In a 2005 multi-country study (PDF) by the World Health Organization (WHO) up to 70% of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced some form of violence throughout their life.

(Above: Michelle Bachelet at CSW. UN Photo/E. Debebe) 

At CSW last week, many women’s rights activists from various countries and regions made a case that VAW is actually increasing, which would mean that more than the numbers quoted in the WHO study would be affected. So, of the 3.5 billion women worldwide, up to 2.5 billion will have experienced violence at some point in their life! A number too huge to grasp. 

The lack of gender equality in most countries is one of the root causes of violence against women.

In recent years we have seen a surge of violence in countries like DRC, Egypt and India. But also in developed regions like Europe, trafficking of women for sex work and forced prostitution is on the rise. In addition, forced and early marriage, which is a form of violence against women, is an issue that remains unsolved just as is sexual harassment. 

Despite condemnation from governments and the UN, VAW is rampant. Why? With the help of a big partner’s survey, Oxfam came to the conclusion that when it comes to governments’ efforts to end VAW at the country level, there is a huge gap with the implementation of existing norms and standards for example those laid down in the Beijing Platform.

The lack of gender equality in most countries is one of the root causes of VAW. We are looking to this year’s CSW to advance the women’s rights agenda when it comes to the elimination of VAW. 

Download the action planOxfam has been calling for an international action plan with concrete and time-bound targets
to eliminate VAW. This action plan would be based on existing agreements and provide a much needed accountability tool to make sure VAW is a thing of the past.

To some stakeholders, this seems like a no brainer. I would agree and add that we should have developed one 10 years ago! At the CSW meeting however, getting governments to commit to such an action plan is not easy. 

Governments and the UN want the CSW agreed conclusions much more badly than they want to say how they are going to implement those provisions. Understandable given the political implications of a failure at CSW to agree to a text, but not so understandable when it comes to effectively addressing the issue. Much more than an outcome document at CSW is needed to end VAW! 

While an action plan is not a magic wand either, it at least provides the opportunity to develop concrete targets and timetables based on the policies to eliminate VAW that have been agreed to date. Along with much needed resources and a stand-alone goal on gender in the post-2015 framework, an action plan provides a clear way forward to deliver these norms for
women and girls at the country level. 

It is frustrating to realize that geopolitics that have instrumentalized women’s rights at the UN, are once more at the heart of preventing real progress and providing accountability.  The elimination of  VAW cannot be won like that. It takes a lot more than a CSW outcome text to get things moving and prevent VAW by addressing its root causes. 

So, what will it really take to once and for all end violence against women and girls?

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Author: Daniela Rosche
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.