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.”
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, amongst other issues, to deliver standards already agreed at Beijing for instance strengthening the legal base for women's rights, criminalising the act of VAW 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.
Notes to editors
Oxfam proposes the following four areas for an international action plan to eliminate Violence Against Women (VAW).
- 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. It is time the act of violence against women is made criminal, in all countries around the world.
- Prioritize and reallocate financial resources to end VAW as existing funding streams for gender equality, whether allocated to support women’s rights organizations, or national governments, are inadequate. Existing funding should be pooled by using a comprehensive approach to avoid fragmentation of existing responses.
- Ending VAW needs to be top-level government business. Oxfam believes that government reform is a priority area in the fight to end VAW. For instance, Governments could set up VAW units based in the Ministry of Justice or Interior, led by a senior ranking official which is part of the ministry’s leadership.
- Fragile states develop strategies for organizing responses to VAW in conflict settings. In many conflict settings where violence against women takes place, states and governments are not able to provide protection. Oxfam says a strong legal framework for women’s rights as well as legislation that defines any act of violence a crime should be enacted to tackle the culture of impunity.