The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has called it an epidemic, and largest global meeting of women - the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing highlighted the scourge that preys on women and girls of all nations, of all cultures. It is gender-based violence — and it continues to grow, encouraged by the silence surrounding the issue and excused by reference to cultural norms. 

The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted a Platform for Action, which declares that "Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objective of equality, development, and peace."

Violence against women is a complex phenomenon deeply rooted in the way society is set up — cultural beliefs, power relations, economic power imbalances, and the masculine ideal of male dominance.  Gender-based violence occurs in all societies and is the social, psychological and economic subordination of women and it has thrived unnoticed because there was no global recognition of its existence until the past twenty years. 

In adopting the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN General Assembly defined the problem as "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 private life."

Such violence occurs within the home or in the wider community and women are vulnerable to this violence at all stages of life, even before they are born, through female infanticide.  The UN estimates that over 60 million girls are ‘missing’ due to ‘son preference’.

Women face many threats even within their home and work place and especially in war and conflict situations.  Threats range from child abuse, prostitution, physical violence, psychological abuse, sexual harassment to harmful practices excused as ‘traditional culture’ such as forced early marriage, widow burning, and female genital cutting.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least one in every five of the world's

The Beijing Platform for Action adopted in 1995 sets out an agenda for elimination and prevention of gender-based violence. However the solutions are not simple as one of the key requirements is the breaking down of stereotypes and negative attitudes toward women.  The media, as major purveyors of society's images, can play a key role in achieving this goal.

Refusal to recognize the problem is a barrier to its solution. In most countries a deeply entrenched culture of silence surrounds cases of violence against women, making it difficult to get a true picture of its extent. One of the main reasons is that gender-based violence mostly occurs within families, inside homes, and out of sight, in what is regarded as the ‘private’ sphere. Such violence is underreported and often deliberately disguised by both the survivors and the societies in which they live.

At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, nearly 180 countries recognized the role of violence in the definition of women's reproductive health, which "includes the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion, and violence …"

International conventions and legislation are just beginning to be translated into action at a level that can effectively protect women — the level of families, communities, and even national governments. These global initiatives are a beacon of hope for women and men who are working together to pull the issue out of the shadows and to clearly define gender-based violence as a problem for society.

The need to produce a legislative initiative on the issue brings to light the major discrepancies between countries with extremely advanced programs and those without.

The differences refer not only to the financial aspects, -lack of funds for initiating and sustaining assistance programs, consulting offices, and therapy and psychiatric treatment for victims and aggressors, but also to the cultural aspects. According to Pierre-Henri Imbert, Director of the Commission of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, "Democracy within a relationship reflects the degree of democratic development at the level of the entire society."


Domestic violence has been defined as a pattern of coercive behavior. It could be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual, perpetuated usually by men against women to maintain power and control.

Although the scope and pattern of battering may vary from country to country and region to region, research has established that battering, if kept silent, continues to escalate.  Battering produces emotional as well as physical scars. While the bangs, bruises, or knife wounds fade, the emotional injuries slowly kill the spirit.

In 1996, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution calling for public health interventions to combat violence.


Violence absolutely impacts on children even if they do not say anything. A child who has undergone or witnessed violence may become withdrawn, anxious or depressed on one hand. On the other hand, the child may become aggressive and exert control over younger siblings. Psychologists agree that boys usually carry out the aggressive form of behaviour and as adults, may beat their spouses.

Children who witness abuse in their homes experience what is called potent, long-playing memory tapes: This is what daddies do to mommies; it's okay for men to hit women; so through a child’s eyes violence equals love.  According to Pida Ripley, the best way to love a child is to give him a safe home environment”.

WomenAid International is a humanitarian aid and development agency which also campaigns for women’s rights.  WomenAid has been working in the CIS region, Central Asia and the Caucasus since 1994 and its CIS regional office is based in Tbilisi, Georgia. For further information please visit the WomenAid International website at

Further details of activities organized by NGO partners can be found on the specially created Caucasus 16 Days website:

Prepared for Caucasus 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2001.  Copyright WomenAid International 2001 ©

CIS 16 Days

© Copyright WomenAid International 2001 

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