affects the lives of millions of women world-wide, in all socio-economic
and educational classes.
It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right
of women to participate fully in society.
Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from
domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female circumcision.
All are violations of the most fundamental human rights.
a statement to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in
September 1995, the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros
Boutros-Ghali, said that violence against women is a universal problem
that must be universally condemned.
But he said that the problem continues to grow.
The Secretary-General noted that domestic violence alone is on the
Studies in 10 countries, he said, have found that between 17 per
cent and 38 per cent of women suffered physical assaults by a partner.
the Platform for Action, the core document of the Beijing Conference,
Governments declared that "violence
against women constitutes a violation of basic human rights and is an
obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and
WORK OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR
issue of the advancement of women's rights has concerned the United
Nations since the Organisation's founding.
Yet the alarming global dimensions of female-targeted violence were
not explicitly acknowledged by the international community until December
1993, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration
on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
that point, most Governments tended to regard violence against women
largely as a private matter between individuals, and not as a pervasive
human rights problem requiring State intervention.
In view of the alarming growth in the number of cases of violence
against women throughout the world, the Commission on Human Rights adopted
Resolution 1994/45 of 4 March 1994, in which it decided to appoint the
Special Rapporteur on the violence against women, including its causes and
a result of these steps, the problem of violence against women has been
drawing increasing political attention.
The Special Rapporteur has a mandate to collect and analyse
comprehensive date and to recommend measures aimed at eliminating violence
at the international, national and regional levels.
The mandate is threefold:
collect information on violence against women and its causes and
consequences from sources such as Governments, treaty bodies,
specialised agencies and intergovernmental and non-governmental organisation, and to respond effectively to such information;
recommend measures and ways and means, at the national, regional and
international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its
causes, and to remedy its consequences;
work closely with other special rapporteurs, special representatives,
working groups and independent experts of the Commission on Human
RAPE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
females fall prey to violence before they are born, when expectant parents
abort their unborn daughters, hoping for sons instead.
In other societies, girls are subjected to such traditional
practices as circumcision, which leaves them maimed and traumatised.
In others, they are compelled to marry at an early age before they
are physically, mentally or emotionally mature.
are victims of incest, rape and domestic violence that often lead to
trauma, physical handicap or death.
And rape is still being used as a weapon of war, a strategy used to
subjugate and terrify entire communities.
Soldiers deliberately impregnate women of different ethnic groups
and abandon them when it is too late to get an abortion.
Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth Conference on Women declared
that rape in armed conflict is a war crime - and could, under some
circumstances, be considered genocide.
The then UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali told the Beijing
Conference that more women today were suffering directly from the effects
of war and conflict than ever before in history.
is a deplorable trend towards the organised humiliation of women.
including the crime of mass hate", the Secretary-General
will press for international legal action against those who perpetrate
organised violence against women in time of conflict."
preliminary report in 1994 by the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Radhika
Coomaraswamy, focused on three areas of concern where women are
the family (including domestic violence, traditional practices and
the community (including rape, sexual assault, commercialised violence
such as trafficking in women, labour exploitation, female migrant workers, etc.);
the State (including violence against women in detention as well as
violence against women in situations of armed conflict and against
the Platform for Action adopted at the Beijing Conference, violence
against women and the human rights of women are two of the twelve critical
areas of concern identified as the main obstacles to the advancement of
agreed to adopt and implement national legislation to end violence against
women and to work actively to ratify all international agreements that
relate to violence against women.
They agreed that there should be shelters, legal aid and other
services for girls and women at risk, and counselling and rehabilitation
also pledged to adopt appropriate measures in the field of education to
modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women.
The Platform called on media professionals to develop
self-regulatory guidelines to address violent, degrading and pornographic
materials, while encouraging non-stereotyped, balanced and diverse images
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women is the first
international human rights instrument to exclusively and explicitly
address the issue of violence against women.
It affirms that the phenomenon violates, impairs or nullifies
women's human rights and their exercise of fundamental freedoms.
Declaration provides a definition of gender-based abuse, calling it "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".
definition is amplified in Article 2 of the Declaration, which identifies
three areas in which violence commonly takes place :
sexual and psychological violence that occurs in the family, including
battering; sexual abuse of female children in the household;
marital rape; female genital mutilation and other traditional
practices harmful to women;
non-spousal violence; and violence related to exploitation;
sexual and psychological violence that occurs within the general
community, including rape; sexual abuse; sexual harassment and
intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere;
trafficking in women; and forced prostitution;
sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the
State, wherever it occurs.
IS LAID IN VIENNA
importance of the question of violence against women was emphasised over
the last decade through the holding of several expert group meetings
sponsored by the United Nations to draw attention to the extent and
severity of the problem.
September 1992, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
established a special Working Group and gave it a mandate to draw up a
draft declaration on violence against women.
The following year, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights,
in resolution 1993/46 of 3 March, condemned all forms of violence and violations of human rights directed specifically against women.
World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in June 1993, laid
extensive groundwork for eliminating Violence against women.
In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Governments
declared that the United Nations system and Member States should work
towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private;
of all forms of sexual harassment, exploitation and trafficking in women; of gender
bias in the administration of justice; and any conflicts arising
between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional
or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism.
document also declared that "violations
of the human rights of women in situation of armed conflicts are
violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and
humanitarian law", "violations
of the human rights of women in situation of armed conflicts are
violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and
humanitarian law", and that all violations of this kind -
including murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy - "require
a particularly effective response".
OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
violence: Violence against women in the family occurs in developed and
developing countries alike.
It has long been considered a private matter by bystanders -
including neighbours, the community and government.
But such private matters have a tendency to become public
In the United States, a woman is beaten
every 18 minutes.
Indeed, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among
women of reproductive aged in the United States. Between 22 and 35 per cent of women who visit emergency rooms are
there for that reason.
highly publicised trial of O. J. Simpson, the retired United States
football player acquitted of the murder of his former wife and a male
friend of hers, helped focus international media attention on the issue of
domestic violence and spousal abuse.
Peru, 70 per cent of all crimes reported to the police involve women
beaten by their husbands.
Pakistan, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto strongly defended a 35-year-old
mother of two who was severely burned by her husband in a domestic
is no excuse for such a behaviour", the Prime Minister
declared after visiting the hospitalised victim. "My
presence here is to send a message to all those who violate Islamic
teachings and defy laws of the land with their inhuman treatment of women.
This will not be tolerated".
to the Special Rapporteur's report, many Governments now recognise the
importance of protecting victims of domestic abuse and taking action to
The establishment of structures allowing officials to deal with
cases of domestic violence and its consequences is a significant step
towards the elimination of violence against women in the family.
The Special Rapporteur's report highlights the importance of
adopting legislation that provides for prosecution of the offender.
It also stresses the importance of specialised training for law
enforcement authorities as well as medical and legal professionals, and of
the establishment of community support services for victims, including
access to information and shelters.
Traditional practices: In
many countries, women fall victim to traditional practices that violate
their human rights.
The persistence of the problem has much to do with the fact that
most of these physically and psychologically harmful customs are deeply
rooted in the tradition and culture of society.
Female genital mutilation:
According to the World Health Organisation, 85 million to 115
million girls and women in the population have undergone some form of
female genital mutilation and suffer from its adverse health effects.
Every year an estimated 2 million young girls undergo this
procedure. Most live in Africa and Asia - but an increasing number can be
found among immigrant and refugee families in Western Europe and North
America. The practice has been outlawed in some European countries.
France, a Malian was convicted in a criminal court after his baby girl
died of a female circumcision-related infection.
The procedure had been performed on the infant at home.
Canada, fear of being forced to undergo circumcision can be grounds for
A Nigerian woman was granted refugee status since she felt that she
might be persecuted in her home country because of her refusal to inflict
genital mutilation on her baby daughter.
is a growing consensus that the best way to eliminate these practices is
through educational campaigns that emphasise their dangerous health
Several Governments have been actively promoting such campaign in
Son preference affects women in many countries, particularly in Asia.
Its consequences can be anything from foetal or female infanticide
to neglect of the girl-child, in favour of her brother, in terms of such
essential needs as nutrition, basic health care and education.
China and India, some women choose to terminate their pregnancies when
expecting daughters but carry their pregnancies to term when expecting
to reports from India, genetic testing for sex selection has become a
booming business, especially in the country's northern regions.
Indian gender-detection clinics drew protests from women's groups
after the appearance of advertisements suggesting that it was better to
spend $38 now to terminate a female foetus than $3,800 later on her
study of amniocentesis procedures conducted in a large Bombay hospital
found that 95.5 per cent of foetuses identified as female were aborted,
compared with a far smaller percentage of male foetuses.
problem of son preference is present in many other countries as well. Asked how many children he had fathered, the former United States
boxing champion Mohammed Ali told an interviewer: "One
boy and seven mistakes".
Dowry-related violence and early
In some countries, weddings are preceded by the payment of an
agreed-upon dowry by the bride's family. Failure to pay the dowry can lead to violence.
In Bangladesh, a bride whose dowry was deemed too small was
disfigured after the husband threw acid on her face.
In India, an average of five women a day are burned in
dowry-related disputes - and many more cases are never reported.
marriage, especially without the consent of the girl, is another form of
human rights violation.
Early marriage followed by multiple pregnancies can affect the
health of women for life.
report of the Special Rapporteur has documented the destructive effects of
marriage of female children under 18 and has urged Governments to adopt