7th March 2007
For nearly two decades, the efforts to highlight the issue of violence against women were initiated by various national and international women bodies. The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 1992 and the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994 and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995, came to recognize women’s rights as human rights and prominently positioned the issue of violence against women on the world agenda.
The UN’s choice of the 2007 theme for the International Women’s Day articulates the critical issue that resides in almost all parts of the world. The theme: Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls reflects the state that the world has come to – becoming an unsafe place for women and girls. Perhaps, it is carrying the negative perception too far, but the statistics seem to agree with the perception. In America, only 55% of students feel safe in schools. The incidence of violence against women; rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, women and girls trafficking, psychological abuse, forced labour are some of the various acts of violence against women and girls, has not dampened significantly. On the contrary, the violence has perpetuated and some of them provide lucrative returns to irresponsible criminals.
In Malaysia, 50% of married women have suffered domestic violence at some time of their married life. On average, 6 women are raped every day in the streets of Malaysia. Only 25% of rape cases are reported. The actual incidence is therefore higher. Prevalent impunity is the direct result of those violence acts mentioned.
Women are subjected to violence in a wide range of settings, including the family, the community, state custody, and armed conflict and its aftermath. Violence constitutes a continuum across the lifespan of women, from before birth to old age. It cuts across both the public and the private spheres. The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is intimate partner violence, sometimes leading to death. At the same time it is also reported that one out of three women throughout the world is likely to experience sexual assault during her lifetime, thus it will not be exaggerating to say that human society is in crisis.
Violence against women has far-reaching consequences for women, their children, and society as a whole. Women who experience violence suffer a range of health problems, and their ability to earn a living and to participate in public life is diminished. Their children are significantly more at risk of health problems, poor school performance and behavioural disturbances. Violence against women impoverishes women, their families, communities and nations. It lowers economic production, drains resources from public services and employers, and reduces human capital formation. While even the most comprehensive surveys to date underestimate the costs, they all show that the failure to address violence against women has serious economic consequences.
As noted in a major report issued by the UN Secretary-General, all forms of violence against women represent unacceptable violations of human rights and together they form a major impediment to gender equality.
States have concrete and clear obligations to address violence against women, whether committed by state agents or by non-state actors. States are accountable to women themselves, to all their citizens and to the international community. States have a duty to prevent acts of violence against women; to investigate such acts when they occur and prosecute and punish perpetrators; and to provide redress and relief to the victims.
While differing circumstances and constraints require different types of action to be taken by the State, they do not excuse State inaction. Yet States worldwide are failing to implement in full the international standards on violence against women.
When the State fails to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable, it not only encourages further abuses, it also gives the message that male violence against women is acceptable or normal. The result of such impunity is not only denial of justice to the individual victims/survivors, but also persists as reinforcement of prevailing inequalities that affect other women and girls, too.
A violence-free world is not a mere dream. It is a precondition to a great human civilization on this earth.
Sisters of the world, let us rise up in solidarity in “Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls.” May this day bring us closer to the objectives of our struggle toward a violence-free world.
Happy International Women’s Day!