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Expert workshop on the elimination of violence against women

Publication Date: 
December, 2010
Source: 
UN Human Rights Council

On 24 and 25 November 2010 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organised an 'Expert workshop on the elimination of all forms of violence against women – challenges, good practices and opportunities'. The event was requested by Human Rights Council (the Council) Resolution 11/2 adopted in June 2009, aiming at accelerating the elimination of violence against women. Accordingly, the goal of the panel sessions was to inform the Council's work in this regard and to illuminate ways in which the Council could make a real contribution to stopping violence against women. To this end, OHCHR will compile a report on the event that will be considered by the Council in June 2011. The panellists came mainly from the academic field or civil society but there were also presentations by UN staff and representatives of national human rights institutions (Programme of Work). For the most part, the speakers held excellent presentations either regarding their research or their practical experiences in fighting violence against women. Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered the closing remarks. The workshop was well attended by States, representatives of civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, and UN specialised agencies.

Canada, the main sponsor of the event, has also been the driving force of a series of resolutions on violence against women in the Council, each addressing specific aspects of violence against women. This cycle of resolutions started in June 2010 with a resolution (A/HRC/RES/14/12) addressing due diligence in prevention of violence against women. It will be followed by a resolution on protection and another one on remedies. Hence, the workshop also addressed these thematic areas, and the investigation and prosecution of violence against women in altogether five panel sessions. Ms Alison LeClaire Christie, deputy permanent representative of Canada, said she was hoping for concrete ideas to inform the content of these resolutions.

The workshop was well attended by States and a number of them[1] took the opportunity to address concrete questions to the panellists. The European Union (EU) was particularly active and asked questions after almost every panel. Other States did not ask questions but outlined their efforts in combating violence against women, some of them to share best practices[2] and others because they felt they had to defend themselves[3] after being mentioned in the presentations. Furthermore, representatives of civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, UN specialised agencies and other UN bodies actively took part in the discussions.

Before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAC) was raised as an example for creative ways of reparations as well as in the following panel on prevention of violence. The IAC found that Mexico had neglected its duty to prevent. Attention on the violence against women in Cuidad Juárez has been focused through international human rights mechanisms such as the Special Rapporteur on violence against women (Mission report on Mexico), and through the UPR examination of Mexico in February 2009. The interplay between international and regional mechanisms, reinforcing the pressure for States to comply with their human rights obligations, has potential to be further explored.

A panellist from a Mexican NGO pointed out that the Mexican authorities still lack coordination and do not meet their obligations.[6] She therefore called for better monitoring of State compliance and proposed the right to free life as an indicator for violence against women.

Another speaker on prevention who is conducting research on this issue stressed that violence against women can be also caused by economic factors: Those women that are most vulnerable to poverty are also those that are most vulnerable to violence.[7] But at the same time, figures show that as women's economic status improves, they are also subject of increased levels of violence. The speaker therefore called for a thorough mainstreaming of the issue within all UN bodies, including those that are normally not associated with the topic of violence against women. Furthermore, granting land rights, housing rights and property rights to women could reduce levels of violence significantly.

With regard to prevention of violence in Malaysia, the director of a due-diligence research project at Northeastern University stressed that violence against women is not embedded in any culture of the world but that there exists a global culture of violence.[8] One should not only think about violence in the context of Muslim societies but be aware that it is a cross-cultural phenomenon. A panellist from a Lebanese NGO spoke on law reform in Lebanon and stressed that prevention efforts have to target all levels of society and promote healthy relationships between the sexes and within families.[9] A similar idea was raised earlier in the panel on prosecution of violence against women, which brought together diverse topics, including the experiences of law reform in Lebanon, aiming at protecting women from domestic violence, cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the topic of genocide and gender. Nonetheless, the speakers agreed that fighting violence against women should be a fight against patriarchal structures within the society as a whole.

Protection was the theme of another panel, under which a British NGO speaker addressed violence against women in the framework of protection against torture.[10] This approach corresponds to the stance of the Committee against Torture (CAT), which frequently inquires on issues relating to violence against women. The speaker said that the increasingly severe asylum legislation in the EU was impeding the protection of victims from deportation into their home countries. She also stressed the need to look at human rights defenders in the context of violence against women. Similarly, the EU stated during the workshop that it was important to fight impunity for attacks against human rights defenders.

Highlighting the relationship between violence against women, and women's ability to participate fully in their societies, including in defending human rights, is one of the concerns of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition. The Coalition brings together 23 organisations committed to the advancement of women's human rights and sexual rights. These include women's rights groups, LGBTI activists and mainstream human rights organisations, including ISHR. The Coalition considers that those challenging inequality and gender-based violence can be targeted for this work, particularly when they themselves are women. Increasing recognition of the particular challenges faced by women HRDs, and their specific protection needs continues to motivate Coalition members in their work.  

The presentations in the panel addressing the investigation of cases of violence against women emphasised the importance of quantitative, disaggregated data collection for understanding and fighting this issue. At the same time, the speakers emphasised that data is often biased due to the reluctance of women to report incidents of violence. A speaker from a Colombian NGO called on UN bodies to issue specific guidelines on coherent data collection that would not only ensure reliability but also comparability.[11] Also, existing opportunities for data collection should be better used, such as in the context of medical treatment or school dropout.

Finally, the reluctance of victims to report incidents and press charges was also a central theme in the panel on remedy and reparation. Examples that were raised by speakers were the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (transnational action), Bangladesh (domestic action), and Philippines, Nepal and Sierra Leone (transitional justice). Experts agreed that the barriers for registering cases should be kept as low as possible. The reparation itself should not be confined to paying a certain amount of money to the victim but should target the underlying societal structures that cause violence. Furthermore, the reparations should be appropriate to the cultural background, especially in societies where a particularly strong stigma is attached to this issue.

 

[1] Canada, the EU, Timor Leste, Colombia, Malawi, Peru, Bangladesh, Mexico, Sweden, Australia.

[2] Tunisia, Italy, Algeria, Hungary.

[3] Turkey, Nepal, Russian Federation.

[4] Ciudad Juárez is a border town in Mexico with a particularly high level of drug related organised crime and a very high number of female homicide victims.

[5] 'Cotton Field' vs. Mexico.

[6] Ms Andrea Medina Rosas, Enlace de la Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

[7] Ms Jacqui True, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

[8] Ms Zarizana Abdul Aziz (Malaysia), Director of the Due-Diligence Project, Northeastern University, Boston.

[9] Ms Zoya Rouhana, Director of KAFA Violence & Exploitation, Lebanon.

[10] Ms Leanne MacMillan, Director of Policy & External Affairs, Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture, UK.

[11] Ms Françoise Roth, Director of Punto de Vista, Colombia.