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Opinion piece for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November 2013)

Violence against women: a universal scourge

Precisely twenty years ago, the United Nations recognized for the first time, in a declaration dated 20 December 1993, that violence against women, resulting from the historic unequal balance of power between men and women, was a violation of the rights of the person and fundamental rights. The United Nations Member States had already, in the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, made a series of commitments to equal rights for men and women, with the major goal of changing the sociocultural behaviours at the root of male domination. But the issue of violence would only emerge from invisibility fourteen years later. Two decades later, where do we stand? We can only observe that, although awareness has grown, this scourge that knows no border remains an omnipresent reality, requiring increased vigilance and mobilization.

“Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And, it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1999).

Violence against women, in its physical, sexual and psychological forms, remains one of the most widespread violations of fundamental rights. Each year, close to 2.5 million people, mostly women, are victims of trafficking for the purposes of prostitution, forced labour, slavery and servitude. More than one in three women worldwide claims to have suffered physical or sexual violence and 125 million women have been subjected to genital mutilation, while 30 million more are at risk of becoming victims. Women aged 15 to 44 years are at a higher risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, road accidents, war and malaria combined.

No country is free of this scourge. Every three days, a woman dies at the hands of her present or former partner in France. The family sphere can be the most dangerous of conflict areas, where aggressions take place behind closed doors and in complete impunity. This unacceptable phenomenon is without a doubt the crucible of all violence against women, legitimizing discriminatory behaviour patterns against women and feeding violence in social relations. It is damaging for children and leads to the infinite reproduction of a cultural model that disrespects women. This is the observation that led the Government to table last August a new law aimed at protecting women who are victims of violence and trafficking. The fourth interministerial plan to combat violence against women, like the very first national plan to combat human trafficking, will supplement these provisions.

A major issue on the international agenda and a priority for our diplomacy

Violence against women has been tackled constantly by the international community since 1993.

Two conventions for the elimination of this violence have been adopted: the first at the Organization of American States in 1994 (Belém do Pará Convention) and the other at the Council of Europe in 2011 (Istanbul Convention). Since 1994, the United Nations has had a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, combining monitoring and advocacy and reporting to the Human Rights Council. The 1995 Platform for Action adopted during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing identified violence against women as one of the twelve critical areas of concern for action by governments, the international community and civil society. Lastly, in 1999, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 25 November the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In 2000 and 2005, United Nations and Council of Europe instruments to combat human trafficking bolstered the international legal arsenal.

Defending women’s rights and combating gender violence is a priority of France’s diplomacy. France promotes a comprehensive, prevention-focused approach, involving education and "deconstruction" of the gender stereotypes which underpin the perpetuation of violence, victim protection and support, and the prosecution of aggressors. France previously promoted the Istanbul Convention and we played an active role in formulating the international response to violence against women. Under the French Presidency of the European Union in 2008, guidelines were adopted for the efforts of Member States to combat violence and all discrimination against women. It is also thanks to a joint French-Dutch proposal that, every two years, the United Nations General Assembly calls upon all States to intensify their efforts for the elimination of all forms of violence against women. Moreover, our country strongly supported the very first United Nations resolutions condemning and combating female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages. In March, France worked actively to ensure very significant progress was made by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with a new unanimous condemnation of all violence against women, reaffirming the universality of rights and the rejection of all forms of cultural and religious relativism aimed at legitimizing failure by States to comply with their obligations. For the first time in this framework, the fundamental rights in the field of sexuality and procreation were affirmed. The negation of these rights is often the first expression of violence against women.

France’s diplomatic network, which is the third largest worldwide, also works actively to support this policy. A cooperation programme for the prevention and combating of human trafficking was launched recently in the Gulf of Guinea countries. A network of contact points has been established in a dozen embassies in order to strengthen cooperation with the countries most affected by trafficking. Forced marriages are now the subject of increased vigilance by our diplomatic network. In liaison with UN Women and women’s associations, France also runs programmes to combat violence against women in the Arab world and in Africa, as well as a programme for women’s access to justice in Afghanistan. We are also working to combat gender violence and stereotypes – the root of violence – in school in French-speaking Africa, in partnership with UNICEF.

France intends to continue its efforts in this field to ensure that gender equality will be implemented in both a cross-cutting and specific manner in the future sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda, and to ensure that the eradication of violence against women is a clearly integrated target.

To ensure that sexual violence in conflicts, which is a true weapon in war, ceases to be considered inevitable. To ensure that female participation in crisis exit processes is guaranteed, in accordance with the “Women, Peace and Security” resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. This issue, which was on the agenda of the very first Global Forum of Francophone Women in Paris on 20 March, will also be discussed during the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, where African Heads of State and Government will meet in Paris on 6 and 7 December 2013.

This international day should be the occasion to remember, twenty years after the 1993 declaration, the global reality of violence against women and girls and the need to pursue efforts to combat this universal scourge. The end of violence against women is a fundamental condition of equal rights. Everywhere.

Michèle Ramis
Ambassador with responsibility for combating organized crime

Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay
Ambassador for Human Rights
with responsibility for the international dimension of
the Holocaust, despoliation, and the duty of remembrance.

Read more :

- International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25, 2013)

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