2nd December 2004.
Ending violence against women

Violence against women is arguably one of the world's most prevalent, pervasive, and systemic problems. It is a problem without borders, a universal scourge on women and their families that knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth.

It has grown to epidemic proportions around the world, devastating lives, fracturing communities and prohibiting development. At least one in three women worldwide will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime - with the abuser usually someone known to her.
According to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, it is "perhaps the most shameful human rights violation."

Unless tackled systematically at all levels of society, with zero-tolerance policies and a concerted effort by the international community and governments to make it socially unacceptable and a crime, gender-based violence will stall any real progress towards equality, development and peace.

In the last two decades, women's organizations have taken the lead in moving the issue from the shadows into the public eye, taking innovative steps to focus world attention on the problem.

Initiatives ranging from providing medical, legal, counselling and protection services, to drafting and lobbying for legislation, raising awareness and changing attitudes through advocacy, education and training, and building national, regional and international end-violence networks have led to dramatic changes in norms, laws, policies and practices in many countries.

These efforts have been supported by international standards and policies that recognise violence against women as a human rights abuse, such as the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that obliges state parties to the convention to take all appropriate means to eliminate violence against women; the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993; and the Beijing Platform for Action of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, which explicitly acknowledges that the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely on matters related to their sexual and reproductive health and sexuality, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

In 1996, the UN General Assembly also established the UNIFEM Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women; this is a unique grant-making mechanism that provides support to catalytic programmes in developing countries working to prevent gender-based violence.

Today, following global and regional commitments and treaties and the tireless efforts of activists, at least 45 nations have passed new laws that explicitly prohibit domestic violence, while more than 21 countries are drafting new laws.

Twenty-five countries have adopted laws and policies addressing female genital mutilation, 16 countries have passed distinct legislation on sexual assault, 14 countries have adopted laws on sexual harassment, and another 46 have incorporated provisions related to sexual harassment in non-specific legal codes.

Continued advocacy and NGO-government dialogues have led to responses that directly address female survivors of violence, such as special female police stations, community policing, gender-sensitive training for law-enforcement officials and the judiciary, women's and people's courts, and one-stop crisis centres.

This report, published jointly by UNIFEM, UNFPA and UNAIDS, concludes that women are bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and that strategies to reverse it cannot succeed unless women and girls are empowered to reclaim their rights. Noting that half of all people infected with HIV are women, the report documents the devastating and often invisible impact of AIDS on women and girls and highlights the ways discrimination, poverty and gender-based violence help fuel the epidemic.

How it all started

In December 1999, at its 54th Session, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
This was in recognition of the magnitude of the problem and the urgent need for serious commitment by the world community to make finding solutions a key priority.

The origins of November 25 go back to 1960, when the Mirabal sisters, activists from the Dominican Republic, were violently assassinated for their political activism. The sisters, known as the "Unforgettable Butterflies," became a symbol of the crisis of violence against women in Latin America.

November 25 was the date chosen to commemorate their lives and promote global recognition of gender-based violence, and has been observed in Latin America since the 1980s.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an annual global campaign started in 1991 by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in the United States.

The campaign begins on November 25, runs through World AIDS Day on December 1, and ends on Human Rights Day on December 10. Since it was started, more than 1,700 organizations in 130 countries have participated, using the annual campaign as an organizing strategy to call attention to gender-based violence and better resources to combat it.

Each year CWGL, the campaign's coordinator, consults with women's human rights advocates worldwide to propose a theme on which to focus advocacy efforts. The theme for 2004 is, For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence, with specific emphasis on the intersection between violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The theme complements the theme of World AIDS Day 2004, on Women and AIDS, and also follows on the attention received at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July 2004 of the growing disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.