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
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
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
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