NORWAY FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development – is a knowledge and resource center for international women’s issues with an emphasis on the spreading of information and women-centered development cooperation.
FOKUS Statement for UN CSW 57:
VIOLENT INTERSECTIONS: THE NEED FOR A BINDING INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
All women have the right to be free from violence in both the public and the private sphere. Since the approbation of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993 and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 a number of regional conventions, protocols and declarations on violence against women have been adopted.
But there is still no specific global convention on the elimination of violence against women.
Although almost universally ratified, the CEDAW convention is the UN human rights treaty with the highest number of reservations entered by the State parties. At the same time, the CEDAW Convention does not contain an explicit article on violence against women or domestic violence, although it addresses them implicitly, and in its General Recommendation No.19 the convention provides a clear explanation of gender-based violence against women as a form of discrimination. This is, however, inadequate.
Although the Optional Protocol to CEDAW has proven useful in granting justice to some women survivors of violence, the CEDAW committee has little power to demand changes in national legislation. Many states still lack specific legislation to deal with violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape, incest, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and forced and early marriage. In those States that have such laws, the implementation of existing legislation is often far from effective. Some examples of this are: the absence of regulations and procedures for the implementation of legislation; high dismissal and withdrawal rates of cases; low prosecution and low conviction rates; lack of legal aid for victims; failure to apply measures to protect victims, as well as the use of discriminatory customary law and practice which often offers less protection to women than statutory law.
In order to strengthen the international normative basis, and to bring national laws, policies and practices in line with international standards, to secure their effective implementation, and to give a better definition of States’ responsibilities to prevent and investigate reported violence, as well as to protect, redress and compensate the victims, there is a need for a UN convention on violence against women.
WHAT THE CONVENTION SHOULD INCLUDE
The convention should clearly define violence against women and contain a comprehensive set of legally binding standards to combat it. In addition, the convention should be framed within the wider context of gender equality and discrimination against women, especially in regards to the topic of intersectionality, which we will address shortly.
An international convention on violence against women should build upon previously adopted international and regional conventions, protocols and declarations, as well as the Beijing Platform for Action. As we know from experience, a convention is only as useful as it is implemented. For this reason, it is paramount that in addition to the convention, the States approve a strong and effective monitoring mechanism. The mechanism should be independent, inclusive of civil society, and should provide for binding recommendations.
INTERSECTIONALITY OF VIOLENCE AND DISCRIMINATION
Available data clearly state that violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. At the same time, the prevalence of violence against women does vary, in both space and time, between and within communities, indicating that it is not something inevitable, natural or God-given.
Much can be said about the various forms and manifestations of violence against women. Without dwelling on any particular form, we would like to draw attention to an issue which has not been given much space in high-level discussions on the topic, namely the issue of intersectionality of multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination and violence against women.
While there may be some commonality of experience on the basis of gender, the interaction of gender with other identities can produce a substantively distinct experience of violence for each individual woman. The fact that a woman belongs to a distinct racial, ethnic, linguistic or indigenous group, is of a particular religion, is a migrant, displaced or a refugee, is poor, is institutionalized or incarcerated, has a disability, is HIV-positive, is lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or is old or widowed, to name a few, can make her more vulnerable to violence and can create additional barriers for dealing with it. For example, a lesbian might be anxious about reporting domestic violence because she fears that the police will have a homophobic reaction, or that she will be forced ‘to come out’. Her abusive partner is well aware of this and takes advantage of this fear.
To take another example, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse, violence and exploitation of all kinds. It is estimated that women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violence in close relationships as are non-disabled women. In addition, an older, disabled woman could find it difficult to report violence because of her (physical) disability and because she knows that appropriate services are most likely not available.
Intersectionality allows us also to understand why, within marginalized communities, such as indigenous groups, women who are subjected to partner violence are often reluctant to report it to the authorities. They often argue that gender issues are internally divisive, and that raising such issues advances the agenda of the women from the dominant group. At their most extreme, some of these women can claim that gender violence is not a problem in their community. They may also fear that the authorities will ascribe domestic violence to the indigenous culture or will not be willing to take a report because the woman does not speak the official language. We cannot hope to address the concerns of these women without addressing the structural and cultural discriminatory practices that they are subject to. Here, an intersectional approach to understanding and tackling multiple systems of discrimination is crucial.
Any factor of discrimination robs the women of social and cultural capital necessary to protect and defend themselves. In addition to having their personhood denied because of the fact that they are female, these women’s personhood is further degraded because of some other permanent or temporary characteristic. It is undisputable that this puts them at greater risk of violence.
Looking at sex trafficking of women, for example, we need to take a closer look at who the victims are. It is important to determine why women from certain nationalities and from certain segments of their society make up the majority of women in prostitution in the North. Their risk and vulnerability to abuse by organized crime groups and the police arise not just because they are women but also because they are poor and powerless in their homelands. Such powerlessness is partly a function of their culture, color, religion and ethnicity, vulnerability factors which the traffickers intentionally rely on in their recruitment.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
It is high time to adopt a holistic, multi-faceted approach to combating violence against women. A holistic approach takes into account the indivisibility and interdependence of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. If we are truly serious about ending all forms of violence against women, we cannot afford to continue ignoring the intersectionality of this violence with other forms of discrimination and abuse.
Only by committing ourselves to the notion of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights can we make substantial progress in combating violence against women. This is why we call upon the States to ratify all UN human rights treaties and optional protocols, without reservations. The next step should be to review polices on violence against women in terms of their efﬁcacy in addressing the problems faced by different intersectional identities. Informed by this review, the States should devise holistic action plans to tackle both gender inequality and other identity and situational factors that together produce violence against women.
1. Member States should develop and adopt a global convention on violence against women.
2. The convention should clearly define violence against women and contain a comprehensive set of legally binding standards to combat it.
3. The convention needs to include violence against ALL women, including lesbians, bisexual women and transgender persons.
4. The convention should also establish a clear link between violence against women and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
5. To ensure its implementation, an independent, inclusive, and binding monitoring mechanism should accompany the convention.
6. Member States should ratify all UN human rights treaties and optional protocols, without reservations.
7. Member States should review their polices on violence against women in terms of their efﬁcacy in addressing the problems faced by women with various intersecting identities.
8. Informed by this review, the States need to devise holistic action plans to tackle both gender inequality and other identity and situational factors that together produce violence against women.