"From the tuk tuk drivers in Cambodia… to the school children in South Africa, women and men and girls and boys are taking a stand to prevent violence against women," says Executive Director of UN Women and Under Secretary General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
On November 19, the UN marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the Trusteeship Council Chambers at the UN Headquarters. It also commemorated the UN Secretary-General's UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women.
One of the unique features of the commemoration is the UN's commitment to the role of law enforcement in ending violence against women and girls in private and public spaces. This local-to-global focus at the UN will bring critical perspectives from the UN, Member States, and including for the first time, a local law enforcement agency - the New York Police Department (NYPD).
The "violence against women" movement is perhaps the greatest success story of international mobilisation. However over 35 per cent of women across the world face violence during their life in what the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls a "global health problem of epidemic proportions."
Over one billion women experience gender-based violence in the world. Under Secretary General Mlambo-Ngcuka has pointed out that given the magnitude of this pandemic, if it was a disease, governments and scientists would be marshalling every resource to address it.
According to research led by a group of scholars at Stanford and Oxford universities, domestic violence costs 25 times more than conflict and violent extremism and exhausts 5.2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
Despite the stark and unyielding statistics, around the world, a new energy is bringing renewed commitments from heads of state and government leaders to address the different faces of violence against women.
Eighteen years ago, when I partnered with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on a study on domestic violence in the outskirts of Beijing, violence against women in the domestic sphere was recognised only in terms of loss of limb or eyesight.
The broadening categories of domestic violence including the recognition of economic abuse as a category of violence is part of a second generation of domestic violence laws and is in full compliance with international norms such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW).
Earlier in the year, Theresa May wrote to the Guardian, "Not all abusive behavior is physical. Controlling, manipulative and verbally abusive behaviour ruins lives and means thousands end up isolated, living in fear. So, for the first time, the bill will provide a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes economic abuse, alongside other non-physical abuse."
While older laws on gender-based violence focused on punishment, the new crop of laws focus broadly on punishment and prevention.
For example, the newly passed "anti-violence against women" law in Tunisia (2017) makes it easier to prosecute domestic abuse, and it imposes penalties for sexual harassment in public spaces. Most importantly it calls for children to be educated in schools about human rights.
Another phenomenon of this "second generation" of gender-based violence laws is a heightened recognition of a victim-centred approach and the costs of violence on the survivor, in terms of physical, economic, psychological, social and familial.
Earlier in the year, New Zealand passed legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave to allow them to leave their partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children. Family violence in New Zealand is estimated to cost the country between NZ$4.1bn and $7.0bn a year.
One of the critical components of the UNiTe campaign is the recognition that violence against women does not take place in a vacuum. As Secretary General Antonio Gutteres has observed: "Violence against women is fundamentally about power. It will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women will be a reality."
Mlambo-Ngcuka harnesses the full panoply of international commitments in their full majestic entirety, including the recognition that gender parity and women's leadership is critical to UNiTe campaign to end violence against women.
In doing so she marshals international norms, from General Recommendation 12 and 19 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the DEVAW and the Security Council Resolution 1325 and its progeny as normative and constitutive in combating violence against women.
From the HeforShe movement, which calls for male leadership in advancing women's equality, Mlambo-Ngcuka is putting in motion a broader bedrock of structures to combat violence against women in order to address the root causes of gender inequality.
On November 19, we came together at an extraordinary moment of unprecedented momentum built by the #MeToo movement towards empowering women and achieving gender equality across the board and across the globe.
As envisioned 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognised that "contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…" More must be done to recognise that these barbarous acts take place not only in battlefields, but within hallowed halls of power, in the classrooms, in workplaces, including the paddy fields, and in our homes.
As stated in the UDHR, the commitment to end violence against women is a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. This common standard transcends culture, tradition, power or politics.
Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School & Special Adviser to the President of Wellesley College on Women's Leadership.
-Inter Press Service
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