By Jelena Pia-Comella, Director of Programs
November 25th marks the international day to eliminate violence against women. To this regard, a series of awareness raising activities were conducted by the United Nations, Governments, media and civil society. Amongst these activities, the remarks by the Executive Director of UNWomen, Michelle Bachelet were particularly poignant. She stated that “in some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes… Today violence against women is increasingly recognized for what it is: a threat to democracy, a barrier to lasting peace, a burden on national economies, and an appalling human rights violation.”
7 in 10 women is too high a proportion, a threat to democracy and a barrier to lasting peace is too endemic to call this an issue, a crisis or a global phenomenon. If the root causes are not addressed, whether in terms of “condoned cultural” behavior leading to domestic violence or leaving crimes of sexual violence as a weapon of war unprosecuted, violence against women will continue to spread and scourge generations. It is therefore a pandemic: an epidemic of global proportion.
Yes - a pandemic - who would have thought of such a term to describe violence against women? Indeed, when one hears pandemic one instantly refers to HIV-AIDS or the Avian Flu. However, both pandemics were not always referred as such, for HIV-AIDS to be described as a pandemic, it took a very aggressive and progressive awareness-raising campaign in the 90s accompanied by strong and bold political will from the international community. It is this very same awareness raising efforts and political will that are now needed to tackle violence against women.
There have in fact been good initiatives to raise awareness on violence against women, to cite few: Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, the Secretary General’s UNiTe campaign and the 16 days of activism against gender-based and sexual violence. But all these initiatives need a louder, stronger and better coordinated voice - a voice that calls violence against women for what it is – a pandemic spreading and affecting both men and women and their respective communities. A pandemic in need of a clear and strategic set of policies for its prevention, treatment and care.
This year’s session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (March 4-15, 2013) will focus on the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls, this is a unique opportunity for our movement to mobilize and join efforts with other groups in putting forward new initiatives to combat this pandemic!