Yakin Erturk: The momentum of the 1990’s for women’s human rights has been undermined by the national security agenda and the coming to power of extremist movements. What are the implications of these developments for women's rights to be free from violence?
Dubravka Šimonović: The momentum of the 1990s is not lost. On one hand it has been systematically undermined by the prioritization of the national security and other agendas, and by extremist movements, but on the other hand there is growing recognition of women’s rights as human rights and values of integration of gender perspective and gender mainstreaming in all other agendas. This year we have reaffirmed our commitments to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPA) adopted 20 years ago, and commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Security Council resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Today’s Women Peace and Security agenda developed by 1325 and follow-on resolutions has provided a gendered approach to what would otherwise be gender blind peacemaking efforts. This agenda on Women Peace and Security has gained the world attention and has also recently recognized threats related to the coming to power of extremist movements.
The new Security Resolution 2242 (para 14) recognizes the differential impact on the human rights of women and girls of terrorism and violent extremism, and for the first time in a Security Council resolution, reference is made to 'sexual and gender based violence as a tactic of terrorism'. It also introduces new language linking sanctions, terrorist groups and sexual violence. It calls for integration of gender as a cross cutting issue, and encourages consultations with women and women’s organisations. In my view, we should focus more on the prevention of extremist movements and their negative implications for women's rights to be free from violence by taking stronger and faster actions and measures to empower women using the broader framework on women’s human rights.
Sabeen Mehmud murdered 24 April 2015. Photo: Demotix
YE: There are more member states advocating and promoting
traditional values today at the Human Rights Council. Do
you see this as a challenge to you in fulfilling your responsibilities as a rapporteur on violence against women?
DS: This is a significant challenge if some States are overturning consensus reached or commitments accepted on women’s rights, gender equality and elimination of violence against women. We need to stick to already accepted universal standards, and to strengthen implementation of those commitments at the national level by providing States with the technical assistance needed for national capacity building. We need to focus on the elimination of harmful gender stereotypes of the role of women and girls in societies. At the UN level we have many human rights and women’s human rights mechanisms that are producing numerous recommendations, but we are very short in terms of their implementation and collaboration between different mechanisms. We need to significantly improve this and to focus on implementation gaps. We need to find a way to provide result-oriented technical assistance to States that are willing to uphold their commitments.
YE: Given these challenges, can you comment on what strategies are needed to ensure that human rights values and the struggle to end violence against women are not sacrificed?
DS: These challenges are huge, and on many occasions we are seeing women’s rights sacrificed and struggles to end violence against women postponed until some better times. This is a wrong approach. Fighting violence against women and girls should remain very high on all global, regional, national and local agendas at all times - during peace and during war or conflict. We have come a long way to gain a global recognition that violence against women is a human rights violation and a form of discrimination against women.
UN Women Brazil mural, Rio de Janeiro, December 2014. Photo: UN Women via Flickr.
There are some positive developments in this constant fight to place the elimination of violence against women high on the political agenda. For the first time, elimination of violence against women and girls has been recognized at the global level as an important goal for achieving sustainable development. We have just adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 transformative sustainable development goals (SDGs) that seek to realize the human rights of all, and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. For the first time, we have a global gendered framework for development that is all-inclusive and builds upon all relevant world conferences such as the four World Conferences on Women and the International Conference on Population and Development, as well as on human rights instruments. This framework calls for the realization of human rights of all - which encompasses women’s rights as human rights. But additionally, the SDGs Agenda adds a specific stand-alone goal, number 5, on the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. The formulation of this goal - achieving gender equality - means achieving substantive equality in the public and private spheres, and as such it is giving a woman’s perspective to the whole SDGs Agenda. It refers to the elimination of all harmful practices with specific references to child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Moreover, the implementation of all the 17 goals requires a systematic gender mainstreaming in all targets and indicators. Implementation of this visionary gender-aware framework is at the same time a huge opportunity and a huge challenge ahead of us. My mandate, which covers violence against women, has the potential to play an important role to accelerate and to monitor progress in achieving this.
YE: It has been 21 years since the creation of the
Violence Against Women mandate and much progress has been achieved in setting
standards and developing approaches in the struggle to end violence. What
remaining gaps, both in terms of standards and practice, do you see as priority
areas of concern?
DS: Today, in spite of the existing framework, violence against women is still the most atrocious manifestation of the systematic and widespread discrimination and inequality that women and girls around the world continue to face. Women and their children continue to die as victims of gender related killing, often in cruel ways. It supports and reinforces sex/gender inequalities, and thus constitutes a denial of women's human rights.
Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Photo: UN Women.
There is a huge implementation gap, and violence against women is still likely to be marginalized in domestic legislation, national legal practices and at the university level legal education. At this point in time, the main task is to close this gap; to protect victims through the provisions of adequate support services, including reparations and to prosecute perpetrators. A specific challenge at the national level is to establish a coordinated and comprehensive national system. This is also relevant at the international level, because of the fragmentation of global and regional policies and mechanisms dealing with violence against women and girls.
Further elaboration is needed on the States’ obligation to take positive measures to change and modify harmful stereotypes of gender roles conducive to violence and, at the same time, to undertake activities to empower women and reduce their vulnerability to violence. I would also focus on the States’ obligation to repeal all national penal and family law provisions that are condusive to violence against women and girls. Under prevention, we need to use awareness-raising campaigns to fight violence against women on a regular basis and at all levels in cooperation with national human rights institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations, and to have a meaningful inclusion of men and boys to actively contribute to preventing all forms of violence against women and girls. Training of professionals is extremely important for implementation of agreed standards, and this should include professionals in the judiciary, in legal practice, in law-enforcement agencies, and in the fields of health care, social work and at all levels of education. There is a need to continue working to provide adequate services needed for victims - like sufficient number of shelters and efficient protection orders - as well as gendered access to justice.
YE: How can the mandate be strengthen to better embrace the existing and emerging challenges?
DS: My mandate has a huge potential but limited resources in terms of budget and staff, but if we leave this part aside as something that should be urgently addressed by States, we can look at the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the SRVAW mandate in relation to other global and regional mechanisms dealing with violence against women. I intend to strengthen cooperation between the SRVAW and other relevant mandates such as the CEDAW Committee, the Office of the Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict, the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in law and in practice, and mandates holders working on trafficking, the sale of children, albinism, minority issues, Indigenous and older persons, and with the regional mechanisms dealing with women’s rights and violence against women.
YE: The VAW mandate has been criticized by some as reinforcing the victim subject of women, particularly in the global south. What would your response to such arguments be? Is the VAW mandate about victimization?
DS: The SRVAW mandate is clearly addressing causes and consequences of violence against women that include services needed to stop violence, but also to empower women survivors to gain their lives back. Double victimization is still a problem in many societies and during the court procedures related to violence against women, especially sexual violence and rape. There is a need to address this double victimization phenomenon. We also need to change harmful stereotypes and social norms that perceive women only as silent victims who do not speak up and fight for their rights. So in short, I see the SRVAW mandate as the comprehensive mandate that includes empowerment of survivors of violence, and calls for the prevention of such violence with clear recognition of the services needed for the victims/survivors of such violence.
YE: What is your vision for carrying the mandate forward?
DS: There are three broad areas requiring focused attention now. The first is the holistic and effective implementation of international standards on violence against women, including follow-up of previous recommendations related to violence against women. The second is finalizing the work in progress related to the assessment of the normative framework, and the third is on current challenges that require immediate attention. There is also the problem of disconnect between the implementation of various global agendas and instruments, as well as between the global and regional instruments and agendas on violence against women, and mechanisms that monitor their implementation.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and members of the ANC Women's League.
I intend to continue a very important discussion on the adequacy of the international, regional and national legal frameworks to prevent and combat violence against women. I did something similar at the regional level when I was Co-Chair of the Council of Europe Task Force that evaluated the situation at the European level and proposed the elaboration of a new convention on violence against women. Later on, I was Co-Chair of the Committee that drafted the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence known as the Istanbul Convention. Now we need to assess the situation at the global level. I am grateful to my predecessor, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, who opened up this debate. She presented as her last thematic report to the General Assembly an overview of the legal standards on violence against women in three regional human rights systems: the African, European and Inter-American systems, and recommended the adoption of a new global convention on violence against women. In addition to her recommendations, we should also recall that in her 2003 report, the then Special Rapporteur Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy concluded that “at the normative level the needs of women are generally adequately addressed” and that “the challenges lie in ensuring respect for and effective implementation of existing laws and standards”. At the global level, I plan to collect inputs from the regional human rights systems and to invite them to elaborate their views on this important question since the regional human rights systems can have a role in reinforcing universal human rights standards contained in international human rights instruments. It would be equally important to collect views of treaty bodies, in particular the CEDAW Committee, which I invited to elaborate its position when meeting with its members on 17 November this year, together with all former Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and possibly other mandate holders, in particular the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice. It is crucial to continue to collect inputs from Member States and all interested stakeholders - including global and regional mechanisms and NGOs - in order to enable them to take a fully informed decision on measures needed to accelerate the eradication of violence against women as priority.
Apna Haq protest against the cuts in the UK. Photo: Apna Haq.
YE: How do you see the role of civil society actors in carrying out your responsibilities as Rapporteur?
DS: The role of civil society actors is extremely important, and I have already invited them to support my work, to provide me with information and suggestions to assist me to carry out my mandate. I am conducting my first country visit to South Africa this week at the invitation of the Government. I have, in line with the standard practice of my mandate, called NGOs to submit information in order to have a good preparation for this visit and to see their concerns. I have seen during my 12 years in the CEDAW Committee a great value of the alternative reports provided by NGOs, and also their important role at the grassroot level related to assistance and help provided to women and girls survivors of gender based violence.
YE: You served on the CEDAW Committee for many
years. CEDAW is the second most ratified core human rights instrument yet it
suffers in terms of implementation. Can
you comment on why this is so?
DS: I was member of the CEDAW Committee from 2003 to 2014 and its Chairperson from 2007 to 2009, as well as the Chairperson of the Optional Protocol Working Group that deals with individual communications. Knowing very well all the work done by the Committee in the past 12 years, I would argue that its implementation has improved a lot. Over the years some encouraging initiatives have taken place - for example, in the USA there are a number of cities that have decided to apply the CEDAW Convention directly. The Committee has also improved implementation of its recommendations by establishing the Follow-up Rapporteur position. This procedure allows the Committee to select the two most urgent recommendations emanating from its concluding observations on a specific State Party, and request it to provide the Committee with a written report on their implementation within up to a two year period. Another very important tool that has strengthened implementation of the Convention are individual communications and inquiries under the Optional Protocol.
As the new SRVAW I intend to use the
Convention jointly with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women as it was envisaged by the SRVAW founding resolution on the SRVAW
mandate. I also intend to develop stronger collaboration with the CEDAW
Committee on all areas in which our respective mandates overlap.
YE: What message would you like
to give on the occasion of International Human Rights Day on 10th December,
which also marks the end of the annual 16 Days of activism against gender
DS: The weaknesses of national prevention systems, lack of proper risk assessment and the scarcity or poor quality of data are major barriers in preventing gender-related killing of women and developing meaningful prevention strategies. These weaknesses result in mis-identification, concealment and under reporting of gender-motivated killings, thus perpetuating impunity for such killings.
For this reason, I have called all States to establish a ‘Femicide Watch’ or a ‘Gender-Related Killing of Women Watch’, and to publish on each 25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – the number of femicides or gender-related killing of women per year, disaggregated by the age and sex of the perpetrators, as well as the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim or victims. Information concerning the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators should also be collected and published.
Most importantly, each case of gender-related killing should be carefully analysed to identify any failure of protection with a view to improving and developing further preventive measures. In the collection, analysis and publication of such data, States should co-operate with NGOs and independent human rights institutions working in this field, academia, victims’ representatives, as well as relevant international organizations and other stakeholders.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence should be used to present such data, and to discuss and elaborate actions needed for prevention of deaths of women. Such data should be made publicly available at the national level, while the UN and other organizations should ensure the global and regional publication.
Read more articles in our series for 16 Days Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
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