From December 9-10, 2015, around 300 people from 70 countries came together in Istanbul, Turkey for the Ending Violence against Women: Building on Progress to Accelerate Change conference. It overlapped with the final days of the global 16 Days of Activism to end Violence against Women.
It has been 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – Violence against Women, was adopted by 189 countries in 1995. One of the meeting objectives was to review our progress and our challenges since the Beijing Declaration. Also, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in September 2015, another meeting objective was to hear government leaders commit to ending violence against women.
The conference brought together high-level government ministers from Turkey (including the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu) and 16 other countries, along with practitioners, experts and civil society to assess progress, share data and good practices, and identify challenges.
As a UN summary of the conference says, “Calling for zero tolerance and immediate action to end the global epidemic of violence against women, officials urged that existing laws protecting women be vigorously enforced, and emphasized prevention, survivor services, the need for reliable data, and the importance of engaging men and boys to stop violence against women and girls.”
I was part of a breakout session panel on safe cities. Laura Capobianco, policy specialist for safe public spaces, UN Women, talked about the Global Safe Cities Initiative that launched in five cities in 2010 and is now in 23 cities. Suneeta Dhar, the director of Jagori in India talked about their awareness-raising work to address sexual harassment in public spaces. I spoke as a UN consultant about the Microsoft-funded project I worked on regarding women’s access to mobile phones and how the phones may be used to prevent, document or respond to sexual harassment and related forms of sexual violence in urban public spaces.
I took a lot of notes throughout the conference. Here are some of the highlights, broken out by session or panel. **Most of what I write is paraphrasing what the speaker said unless there are quotation marks.**
A Sampling of Statements from UN Leaders:
Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN (The UN director in Turkey read his statement):
He’s been working to rally men through the #HeforShe campaign, UNiTE campaign, and his male network. But he says we must all do more to stop all forms of abuse.
He is very upset about extremist violence against women, like the Taliban shooting Malala in Pakistan, the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, and the systematic rape of women in Syria by ISIS members. Women are more than victims however, they are agents of change.
The Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved if we end VAW.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women
“Violence against women and girls remains one of the most widespread and tolerated violations of human rights — but it is not inevitable, and we can prevent it. We are here today to say that this is enough. Now is the moment for coherently executed, decisive action to eliminate violence against women and girls for good.”
She also talked about how 135 laws on domestic violence and rape were passed in countries since Beijing, but we need to make sure the laws are enforced. She said we need to change the norms as beliefs go deep. We need to emphasize prevention efforts and focus on changing attitudes. We need zero tolerance of VAW from our leaders.
She also said that girls need our special attention. They are the bridge to the future, but currently are bearing the brunt of violence. And lastly, she talked about how VAW is at the center of the Sustainable Development Goals and it is an obstacle to achieving them. We need boys and men rallied to help end VAW.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA:
He talked about women and girls he’s met: the girls who are harassed and grabbed on their way to the public toilet; girls married off at age 13; young women raped on university campuses; and the 800 women who needlessly die each day from childbirth, which he also sees as a form of VAW because they are denied proper medical attention.
“There is no country where there is not violence. Women and girls can’t change it alone. We need men and boys to stand up and say no….There are around 59 million 10-year-old girls in the world. What can we achieve if they all can go to school, earn a living, and live free from violation and violence?”
Twenty-five percent of countries’ budgets go to defense, but who are they defending if the people are facing violence at home? Governments need to allocate more money in their budgets to address issues affecting women. The best asset of a country is its people, especially women and girls. Their needs must be prioritized.
A Sampling of Statements from National Leaders:
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
“We will take all the measures to prevent the violence against women. This is our duty as we are the law makers, but laws are not the only and precise solution against violence. It’s very important how we position ourselves as human beings. The mentality is the key point. The way of removing violence from life is to close the ways that goes to violence from the start.”
[Read an article about his speech.]
Turkey: Dr. Sema Ramazanoğlu, Minister for Family and Social Policies
“Violence against women is a barrier to sustainable human development. Governments should have zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.”
Japan: Miki Yamada, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs
They are promoting comprehensive measures to address VAW, such as recently increasing the counseling centers for domestic violence from 73 to 261. They have a national action plan around VAW and they donate money for other anti-VAW efforts, such as in the DRC.
Georgia: Tea Tsulukiani, Minister of Justice
Many people in Georgia feel that domestic violence should be kept as a family matter. The government is trying to change that attitude. Another challenge is ending forced early marriages. They’ve increased the penalty against parents who force girls to marry young but it’s hard to enforce it. Girls may already have children by the time something is done and then that complicates things. Thus the implementation of laws is a challenge. Impunity and implementation can only be effective if there’s a cultural shift.
Republic of Moldova: Nighina Azizov, Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Protections and Family
They adopted a domestic violence law in 2008. They are working on ways to encourage more victims to seek help. Right now, domestic violence is a silent problem. They have a law that promotes a 40% leadership quota for women as it’s crucial to have more women in politics. If there were an equal number of women and men as leaders, they believe it would be a more human society.
Ukraine: Serhiy Ustymenko, Deputy Minister of Social Policies
They are trying to design real mechanisms to address VAW. They’re trying to do gender-oriented budgeting. They expect there will be an increase in domestic violence rates as soldiers come home with PTSD and other baggage that may make them more violent. Thus, domestic violence will be a focus of the government.
Indonesia: Yohana Yembise, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection
They have a VAW law and eight female ministers, but still there is a lot of domestic violence. In looking at mapping and data, there are a lot of incidents of sexual abuse across the country. It’s hard to change mindsets.
Albania: Bardhylka Kospiri, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare
They have increased the number of women leaders in government, including the Minister of Defense. They have a commitment to end domestic violence and support the empowerment of women’s rights. “We must involve all partners if we want to see results.”
India: Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chair of the National Commission on Women
At the local village government level, there is a 33% quota for women leaders. At first these women were family and relatives of male leaders but now, more than 50% are women and many are leaders in their own right. They are more focused than men on issues like sanitation, water supply, education and other projects that will help communities. Health issues used to be last on the list but now as there are more women leaders, it’s becoming a priority. Also, six women are senior leaders at the national level, including the minister of finance.
Costa Rica: Alejandra Mora Mora, Minister of Women’s Affairs
There are more laws on VAW and quotas for women in leadership, but they haven’t seen much progress in the implementation of the laws. No matter how much the laws have changed, it does not mean an improvement on social issues. These are cultural, deeply rooted norms. We have to reach out to men. Some progress has been achieved but more needs to be done. We need to talk to young men and women in schools.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Jeannine Mabunda, Personal Rep of the DRC Head of State on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Child Recruitment and Member of Parliament
The conflict in the country that ended in 2013 had a lot of collateral damage, including the rape of women. Congo was depicted in the media as complacent about VAW, but they changed that tone at the highest level. They pushed for the application of laws and she personally sat in courts across the country to set the tone that this was important. The message to the military was that they would be held accountable for raping women. In 2013 they signed an action plan with the UN on addressing VAW in the military. It’s important to change the tone in a country and address VAW at the highest level.
Afghanistan: Simar Samar, Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Fifteen years ago women were imprisoned in Afghanistan but now a lot has changed. They have a right to equality under the law and there is a 25% quota for women in parliament. They ratified CEDAW in 2003. They have special prosecutors on VAW in some provinces. They’re in a training phase. After 38 years of war, she feels optimistic.
Addressing female genital mutilation (FGM) is a challenge. They tried including it in a 2011 Children’s Law that prohibited all forms of violence against children but didn’t specific FGM. Now they’re trying to add it to a domestic violence bill because FGM is done by family members.
They’re trying to be strategic in how they ban FGM.
The State of Palestine: Daoud El Deek, Deputy Assistant, Ministry of Social Affairs
They are under Israeli occupation and try to demand full protection for all citizens. They have a national strategy for combatting VAW. They are developing a social protection system, building up forensic evidence and efforts to prosecute VAW and increasing data collection on VAW.
Sudan: Mashaier Al Dawalab, Federal Minister of Welfare and Social Security
They have a five year strategy plan on good governance and the rule of law. After the Darfur conflict, the government had a committee to declare zero tolerance on VAW. They’re developing a nation plan of action coordinated with UN agencies.
PANELS AND ROUNDTABLES WITH EXPERTS:
Global Trends and Practices on Ending VAW –
Where have we come since Beijing and what do we need to do?
Dr. Hijran Huseynova, Chair, State Commission for Family, Women and Children Affairs, Azerbaijan
After the Beijing conference, she helped create the national department on women and children affairs to address issues raised at the conference. By 2005, they had adopted national laws against domestic violence, for gender equality, and raised the legal age of marriage up from 12 years to 16 years. They have special trainings for judges and at universities to try to help the laws be enforced properly.
When the moderator asked her specifically about forced early marriages, she said that parents who arrange them often do so to secure a “good fate” for their children. So to disrupt that cultural norm, they show them that early marriages create problems instead of solve them, such as unhealthy babies born to girls too young to be having them. There are many NGOs across the country working on changing these cultural norms.
Dr. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria and Executive Director, Women’s Aid Collective
In her country, the Beijing conference helped move women to a place of having a voice. Laws began to address gender equality issues, such as revising inheritance laws to be fair to women. For the first time women had a voice in the constitution. In Nigeria there is backlash against women’s progress, however, including kidnappings, rapes, and sexual slavery of female students by Boko Haram. So they are working on making schools safe for girls because “the girl child’s education is essential.”
Suneeta Dhar, Director of JAGORI, India
The 2012 Delhi gang rape brought about more consciousness about VAW because of the activism by students and ordinary people. While a lot had happened in the country since Beijing, it had not addressed all types of VAW, such as acid throwing, stalking and sexual harassment in public spaces, which are everyday experiences of women and girls. We need to recognize the continuum of violence: in the home, on the streets, in schools and the workplaces, in refugee camps, etc.
While we work to change mindsets, we need the highest political commitment on VAW. We need to improve access to justice.
The moderator asked the panelists about whether or not cultural norms were a barrier to seeing a shift.
Ezeilo: Yes, there is reluctancy over modernization. Some people say women’s rights is a form of Western values being focused in African countries. And not all leaders help, with some committing or condoning VAW.
Huseynova: Yes, women are the main people who raise boys and girls and they are instilling the culture. Women need to respect ourselves and stand up. In families where women are educated and have their own income, they have authority, dignity and their sons are more likely to respect women. We need to have equal rights in families. Many girls are thriving in schools and universities but struggle in their professions because if they have a family, the roles are still unequal.
Suneeta; We need more discourse on bodily integrity. We need types of masculinity that is healthy. This is everyone’s issue and we all have a role to play.
Panel on the Prevention of VAW
Ashufta Alam, VAW and Girls Team Leader, Inclusive Societies Department, Policy Division (UK/DFID):
DFID has increased their investment in ending VAW by 60% over the past two years. DFID has committed to building an evidence base. A “What works to prevent VAW” project is well funded and interventions are being tested at the community and family level.
Lara Fergus, Director of Policy and Evaluation “Our Watch,” Australia
Their work focuses on improving responses to VAW. Over the last 20 years, despite the efforts in place, Australia has the same high prevalence of violence. So we “need to turn off the tap. We need to change the practices and attitudes that allow it to happen.”
Over the past five years, they’ve run pilots and pulled together the results to look at policies on how to prevent men’s violence and better understand what attitudes drive VAW. There is information in the new report “A Framework to Underpin Action to Prevent VAW.”
Ultimately, VAW is drive by gender inequality. Attitudes that women are inferior lead to an increase in VAW. We can’t just do awareness raising. It’s not enough. We need to shift deeply held attitudes by shifting structures. Women’s economic empowerment is crucial. We can’t do any single, short-term projects. We need to collaborate across governments, schools, sports groups, and faith-based organizations in long-term ways with outcomes we can measure.
You can find more information at www.ourwatch.org.au.
Natsnet Ghebrebrhan, Raising Voices, Uganda
Raising Voices has a toolkit on how to prevent VAW and HIV/AIDS. There are four phases to the kit: start, awareness, support and action (SASA). SASA is effective because its process focuses on bringing behavior changes by exposing communities to new ideas and attitudes and then they can decide to change. Power imbalances cause VAW. SASA helps everyone know they have the power to change.
SASA engages in local activism, media messaging and advocacy, publications and trainings. They help community members create their own change and help women and men engage in peer-to-peer leadership and influencing.
Raising Voices studied people who were exposed to SASA compared to a control group, both in Kampala. The study found SASA was very effective, including by reducing the acceptance of intimate partner violence (76% said it was unacceptable versus 26% of the control group). SASA helped reduce levels of intimate partner violence by 52% in the previous year.
The research gave them hope that violence can be prevented within a single generation.
SASA is now used in 20 countries by 60 organizations. It takes three years to go through the four phases of the program so there is a need for long-term commitment from donors and others to seeing it work.
Nguyen Thi Nga, Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, Vietnam
VAW is a serious issue, but there is not much national data. After the Beijing meeting, laws were passed, such as a Gender Equality Law (2006), Domestic Violence Law (2007) and a law on human trafficking (2011). There are many groups and agencies working on these issues in various ways, including policy dialogues, street music and flash mobs so they can reach a range of audiences. They have a project called Safety School, Friendly and Gender Equality. It’s at 10 secondary and 10 high schools in Hanoi. “VAW can be ended if we have collaborations.”
Panel on VAW – Data and Evidence
Dr. Rashidah Shuib, Centre for Research on Women and Gender, University of Science, Malaysia:
She said we need to conduct mapping and a better understanding of what’s going on with VAW. The 1995 Beijing platform called for evidence. It took many countries a long time to do anything about it, including in Malaysia. Her research department collected data on VAW for the first time.
Dr. Claudia Garcia Moreno Esteva, Team Lead for Sexual Health, Gender, Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization (WHO), Switzerland:
WHO developed methodology that’s a gold standard for research on VAW.
Before the Beijing meeting, she personally saw VAW as a women’s health issue and she faced backlash for having that viewpoint. At Beijing, there was a section on health that included VAW, which caused an important change. 1996 was the first WHO meeting on VAW and they discussed the health links.
One recommendation from the meetings was to find scientifically sound data that could confirm what women’s groups were saying about VAW. WHO set up a multi-country study on domestic violence and related issues. They had no money and it took two years to raise the funds to implement the study. They began it in 1999 and published the results in 2005. They set out to develop and test new instruments to strengthen the link between women’s organizations and policy makers.
They created the first ethical and safety recommendations for researchers working on these topics, recommendations which are widely used today.
Their latest 2013 report includes 81 countries and territories. The number of studies on VAW prevalence has increased since the mid-2000s and now 100+ countries have data on domestic violence and some forms of sexual violence but not other forms. There are still gaps.
“Getting data is instrumental in getting countries to acknowledge these issues. We need all countries to generate the data.”
Dr. Ilknur Yuksel Kaptanoglu, Project Director “Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey,” Institute of Population Studies, Hacettepe University, Turkey
Her department oversaw two large nationally representative studies on domestic violence in 2008 and 2014, using the same questions and methodology, though the 2014 study included stalking. They followed the WHO survey, adapting it for Turkey. They trained nearly 200 interviewers. In 2008 they surveyed 24k households and 15k in 2014. About half of all participants were female. They used complex samples to gather accurate data for policy makers. They had financial support from the ministry of family and social affairs for the 2014 study. The steering committee includes government groups, NGOs, and academics.
Both studies showed that 4 out of 10 women had experienced interpersonal violence. They found that women knowing their rights and the laws doesn’t increase the change they will access services. The bureaucratic procedure appears as an obstacle in combatting VAW and gender-related norms and beliefs justify male authority and VAW.
Her advice is if you do multiple studies, spread them across 10 or more years to see if policies have helped.
Francesca Grum, Chief, Social and Housing Statistics Section, UN Statistics Commission (UNSC)
UNSC has been involved in measuring and monitoring VAW since 2006. They have developed indicators to assist countries in measuring the breadth of VAW. In 2008 UNSC created indicators and adopted them in 2009. In 2015, an inter-agency group worked on the sustainable development goals and they will be presented to the statistics community in 2015 to review and agree on.
The sustainable development goals include 17 goals, 169 targets, with 28 member states working together since June 2015. Two plenary meetings and various online discussions have taken place. The current list has 220 indicators and 160 are green, and have full agreement from 28 states, and 60 are gray and are still under review. The SDG indicators related to VAW will have prevalence questions about violence by an intimate partner and sexual violence by a non-intimate partner. There are new questions proposed, including ones about physical and sexual harassment by perpetrator and place (e.g. streets by strangers! School by classmates!), human trafficking, homicides, and young people 18-24 who experienced sexual violence by age 18. The SDGs will be finalized in March 2016.
Panel on Challenges and Emerging Issues for the 2030 Development Framework
Ramiz Alakabarov, Programmed Director at UNFPA
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he went into a maternity ward and found it destroyed and full of acts of violence. Groups of men were raping women in the maternity ward, stealing food from the mothers and babies. UNFPA brought in security and vans to take women to other health services. They offered them legal help (even if they were illiterate). Women were identifying gang members and then in retaliation gang members murdered some of them. He realized ending VAW would require a cross-collaboration.
This panel focused on Goal 5 of the sustainable development goal (SDG) and the 9 targets. Full implementation matters. We must address structural barriers and aim to end VAW and discrimination in all sectors. Agenda 2030 is global and we can’t leave any women behind. We must act now to achieve lasting gender equality. We must recall our accountability and UNFPA is committed to monitoring and closely supporting countries as they implement the SDGs.
Purna Sen, Director of Policy Division, UN Women:
Today is Human Rights Day and the 16th day of the 16 Days of Activism. Violence is ubiquitous across the world. We are endlessly creative in how we abuse women. That’s the concern that brings us together.
Karima Bennoune, Special Rappourteur in the field of cultural rights, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Her father was from Algeria and he was a university professor who spoke out against extremism. What was happening in the 1990s in Algeria is similar to what is happening now with ISIS, including sexual slavery and rape. What if the world had listened to women’s rights activists then in Algeria and Afghanistan? But now extremism has spread. We now must learn from other countries.
This extremist violence (abduction, rape, sexual slavery, the murder of women’s rights activists) is the implementation of fundamentalist dogma. If we’re to end violence we must tackle the disease itself and the underlying issues. We need a human rights strategy in accordance with human rights laws. Women must be at the core of ending extremism. We need to listen to and empower women, especially those fighting at the front lines. Women’s rights defenders are too often left out of the bargaining. They should not be added on but should be a core of the fight.
Human rights are central to the SDGs. We need all countries to be part of it. It’s about all forms of VAW. We must think about those left behind and put them first. Think about the most unwanted and stigmatized, the women who are locked at home, women who are marginalized by disability, race, caste, etc, and put them first.
The biggest risk factor to vulnerability is being born female. It’s in our collective efforts that we make progress.
Human Rights law says neither culture nor religion justifies VAW. Culture can be a tool of empowerment for women and we can frame the message as women are taking back their right to culture. Extremists claim to be the only ones who can dictate culture but we need to let women decide what culture they want to support.
Yohana Yembise, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Projection, Indonesia
The president has committed to supporting SDGs. They are launching the #HeforShe campaign on December 22, which is Mother’s Day in their country. They have some laws but need to find the root of the problem. They need more research on why there is VAW. Why is it hard to stop, to change people’s mindsets? “We can’t let culture hold us back.”
Peter Mladenov, International Coordinator in Charge of Advocacy and Partnerships, Youth Peer Education Network, Bulgaria
He became a peer educator at 14 years old and he saw what the empowerment of people means. He works to promote reproductive health and rights and to engage young people on the grassroots level. SDGs are the first time grassroots, on the ground people are having their voice heard. We must recognize the importance of youth participation, which means listening to them and hearing their needs and what they want to achieve. SDGs 3, 4, and 5 all affect young people. Gender equality is crucial for the development of society.
Olivier Adam, Deputy Regional Director for Europe and the CIS, UNDP
How do we create momentum to enforce the SDGs? We need more and better coordination among groups. We need less money for war and more money for empowerment. We must bring in new financing sources and collect national data in every country. The commitment should be to leave no one behind.
[[During the Q&A, one audience member suggested that if Superheroes are being created by ISIS etc as recruitment tools, we need to create our own Superheroes, including women.]]
Panel on Engaging Men and Boys to End VAW
Edouard Munyamaliza, Executive Secretary, Rwanda Men Resource Center, Rwanda:
More than one-fourth of the country suffers from PTSD after the genocide. They have to work to overcome gender and social norms regarding VAW. “Men are compassionate human beings, why are they mean to those whom they love the most?”
Erkin Latipov, Vice President, Tajikistan’s Taekwando and Kick-boxing Federation, Tajikistan
They use sports to empower girls and change gender norms for boys and girls.
Nodar Andguladze, Georgian Rugby Union, Georgia
He’s a former professional rugby player and he and other players have a Men Against Violence effort and hold discussions with men across the country. Men must help build a better future for our kids. Men commit most violence against women and men. “It’s time to speak out and speak loud and alongside women’s organizations and others who are not always heard.”
Sophie Dataushvilli, Co-Founder, We Care, Georgia:
In Georgia, it’s a patriarchal society and women are seen as subservient in the family. She and a friend began an organization to encourage fathers to be involved with their children. They had campaigns like “Dad, Read me a Book” and recorded videos with famous fathers in the country. They did Fathers for Fathers with famous men photographed holding messages to other fathers to be involved with their children. They asked famous fathers to write letters and created a book of them. UNDP gave them funds and they created “reality tv” series where a famous dad has to take care of his kids all day one day to show viewers that men can do all aspects of the childcare. All of their campaigns have been popular.Share on Facebook