Home » Here’s How to Fight Violence Against Women Around the World

Here’s How to Fight Violence Against Women Around the World

by Narges Mohammadi

UNITEDNATIONS/Last week, world leaders gathered at the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York to do what they have done since the UN was established in 1945: Come together to address the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Notably absent from the conversation was the most grave and widespread human rights violation occurring today—violence against women and girls.

On average, more than five women and girls are killed every hour by their partner or another family member, according to UN Women. UNICEF reports that every minute, 28 girls under the age of 18 are married, totaling at least 12 million girls globally each year. Women and girls in Sudan and Haiti are being raped. Every country in the world has unacceptable rates of violence perpetrated against women and girls. The United States is on track to surpass last year’s femicide rate. The number of femicides in Spain has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a genocide of women occurring around the globe that we are not doing enough to stop. These figures are of pandemic proportions.

No one knows this more than the leaders gathered last week in New York City. Their debate focused on “reigniting global solidarity” toward peace, progress and sustainability, but they missed the opportunity to stand in “global solidarity” against the rape, abuse, and killing of women and girls occurring across the globe. The world cannot move forward if half the population is held back by violence.

UN leaders and member states can put the safety of women and girls at the center of global action by supporting the creation, adoption, and implementation of a treaty in the form of a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.

A treaty would codify proven interventions into law, including legal reform; training and accountability for law enforcement, judges and health professionals; survivor services and violence-prevention education. It would also hold nations accountable on specific, measurable benchmarks on women’s safety and security.

Creating a treaty through an Optional Protocol to CEDAW provides the most direct and expedient path to a binding agreement. CEDAW is among the most widely ratified conventions in the world (189 nations). Its recognition as the “women’s bill of rights” and familiarity among UN member states will serve as a catalyst toward ratification.

Additionally, the progress CEDAW has made with states on both gender equality and violence against women and girls makes it a natural fit for a binding mechanism, and CEDAW’s General Recommendations 19 and 35, which are specific to violence against women and girls, provide a base for a new optional protocol.

Moreover, the CEDAW Committee, which oversees the convention’s implementation, has the expertise needed to create a strong instrument with input from civil society. What it needs now is the moral and financial backing of the UN and member states to pursue a new optional protocol.

The effect of a new optional protocol would be profound. Imagine the progress we could make on gender equality with CEDAW addressing all forms of discrimination and its new optional protocol tackling violence against women and girls. At present, “no country is within reach of eradicating intimate partner violence” and we are “failing women and girls,” according to a new report by UN Women, but the convention-plus-protocol stands to push governments to recommit to gender equity, a key factor in peace and prosperity.

Crucially, it is estimated that intimate partner violence alone costs the world $4.4 trillion, more than conflict and terrorism combined. Conversely “when women work, economies grow,” as UN Women puts it.

The call for a treaty to end violence against women and girls is not new. In 1991, the Commission on the Status of Women recommended that an international framework be developed specifically to address the issue of violence against women and girls. Multiple UN Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, its causes and consequences, have repeated calls for a binding instrument.

The UN has acknowledged the violence for more than 30 years. Now is the time to take definite and decisive action. For peace, prosperity and progress to occur, we must first save half of the world’s population. We must take immediate, legally binding action to create a safer world for women and girls.

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