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close this bookWomen against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)
close this folderIntroduction: Violence Against Women
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View the documentViolence Against Women: The International Context
View the documentOrganizing Against Gender-Based Violence
View the documentKey Challenges for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence
View the documentDeconstructing Traditional Power Structures and Cultural Assumptions

Violence Against Women: The International Context

Understanding of the issue of violence against women has improved dramatically in the last 25 years. In 1975, at the UN International Women's Year Conference in Mexico City, violence against women was considered very much a family matter: policy recommendations emphasized the benefits of family counselling and the need for more responsive family courts. As the international women's movement gathered strength, understanding and public awareness gained both force and complexity. At the Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen in 1980 and five years later at Nairobi, domestic violence was recognized as an obstacle to equality and an intolerable offence to human dignity. In 1985, the UN General Assembly passed its first resolution on violence against women, calling for concerted and multi-disciplinary action to combat domestic violence in all nations.

A few years later, the Committee which oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) issued a recommendation extending the scope of discrimination to include gender-based violence, omitted in the 1979 original text. And in 1993, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, further defining this phenomenon and recommending measures to combat it. This was a landmark document in three ways:

· It situated violence against women squarely within the discourse on human rights, affirming that women are entitled to equal enjoyment and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including liberty and security of person, and freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

· It enlarged the concept of violence against women to reflect the real conditions of women's lives, recognizing not only physical, sexual and psychological violence but also threats of such harm; it addressed violence against women within the family setting as well as within the community, and confronted the issue of violence perpetrated and condoned by the state;

· It pointed to the gender-based roots of violence, reflecting the fact that gender-based violence is not random violence in which the victims happen to be women and girls; the risk factor is being female.

According to the Declaration, violence against women encompasses but is not limited to:

· Physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;

· Physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring within the community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;

· Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state wherever it occurs.

Other forms of violence include violations of the rights of women in situations of armed conflict, in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and forced abortion, coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide and prenatal sex-selection.