Ending violence against women - in our families, communities and societies - remains the greatest challenge facing humanity on the eve of the 21st century. Women are attacked on the street, in the workplace, in the home, in situations of armed conflict, and while in state custody. Violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities and is a barrier to development in every nation.
Because violence against women and girls underlies all human societies, we are all the poorer for it; world development is impeded by exactly the measure of the harm dealt out to women; the common future of all of us shrinks to exactly the degree that women are impeded from nourishing themselves and their families. In 1993 alone, the World Bank estimated that violence against women was as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined. The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 20 percent of women in the world have been physically or sexually assaulted by a man at some point in their lives. In the United States alone, violence against women costs businesses $100 million in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, and non-productivity.
Combating violence against women is core to the mission of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). UNIFEM's work addresses violence against women and girls in the family; war crimes against women; violations of women's bodily integrity; economic discrimination and exploitation; and political persecution and discrimination, and has recently come together under three major initiatives:
Regional Campaigns to Eliminate Violence Against Women
UNIFEM brought together an unprecedented number of UN agencies, governments, national and regional NGOs and thousands of community-based groups and media organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Asia and the Pacific and in Africa, in a series of Campaigns to Eliminate Violence Against Women. The results of these campaigns have been reverberating throughout the regions through strengthened legislation, more effective enforcement of the law, and increased services to survivors. Most importantly, by focusing on visibility around issues of violence against women, the campaigns have contributed to the breaking of silence which shrouds this pandemic, and have mobilised political will and spurred new partnerships for action between governments, civil society, and the private sector.
These campaigns are already beginning to show remarkable results, proving beyond any doubt that with political will and resources, changes in attitudes and behaviour can be achieved to bring an end to violence against women. Some examples:
In the Caribbean, a protocol for co-operation between Women's Crisis Centres and the police is currently under development, aimed at improving response and treatment in cases of violence against women.
In Brazil, UN agencies in partnership with government and civil society have launched an "Intra-family Pact for Non-Violence", a new national commitment to eliminate violence against women.
In India, 40,000 posters detailing women's rights were printed in 14 official languages for distribution to every police station in the country, helping to ensure that ignorance of the law and women's rights is no longer an excuse for turning a blind eye to violence against women.
In Jordan, the silence has been broken on the crime of 'honour killings' of women through a campaign of mass media coverage that also resulted in new government commitment to address a pervasive and hidden problem.
In Kenya, South Africa and many other countries, the regional campaigns stimulated unprecedented numbers of men to join together to march and speak out against gender-based violence.
In Senegal, a groundbreaking law banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation has been introduced. The law will be implemented nationally over a three-year period in concert with a campaign to educate the public on the harmful consequences of the practice.
Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women
Since 1997, UNIFEM's Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women has provided over US 2 million dollars to 72 innovative projects around the world, which address all forms of gender-based violence. Projects engage in action-oriented research, training for judges, police, health, and government workers, educational initiatives in schools and other institutions, as well as community-based initiatives in both rural and urban settings. A recently established Learning Component for the Fund is devoted to identifying best practices and extracting lessons on effective strategies. The Trust Fund will play an important role in helping UNIFEM to sustain the momentum stimulated by the regional campaigns through concrete follow-up programmes.
UN Inter-agency Global Videoconference
As an innovative and catalytic Fund within the UN system, UNIFEM seeks to amplify the impact of its work by sharing the information accumulated through its experiences. This imperative is what drives UNIFEM to form ever-widening partnerships in an effort to bring others on board from the community, national as well as the international levels. Another example of this is UNIFEM's recent initiative: the Global UN Interagency Videoconference "A World Free of Violence Against Women." On 8 March 1999, the last International Women's Day of this millennium, UNIFEM will co-ordinate an inter-agency global Videoconference linking the United Nations General Assembly in New York with sites in Nairobi, New Delhi, Mexico City and the European Parliament in Strasbourg - and will also be broadcast via satellite to audiences world-wide.
Taking place during the 43rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Videoconference will showcase success stories, innovative strategies and future challenges in the work of preventing violence against women. The event will highlight the important strides that have been made and acknowledge the critical role of global partnerships between governments, the UN system, civil society and the private sector to address the pandemic of violence against women.
UNIFEM's instrumental role in rallying the UN system and other partners around the Videoconference demonstrates a new approach for engaging in co-ordinated follow up to UN World Conferences at the global, regional and national levels. The eradication of violence against women will not happen without action from all levels of the global community. As we approach the new millennium, UNIFEM is committed to using its unique identity and mission to ensure that the UN system responds to the needs of women, and that our partnerships with governments and women's groups around the world facilitate a new era of work to eradicate violence against women.
Change starts with focused awareness, and that is the goal of this dramatic event, watched by press, media and countless observers: to show the world what positive, successful steps are being taken by different partners right now to end gender-based violence.
Voices in Cyberspace - Breaking the Silence: The <End-Violence> Working Group
In preparation for the Videoconference, UNIFEM initiated a discussion on the Internet to create a venue in which groups around the globe could talk to each other about what is working - what strategies have been successful in reducing the incidence and impact of violence against women and girls. On 7 October 1998 the Working Group began its work under the sponsorship of UNIFEM, the World Bank and the Global Knowledge Partnership.
Over the past several months the Working Group has achieved much more than fuel widespread enthusiasm for the upcoming Videoconference. The <end-violence> Working Group has taken a life of its own. More than 1,000 women and men around the world, front-line workers against violence, have been e-mailing each other for months, comparing experiences and sharing strategies to respond to the problem of violence against women. UNIFEM has been an active participant in this dynamic exchange of ideas and information that has engaged individual activists, local groups as well as state and international institutions in frank dialogue. UNIFEM's 11 Regional Programme Advisors, placed across all regions, have been attentive listeners and avid contributors to the discussion, as have the World Bank, other UN partners and donors.
We at UNIFEM have been amazed at the passionate response to the discussion list, and the momentum to exchange ideas and concrete experiences in an effort to identify those strategies that have worked: to change attitudes, end patterns of tolerated and hidden violence, and successfully educate judges, police, and policy makers to recognise and respond appropriately to situations of gender-based violence. The patterns of gender based violence and the patterns of resistance have become ever-clearer - and the determination, courage and energy of many to dismantle the power structures and attitudes in which violence is used and tolerated as a tool in the oppression and degradation of women.
The <end-violence> Working Group has done more than serve as a resource of practical information and a tool of learning. It has shown us the possibilities of modern technology to facilitate a different kind of globalisation - one that enables the empowerment of women and exchange of critical information on common strategies to fight a global scourge. In charting future directions, these humane electronic exchanges are certain to inform and inspire UNIFEM to undertake more collaborative initiatives with an even wider network of partners who share its vision of a world free of violence against women. For this we thank, most of all, the many hundreds of devoted members of the Working Group, whose contributions reaffirm a vision of hope for a world free of violence against women.
UNIFEM would also like to acknowledge the generous contribution of the World Bank and the Global Knowledge Partnership who were our partners in supporting this initiative. Our heartfelt gratitude also goes to the Educational Development Center whose state of the art moderation must serve as a model for emulation and replication. UNIFEM is particularly indebted to Janice Brodman who was our guide and devoted companion through a fascinating journey that has infused us with fresh enthusiasm and sharpened our understanding of the wonders of advanced learning communication technologies.