Violence against women is a Human Rights Violation

by Anna Blanch on December 10, 2011

The final post of the 16 days of action (barring a reflection I’ll post next week) is from Amanda Gray Meral. It is a post that brings us full circle as she examines the current international situation of gender-based violence. Today is international Human Rights Day.


Gender-based violence is forbidden under international law. Yet, according to the United Nations, 70% of women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape with women aged 15-44 more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war or malaria. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign is a United Nations incentive, which takes place annually between 25 November (International Day of No Violence against Women) and 10 December (International Human Rights Day). This campaign seeks to highlight gender-based violence as a human rights violation.

The theme for 16 days Campaign 2011 is ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women’! Violence against women escalates during conflicts. It is estimated for example that during the war in Bosnia up to 50,000 women of all ethnic groups were raped in what was found by the International Criminal Court to be the systematic use of rape as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign. Violence against women also occurs in the aftermath of a conflict, often due to ongoing instability, lack of security and lack of socio-economic rights for women. In Bosnia the Gender Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina has found that occurrences of domestic violence since the conflict have increased. Women of war suffer for decades as they bear the mental and physical scars of rape, brutality and discrimination.

The Congo is another example of where militarism has escalated violence against women to a grave extent. Rape is so widespread in eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo it is viewed by human rights experts to be one of the worse places on earth to be a woman. However, for many victims of sexual violence in the Congo, it is the aftermath of such violence that is even worse that the initial violence. Many victims suffer trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and ongoing physical pain. They are often rejected by their families including their husbands as they are believed to be to blame for what happened and defiled.

The challenge for us is that we, both women and men, who are free to speak out, must do so and act in solidarity to work for peaceful strategies to end conflict and violence and to achieve women’s rights. Such human rights and peaceful movements challenge the social and political structures that allow violence and discrimination against women to continue. Recognising the different approaches brought by peace, women’s and human rights organisations in advocating for change and justice, our advocacy should be nevertheless, inherently about challenging militarism and putting forward a peaceful alternative. Our voice must be heard not only during these 16 days but throughout our lives. We must be advocates for change – men and women – against violence against women and girls outside and inside their homes. Men in particular must be advocates and must highlight the positive role men and boys can play to change attitudes towards women and gender prescribed roles. A good example is the White Ribbon Campaign, an initiative begun by men to encourage fellow men never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Men should wear a white ribbon to signify this pledge.

We as Civil Society play a key role to advocate for peace and the fulfilment of human rights as a way to achieve genuine security for all. Let us use the international treaties signed by governments to hold them to account for protecting and upholding human rights for women. Only then will we see women live free from violence, poverty and discrimination.

We must hold governments to account for what they signed up to in The UN Convention on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, international humanitarian law, the Security Council’s Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960 on Women, Peace, and Security to name a few. We must use a rights based approach to advocate for peace and security for all women.


This post is part of the 16 Days of Action toward eliminating violence against women. The 16 Days of Action is a global campaign founded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, I’m hosting posts across the 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December. You can help by sharing these posts on social media, by taking care of the women around you, & by standing against violence against women. The full list of posts in the series can be found here.

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