Chapter 05: Justice - Field Stories
Breaking the Walls of Silence: Accountability for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

Violence affects at least one in three women and girls in the world. Violence against women (VAW) is rooted in unequal power relations between men and women, so efforts to end VAW must promote women's empowerment and gender equality. National governments are increasingly instituting legal reforms to put violence against women, once regarded as a private issue, firmly on the public agenda. Ending VAW is also at the top of the international peace, security, human rights and development agendas. In 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General launched the Unite to End Violence Against Women Campaign, which calls on governments, civil society, the private sector and the entire United Nations system to meet the challenge by 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Security Council, whose resolutions impose mandatory obligations on States with penalties for non-compliance, recently passed Resolution 1820 which recognizes that, when used as a tactic of war, sexual violence against civilians "may impede the restoration of international peace and security."

States are obligated, under the due diligence standard, to respond as effectively as their capacity and resources allow to investigate, prosecute, provide remedies for and, importantly, prevent violence against women. Building national accountability to address VAW requires simultaneous efforts at the levels of mandates, procedures, and deep culture in all of the institutions that prevent and prosecute violence and address the needs of survivors.

National legislation that prevents and penalizes all forms of violence against women and girls must be enacted. According to the Secretary-General's In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence Against Women, 89 countries had instituted by 2006 some form of legislative prohibition on domestic violence. In Liberia, one of the first laws passed following the election of President Johnson Sirleaf was a strong law criminalizing rape and making it a non-parole offence so suspects cannot return to communities to intimidate victims and witnesses.

National law must be harmonized with international and regional human-rights instruments and standards. General Recommendation 19 of the CEDAW Committee addresses violence against women and has been referred to by national courts, including the Indian Supreme Court, to secure women's rights. It is critical to monitor implementation of international and regional commitments and use relevant complaints mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Convention Belém do Pará or the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Reliable data on VAW must be collected and made public. Information is central to informed policy and program development and monitoring. This includes population-based surveys on the multiple manifestations of violence against women and girls, their prevalence, causes, consequences, and the impact of interventions over the medium to longer-term; service-level data to assess sector performance (health, judicial and security); and surveys on attitudes and behaviours. The task of building data on VAW is made more challenging by the fact that VAW is one of the least reported crimes and, as shown in Figure 1.11, charges are pressed in only a fraction of cases.

National policy and funding frameworks must be developed. National Action Plans exclusively devoted to addressing violence against women serve as a valuable instrument for establishing the institutional, technical and financial resources required for a holistic, coordinated, multi-sectoral approach. These plans must aim to provide for a 'frontline' response from the police, medical and livelihood support services, in addition to legal services and long-term prevention. Cambodia was the first country to include targets on domestic violence and trafficking in its National MDG Plan 2005.v Mozambique incorporated elements of the National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women into the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and South Africa addressed violence against women throughout its national HIV/AIDS strategy.

Standard operating procedures and performance measures must be changed to translate laws and action plans into new practices. Presidential or ministerial decrees and protocols that assign roles and responsibilities to the ministries involved, and set minimal operating and performance standards, can support the implementation of laws and policies.

Resources must be earmarked to finance the wide range of actions to address VAW. Costs range from financing law enforcement reform and paying for health care, to ensuring free access (fee waivers, transportation) for poor women and girls. In August 2007, the President of Brazil announced US$590 million to implement the new Maria da Penha Law on violence against women. The budgetary pledge is a leading example of a substantial allocation for implementation of legislation. The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, the principal fund dedicated for this issue, received total contributions of $10 million from its founding in 1996 to 2004, with that total climbing to a committed $40 million for the period 2005-08. By comparison, the Global Fund on HIV and AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis has reached over $10 billion since its establishment in 2002. A telling measure of accountability will be whether the Secretary-General's campaign target for the Trust Fund of reaching a minimum of US$100 million per year by 2015 will be met.

Monitoring mechanisms must be inclusive at both national and local levels, to bring together the government, women's and other civil-society organizations, experts and researchers. For example, Afghanistan established an inter-ministerial commission on violence against women via Presidential decree, with UNIFEM support.

Empower women and girls, mobilise men and boys. Real and lasting change to end violence against women and girls needs to be grounded at the community level, where acts of abuse occur and where women should be able to demand their rights to justice, protection and support. Involving men and boys in actions to prevent and respond to violence against women is critical to finding a meaningful solution. A vibrant, well-informed civil society, armed with hard data, empowered with knowledge of their rights and governments' obligations, and equipped to demand accountability is a hallmark of sustained progress.

Launch and sustain campaigns. Spearheaded by women's movements, campaigns such as 16 Days of Activism have been instrumental in breaking the silence and raising awareness. UNIFEM crafted and forged the first United Nations Campaign on the issue in Latin America and the Caribbean in the late 1990s, and has continued such efforts, including its most recent global campaign, "Say No", which has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures from individuals, partner organisations and governments.

As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon summed up at the launch of the UNITE campaign, "Violence against women and girls makes its hideous imprint on every continent, country and culture. It is time to focus on the concrete actions that all of us can and must take to prevent and eliminate this scourge... It is time to break through the walls of silence, and make legal norms a reality in women's lives."

Violence Against Women: Reporting and Charging Rates