Author: Comrade Sunny Ofehe
Posted to the web: 12/9/2005 3:22:48 PM
November 25 has been marked as the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women by women activists worldwide. This day is marked with the brutal assassination, in 1961, of the three Mirabal sisters who were political activists in the Dominican Republic. The Mirabal sisters are a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic then. Since 1981 women's activists have celebrated this day as the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women to gain momentum and solidarity in their struggle against violence against women.
The Right to be free from violence has been recognised as a human right in several international human rights conventions and treaties. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993 asserts that violence against women is a manifestation of power relations and “is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), which was adopted in 1995, reiterates the responsibility of all governments to “take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women.” The 189 nations that adopted the Platform for Action committed themselves to developing comprehensive programmes to end gender-based violence.
However, violence against women continues to be the reality of women’s lives even today. It is an endemic problem that knows no national boundaries, no cultural boundaries, no class or caste boundaries and no religious boundaries. Violence against women continues to be perpetrated by men, by women, by trans-national actors and by the state. It continues unabated in situations of armed conflict and in times of peace. It continues to takes place outside and inside the home.
In identifying the remaining gaps and challenges, the official communiqué of the tenth year review of BPFA for the Asia-Pacific, held in Bangkok in September this year, accepted this by noting “Several countries reported that violence against women in all its forms, including violence during internal strife and armed conflict and domestic violence, trafficking in women and girls, spousal abuse, harmful practices and sexual abuse, is a grave social problem.”
The current climate of repression and criminalisation of human rights work has increased violence against women and the threat of such violence. Within this context, women have become more vulnerable to violence, especially in militarised areas, and as displaced persons. At the same time, in this era of neo-liberal economic globalisation, private actors (including multinational and transnational corporations) are also becoming more unbridled in their war for profit, plundering natural resources and violating people’s rights in the process.
When states fail to provide protections, they hold responsibility for the abuse. Such failure on the part of the state is clear in the case of Rodi Alvarado as recorded by Amnesty International. From the moment Rodi Alvorada married a Guatemalan army officer at the age of 16, she was subjected to intense abuse, and all her efforts to get help were unsuccessful. Her husband raped her repeatedly, attempted to forcibly abort their second child by kicking her in the spine, dislocated her jaw, tried to cut her hands off with a machete, kicked her in the vagina, and used her head to break windows. He terrified her by bragging about using his power to kill innocent civilians with impunity. Even though many of the attacks took place in public, the police failed to help her in any way. After she made a complaint, her husband ignored three citations without consequence. Furthermore, the courts refused to grant her a divorce without her husband's permission. This is a common scenario also in Nigeria.Let us also look at the case of Lady Obah Isapo Ojomai from one of the Niger Delta States. She was forcefully married to the palace servant of a traditional king against her wishes and even the wishes of her family. She was compelled to respect traditional norms which were against her Christian belief. Tired of this violation, she planned her escape and ran away. She was never to be found. A popular Kaduna based proponent of Gender Equality Madam Florence Faluyi took up this case. Instead of getting the state support, she was arrested, intimidated and detained so as to protect the identity of the powerful traditional ruler that was involved. The case was never investigated again!States have a duty under international law to take positive measures to prohibit and prevent torture and to respond to instances of torture, regardless of where it takes place or whether the perpetrator is an agent of the state or a private individual. When states fail to take the basic steps needed to protect women from domestic violence or allow these crimes to be committed with impunity, states are failing in their obligation to protect women from torture.In the past, violence against women, particularly violence occurring in the home or between intimate partners, was viewed as a private matter, not as an issue of civil or political rights. Now however, by applying the legally accepted definitions of torture to the violence that women face everyday around the world, the international community has explicitly recognized violence against women as a human rights violation involving state responsibilityActs of violence against women constitute torture when they are of the nature and severity envisaged by the concept of torture and the state has failed to provide effective protection. Violence in the home is a global epidemic. Without exception, women's greatest risk of violence is from someone she knows. Domestic violence is a violation of a woman's rights to physical integrity, to liberty, and all too often, to her right to life, itself. And when a government fails to provide effective protection from such abuse, domestic violence is torture.The legal concept of due diligence describes the minimum acceptable level of effort which a state must undertake to fulfill its responsibility to protect individuals from abuses of their rights. Due diligence includes taking effective steps to prevent abuses, to investigate them when they do occur, to prosecute the alleged perpetrator and bring him to justice in fair proceedings, and to ensure adequate reparation, including compensation and redress. It also means ensuring that justice is upheld without discrimination of any kind. In various measures of this standard, in many countries of the world, states are failing in their due diligence and failing to protect women from violence. The failure of a government to prohibit acts of violence against women, or to establish adequate legal protections against such acts, constitutes a failure of state protection.The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which recently spearheaded a global campaign to end violence, estimates that one-quarter of all women world-wide were subjected to rape during their life time. Depending on the country, between 25 percent and 75 percent of women regularly received beatings at home, while more than 120 million women had undergone genital mutilation.
As we approach the year 2006, it is time we as a society, say: 'No more, and never again.' If we commit ourselves to creating a world free of violence, our children will only say we stopped the most universal and unpunished crime of all time against half the people of the earth.
We should renew our commitment to fight for a live free of violence. Women should continue to articulate zero tolerance to any form of violence—whether in the name of culture, by non-state actors or oppressively, by State actors. Today, we are calling for a world free of violence. I will like to commemorate all the women who have fought against this endemic violation of women’s human rights. As we celebrate the survivors of violence against women, we must also remember those who died as victims of Violence Against Women, VAW.
Comrade Sunny Ofehe