Women’s rights committee decries rise in violence against women

NEW YORK (12 October 2010) – “Despite progress in the realization of women’s rights across the world, challenges remain. Prime among these are discrimination and violence against women, in particular sexual violence, which are prevalent in many parts of the world and are on the rise.” This was the central message conveyed to UN Member States by the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), Ms. Xiaoqaio Zou*, as she addressed the General Assembly.

Reporting on the activities of the CEDAW Committee during the past year, she underlined that these violations of women’s rights are based on “patriarchal attitudes, which the Committee sees played out in the persistence of discriminatory laws, customs and practices.”

The CEDAW Committee was established in 1992 to monitor implementation of UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). The Convention is the most comprehensive treaty on women's rights issues, establishing legally binding obligations to end discrimination. The Convention currently has 186 States parties.

While the Committee is concerned with all forms of discrimination against women, including the right to nationality, education, employment, and health, Ms. Zou said, it is particularly alarmed by the increase in violence against women.

At least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way, usually by an intimate partner or family member, according to a new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Women continue to be raped and subject to other forms of sexual violence with impunity all over the world. Women and girls are still being sold for sex around the world. Two million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are introduced into the commercial sex market each year.

Justification for violence against women stems from distorted views about the roles and responsibilities of men and women in relationships. Many forms of sanctioned violence against women are associated with the community's or the family’s demand for sexual chastity and virginity. Likewise, many other forms of communally sanctioned violence against women, such as “honour” killings, are associated with the community’s or the family's demand for sexual chastity and virginity. Honour killings take the lives of thousands of young women every year.

In examining individual complaints on alleged violations of the Convention under its Optional Protocol, the Committee has also reviewed allegations of, among other things, forced sterilization, trafficking, discrimination in family names and discrimination in the workplace.

The Committee oversees and assists States parties in their implementation of the CEDAW Convention through reporting and dialogue, issuing recommendations and decisions on individual complaints and follow-up.

“The Committee’s role in translating the groundbreaking approach of the Convention from aspiration to practice has been significant. Nevertheless, the potential of the Convention’s system to bring about change at national level has not been exploited to the full, mainly as a result of its lack of visibility and accessibility, and resource constraints,” said Ms. Zou, one of twenty three experts from around the world who serve on the Committee in their individual capacity.

She urged all States parties to the Convention to implement its recommendations and called upon States who are not yet parties to it, and its Optional Protocol, to ratify these treaties at the earliest.

(*): Ms. Zou is the Director General of the Department of International Affairs in the All China Women's Federation and has been a member of the CEDAW Committee since 2005.

Learn more about the mandate and activities of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms o f Discrimination (CEDAW) at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CEDAW/Pages/CEDAWIndex.aspx

Check the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cedaw.htm

For more information on the Committee and media requests, please contact Bradford Smith (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9335 / e-mail: BSmith@ohchr.org)