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Experts debate links between political leadership and preventing violence against women

Volkan Bozkir convened experts from the UN, academia and civil society for an online discussion to examine links between political leadership and preventing violence targeting women and girls. 

Remove barriers, end violence 

“If we are to protect and uphold the rights of the people we serve, those who govern should reflect those who are governed. In short: we need to elect more women”, he said. 

“We need to remove barriers to participation, and end violence against women in politics. I believe that this is crucial to ensuring that more women enter – and remain active – in politics.” 

The world is still struggling to combat violence against women more than two decades after the landmark Beijing Conference on women’s rights, Mr. Bozkir said, and the spike in cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, serves as a testament. 

66,000 women killed annually 

Gender-based violence is also a pandemic, according to Krishanti Dhamaraj, Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University in the United States. She said nearly two billion women worldwide are affected, and around 66,000 are killed annually, though numbers could be higher. 

“We need to continue to recognize and address gender-based violence as a human rights violation” she added. “Gender-based violence is a manifestation of gender-based discrimination that is structural.” 

Ms. Dhamaraj proposed taking a human rights approach to prevention by acknowledging women’s right to safety and “bodily integrity”; a view supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Simonovic. 

Second pandemic 

“We are looking into vaccines against COVID-19.  But what about a vaccine against gender-based violence against women as a human rights violation pandemic?” said Ms Simonovic. 

“We do have vaccines. We do have UN and regional human rights instruments. We need to implement those instruments.” 

Ms. Simonovic also spoke of her research on issues such as intimate partner killings and femicide.  She lamented the lack of data across countries, as it could be used to compare and monitor incidence, though she noted some governments have established “femicide observatories” or similar mechanisms. 

No progress without men 

The Secretary General of the Interparliamentary Union (IPU), Martin Chungong, argued that national legislatures must show political leadership in preventing discrimination and violence against women, given that making laws and ensuring government accountability are among the “powers” they wield. 

Although two-thirds of countries worldwide have laws on ending violence against women, Mr. Chungong acknowledged that enforcement remains a challenge. Parliament again has a role to play here, he said, by “holding the feet of the government and other stakeholders to the fire, to make sure that laws are implemented as they are meant to be.” 

The IPU chief said governments also must listen to survivors of gender-based violence so their interests are reflected in law.  “And, of course, we need the budgetary allocations”, he added, highlighting how parliaments have “the power of the purse” to implement policies. 

Mr. Chungong also stressed that men must be recruited into the global fight to end violence against women, stating “without the involvement of men, I think our efforts will be doomed to fail.”

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