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UN calls for community backing for no violence against women

Media release November 16, 2012

UN calls for community backing for no violence against women and children campaign

With the global campaign “16 days of Activism against Gender Violence” about to begin on November 25, a UN representative says statistics from many countries still paint a troubling picture of violence in our societies.

Roberta Clarke, Regional Director for the UN Women Asia and Pacific Regional Office, told the 10th annual World Conference of the International Ombudsman Institute in Wellington that the reported statistics of women who have been victims of domestic violence range from 30% in New Zealand, 33% in Costa Rica, 39% in Turkey and 49% in Bangladesh.

“It is a worldwide issue,” she says. “And women’s organisations have been saying for a long time that violence against women cuts across culture, ethnicity, religion, income and status.”

Roberta Clarke has called on communities to back the campaign which calls for zero tolerance to violence against women.

“It is an important aspiration to build a culture of zero tolerance. We know we may not get to zero incidents of violence against women and children, but what we want is to get to a culture where we understand that there is something manifestly terrible about the violation and recognise that individuals, communities and the state all have a duty to prevent and respond effectively.”

She says communities have to build up accountability.

“Accountability begins with the individual - you control yourself and what you tolerate in your family and community and you say no to violence. But the state also has a role in protecting and preventing violence against women through laws, policies and in modelling zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women.

“Accountability is about ensuring that the state organisations who have the authority to respond - police, judiciary, social workers or health workers - do so effectively, that they do not look away from it saying that’s private or it is too difficult to think about or its cultural. There is no looking away from violence against women. Everyone has a responsibility to act in the context of their mandate.”

Roberta Clarke says over the last twenty years a lot of work has been done to make the issue visible, to reform laws, develop services to respond to the needs of victims/survivors and their families, to build the capacity of the justice sector particularly police, judiciary and prosecutors and to start programmes for perpetrators. All of which can have the effect of transforming culture towards zero tolerance.

“There is a lot more understanding of the issue and the range of responses required to ensure women’s rights to lives free of violence. Over 120 countries have enacted domestic violence legislation. Yet, the numbers appears not to be going down.”

She says this it probably reflects both increased reporting and increased societal violence which is shown through the data on homicides.

“Monitoring is difficult because data collection is deficient. Firstly, there is under-reporting as many women do not go to the police for a number of reasons – embarrassment, mistrust, fear. Often, police collect information just on perpetration and do not record the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and so you cannot get a sense of what is the real incidence of domestic violence. Courts collect record for their purposes and health sector collects record for theirs purposes but in many countries it is difficult to put together to come up with a true prevalence.”

Roberta Clarke told the meeting of Ombudsman that they have an important part to play in combating violence against women and children.

“Ombudsmen have a significant platform. They are authoritative, credible, respected and they are understood and accepted to be monitors of maladministration, unfairness or arbitrariness in all the countries where they exist. They can provide another avenue for women to get redress.

“We do know that violence against women is underreported, particularly sexual offences, and we do also have a sense that this is linked to the mistrust of police services. The ombudsman can play a major part by working with police units to better understand how their responses are perceived and experienced by complainants and to make suggestions for corrective action.”

She says the distressing story globally is that there is a tremendous attrition between the number of assaults on women to the number of reports made to police, to the investigations, charges, prosecutions and convictions.

“When you have that attrition you are talking about impunity and most rape going unpunished. We think ombudsmen can be one of the forces that help us think about why this impunity exists, why some offences matter than others and what can we do to fix it, to ensure women’s access to justice.”


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