Gender Violence and the Need for Enforceable Legislation

By Agustina Laurito, staff editor

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, an opportunity to reflect on the efforts, accomplishments and obstacles toward ending violence against women. As part of those efforts, the international community and national governments have adopted legal standards against gender violence. Despite the different instruments, lack of adequate enforcement and implementation has often resulted in tragic failures to protect women from violence.

According to the World Health Organization one in three women has experienced violence in her lifetime. Gender violence is a human rights violation, but it is also an obstacle to development. For example, it can keep girls away from school for fear of being raped, and it can increase the chance that a woman will contract HIV/AIDS.

There are international statutes that aim to protect women from violence. An example is the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and its protocol focused on trafficking of women. Many other instruments address the specific case of violence against women during conflicts. For instance, the Rome Statute considers rape as a weapon of war, and U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 recognizes the importance of taking women into account during peace processes.

International statutes are important, especially regarding violence during conflicts, but without domestic legislation it is very difficult to make significant advances against gender violence. This year, an article in the U.N. Chronicle recounted the work of women and men parliamentarians in countries as varied as Rwanda, Spain, Pakistan and Sweden to work on legislation addressing violence against women, and the International Center for Research on Women reported that Uganda passed its first law against domestic violence.

All these are valuable efforts; they imply the recognition of a principle, that gender violence must be stopped. But enacting international statutes and domestic laws is not enough if many of them are not adequately implemented and enforced. One of the major obstacles for the implementation and enforcement of these standards is lack of political will, but inadequate legal structures and resources at the national level also contribute to widespread impunity. For global standards, poor monitoring mechanisms are a persistent problem that needs to be addressed. The mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this past summer are a tragic reminder that principles, implementation and enforcement must go together.

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