Everywoman Everywhere members were out in force at last month’s Commission on the Status of Women, an annual UN conference in New York City to promote gender equality, to share our purpose of a global treaty and ask for sign-ons. People were warm, receptive and enthusiastic—an indication that support for a global treaty to address violence against women and girls is spreading. This was evident in the number of new members who signed on as well: our numbers jumped by more than 500 to 1,836 members, in 142 nations, including 600 organizations. A huge thanks to everyone for their exhaustive work. Bravo!
As is our tradition at CSW, coalition members gathered at a coffeehouse midway through the conference. How wonderful it was to see everyone’s faces and hear updates on your work and lives. Here we share the powerful and poignant words of two members who spoke at the gathering.
Eleanor Nwadinobi, Everywoman Everywhere working group member; President, Widows Development Organisation (WiDO), Nigeria
A very warm welcome dear friends. Just before coming to this meeting, I was in the UN building sitting with a friend on a bench in the lobby when two ladies asking to join us. Of course, we invited them to sit and they immediately fished out their phone chargers. The closest socket was some meters away so they requested we move the bench closer. We agreed and the four of us proceeded to move the fairly heavy bench toward the socket. As we moved, I looked down at our hands and arms of different colours, and different muscular endowment, and what struck me was that no matter how different we are, once we have a singular, unified purpose, we can achieve our goals. In the same way that we moved furniture in the United Nations, we can shift the narrative, shift the agenda, shift the needle regarding the dignity and rights of every woman, and girl, everywhere. We have brought our different intellect, skills, expertise, experiences and stories and have woven the tapestry that is today, our global treaty on violence against women. The tapestry is made all the more beautiful by our diversity, and it is glued together by our singularity of purpose. It was so heartwarming to see our members on the cold streets of New York, and in the corridors of the parallel sessions, getting CSW attendees to sign up to bringing an end to violence against women, to sign up for zero tolerance, to sign up so that no longer would there be any hiding place for perpetrators of violence against women and girls. I look forward to going forward, just like a past political slogan of this country, we can really stand together, and say, ‘Yes We Can.’
Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté, Everywoman Everywhere working group member; Executive Director, Inter-African Committee (IAC), Ethiopia
It is an immense honor to be here among all those people who are very committed to the noble struggle for the restoration of the rights of women and girls. I would like to emphasize that we must be aware that some misconceptions must be abandoned, especially saying that we want to help women and girls for their rights; because helping someone assumes that the helper is in a better position than the person receiving the help. No! We are not helping girls and women to restore their rights; we are participating in their fight for their rights. They are the true fighters in the forefront. In this context, there is good news from Africa: The President of Guinea, Professor Alpha Condé, who held the leadership of the African Union in 2017, made great progress. Among other things, we must note his personal commitment and his appointment of some African heads of state in protecting the rights of women and girls. In this capacity, he appointed the President of Zambia, HE Edgar Lungu, as champion for the fight for the elimination of child marriage, while he himself has made great efforts against female genital mutilation. Since 2003, Africa has developed the Protocol of Maputo, which is one of the strongest documents protecting women and girls. So Africa is ready for our project of the Treaty on Violence against Women and Girls. The treaty is not only justified, but above all, possible, if we continue at this rhythm of work.
by Akefa Raza
In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović put out a global call for submissions asking for feedback on the adequacy of the current international legal framework on violence against women.
The call for input, which was published on the Special Rapporteur’s webpage, consisted of the following five questions:
1. Do you consider that there is a need for a separate legally binding treaty on violence against women with its separate monitoring body?
2. Do you consider that there is an incorporation gap of the international or regional human rights norms and standards?
3. Do you believe that there is a lack of implementation of the international and regional legislation into the domestic law?
4. Do you think that there is a fragmentation of policies and legislation to address gender-based violence?
5. Could you also provide your views on measures needed to address this normative and implementation gap and to accelerate prevention and elimination of violence against women?
The request for input was an important step in furthering the conversation of whether a new legal instrument is needed to address violence against girls and women worldwide. But in a recent report, the Special Rapporteur published points of views from human-rights mechanisms that were against a new treaty while downplaying the response from NGOs and members of civil society who are widely in favor of new a treaty. The lack of transparency mischaracterizes the fact that people around the world—survivors, frontline practitioners, lawyers, directors and staff of local and national nonprofits—are passionate and mobilized on this topic. They want a treaty, urgently.
In fact, the vast majority of submissions from civil society (at least 230 of the 291) called for a treaty. When people respond, their voices should be heard. What follows is a summary of the responses from advocates around the world, along with excerpts of their submissions, expressing their support for a new treaty on violence against girls and women.
NO BINDING TREATY, NO GLOBAL PRESSURE, NO ACTION: The Case for a Treaty
There is no legally binding treaty addressing violence against girls and women and the absence has resulted in the lack of political will and global pressure necessary to implement current agreements. This includes CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is often cited a reason for not supporting the idea of new treaty.
Difference in culture is often used to justify State Parties’ resistance to implementing CEDAW recommendations, but that idea simply allows the cycle of violence against women to continue. The absence of a comprehensive, legally binding, definition of violence against women has also led to fragmented policies and legislation. As a result, State Parties do not feel compelled to focus on implementation efforts, despite persistent advocacy by a wide range of organizations and groups.
Respondents emphasized that CEDAW does not directly address violence; it addresses discrimination, which leaves “violence” open to legal interpretation. Therefore, State Parties are left to their own discretion to incorporate, or not incorporate, CEDAW, including General Recommendation 19 [and General Recommendation No. 35] into their local and national policy frameworks. This causes an irreconcilable gap in global norms and standards on violence against women.
What does this mean? Violence persists. Justice for survivors is limited, or non-existent. Families and communities suffer. Wages are lost. Local and national economies weaken. Violence against women and girls leads to an avalanche of negative consequences worldwide, affecting public health, economics, and national and global security.
“Yes there is a need for a separate legally binding treaty because there is no specific international legally binding document that addresses the gross violation of rights that is violence against women and girls. A separate monitoring body focused on violence against women and girls can ensure all countries are upholding their due diligence and a global high standard to protect women and girls and prevent violence.” – Anne Gamurorwa, Executive Director, Communication for Development Foundation, Uganda
“Without an international mandate that obliges states to use standardized definitions, set punitive actions, provide unconditional resources for survivors, and train public and private officials on response and prevention, no serious reduction of VAWG will take place, particularly in autocratic states.” – Hala Aldosari, PhD, Aminah, Saudi Arabia
“Violence against women is probably the most democratic in its incidence, since it occurs across all boundaries of creed, ethnicity, nationality, educational status and economic strata. Since it is a global phenomenon, all the more reason it should be treated not just a cultural off shoot of patriarchy, but as a crime against humanity and a gross and irrefutable violation of human right to life of dignity.” – Meera Khanna, Executive Vice President, The Guild of Service, India
“The current lack of a legally binding international legislation means governments must have the political will and drive to implement general recommendations and comments – they are not legally bound to uphold these obligations at present, so there is no accountability.” – Ruth Howlett, National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuge New Zealand
“Conflating violence against women and discrimination against women results in an inadequate or incomplete description of the legal concept of violence against women as its own human rights violation. Just like torture is better addressed in CAT than in the ICCPR, VAW would be better addressed in a separate treaty than in CEDAW.” – International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law, California, USA
“Implementation of domestic policies could be greatly strengthened by a legally binding document holding governments to a specific level of accountability.” – Manizha Naderi, Executive Director, Women for Afghan Women, Afghanistan
A BINDING AGREEMENT, POLITICAL PRESSURE, THE END OF VIOLENCE
A new legally binding treaty specific to violence against women and girls will close the legal gap by creating a clear definition of violence and specific steps for addressing it. This legal tool would create a mechanism for collective global action, placing the weight of the world behind every women’s rights advocate, lawyer, and practitioner around the world working to end this violence.
Violence against women and girls is a complex and intersecting issue that requires a comprehensive, systematic approach. Using the success of the Landmines Treaty, the Tobacco Treaty, and the example of Tunisia’s comprehensive new law on violence against women, a new treaty would mandate that nations take a proactive approach across all sectors. It would require:
The establishment of a legally binding tool combined with global pressure from around the world creates a concrete solution to implementing programs, policies and standards across states.
The following 228 Everywoman Everywhere members responded to the UN Special Rapporteur’s call for submission on the adequacy of the legal framework on violence against women stating their support for a new treaty.
WHO WE ARE
Everywoman Everywhere is a coalition of individuals and organizations from 141 countries advancing a global treaty to eradicate violence against women and girls. Our members include more than 1,300 frontline practitioners, advocates and survivors of violence, and more than 550 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Vital Voices and Futures Without Violence.
Everywoman Everywhere was incubated at the Initiative on Violence Against Women at the Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard Kennedy School. Additional research revealed that the current international legal framework is insufficient for addressing this global crisis. Gaps in the law, and the mechanisms for implementation, leave millions of women and girls with little to no legal protection against violence or the recourse to seek justice. It became clear that a specific treaty on violence against girls and women would give advocates, practitioners, and world leaders the legally binding instrument necessary to hold nation states accountable.
Download this report: Global Outcry Advocates Urge UN for Treaty to End Violence Against Girls and Women
Last summer, Tunisia’s parliament signed a bill that transforms its laws on violence against girls and women. The landmark legislation, which is scheduled to go into effect this month, was more than 20 years in the making, an effort led largely by the country’s strong women’s rights movement. We sat down via Skype with one of the movement’s early pioneers, Monia El Abed, a lawyer and member of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers — one of four groups awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — to learn what led to the law’s passage and what it means for Tunisian women.
Interview had been edited for length and clarity.
Welcome Monia and thank you for speaking with us. Can you explain why this bill is considered historic and groundbreaking?
It is a historic law, a landmark law because it’s the first time the national legislative body has recognized the concept of discrimination and gender violence in a bill. Not only is violence against women now in the penal code, the law is specific to women and girls. And it’s comprehensive. It defines violence precisely, whether it is psychological, verbal, or economical. And it engages the responsibility of various ministries and institutions in all areas. It forces each of them to work on protection, caring for women once they have pressed charges, ensuring the crimes do not go unpunished, and building awareness and prevention. The law was inspired by CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) in the sense that it engages the state to prevent violence, to protect women and to have an action plan to limit gender-based violence.
What work went into getting this law passed?
It was a long process that started 20 years ago. Tunisia has a very strong feminist movement and back to the 1990s, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women had a shelter for women victims of violence and we saw what was happening and began talking about changes. Other groups formed, including the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), and the Coalition of Tunisian Women. The specifics of this law [raising the age of consent, doing away with marry-your-rapist laws, a comprehensive approach] came directly from these women’s associations. The law is a response to all our demands.
What was your personal involvement in this work?
I was at the shelter for the victims of violence in the 1990s working as a lawyer and represented women survivors in court. Later, I moved into research and at the request of the National Office For Family and Population, I studied the verdicts in domestic violence cases, looking closely at the mindset of the judges and the manner in which they ruled.
Also, as a member of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, I helped create a women’s commission. We took apart existing laws and proposed laws in favor of women. We also organized seminars and advocacy sessions.
All of this ended up being important groundwork for what happened after the revolution in 2011. One party was trying to secure power and change our constitution, threatening women’s rights, and I worked with the Ministry of Women in an appeal to ensure our rights would be included and protected in the constitution.
What enabled this law to be passed now?
Because after the revolution, women were highly mobilized. At the legislative level, reforms were already underway due to the pressure of women activists. They led the plea to have a specific law that addressed all forms of gender violence. After the revolution, we saw a lot of violence against women and we mobilized for the adoption of a law that would crack down on all such acts of violence.
Do you believe the law will affect the lives of Tunisian women?
This law permeates every level of government and society. Training on addressing violence against women is now mandated for police officers on up to the public prosecutor and judges. Awareness on violence against women will be taught in elementary school, high school and at institutions of higher education. This is a guarantee. The law institutionalizes the prevention and protection of women. Of course, the application of laws is always difficult. It requires vigilance and mobilization of civil society and strong political will. It will take years, probably, but for me the law is something crucial we now have.
Human Rights Watch mentions funding as a critical step.
Yes, this will all require massive investment. We need training, we need guidance. International organizations are already involved. They are financing the training of lawyers, magistrates, police officers and staff at various ministries. The training includes general awareness regarding women’s place in society and respect for women. This is powerful. This is a law that is not just about judicial proceedings and caring for victims. It is a law designed to change mentalities and mindsets. It includes teaching the universal principle of the rights of women.
Why did you decide to join Everywoman Everywhere?
My friend Khadija Arfaoui [another Tunisian pioneering women’s rights advocate] and I are involved in many activities on women’s rights and she told me about this organization. I am very interested in what happens in other countries, as the status of women is not specific to one nation. We must evolve collectively towards identical rights and equality for all, men and women. I liked the word “Everywhere” in your name. It asks the question, how do we create a link between women in the United States, in Bangladesh, and in Libya and other parts of the world? We have a common cause. Our project is equality for all. For this reason, I find myself joining your organization. It is research and work that is making us all richer.
FURTHER READING: New law “radicalizes the perception of violence against women.”
Everywoman Everywhere Coalition member Lilly BeSoer, Papua New Guinea, wrote those words after attending a gathering of coalition members in New York City. Members who were in town for the annual UN Commission of the Status of Women were meeting to say hello. But what was expected to be a coffee meeting became a powerful cry of global unity for a treaty. “Members shared stories of the trial and tribulation that had brought them there, spoke of the collective power we have built with this global coalition, and how ready, willing, and able they are to fight this challenging fight,” said executive director Vidya Sri. Below are a few highlights from members who spoke.
Longtime peace activist Khedija Arfaoui of Tunisia held a picture of her son and daughter-in-law and told the group that the two were killed in the nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve in Istanbul. She described their deaths as an “earthquake,” yet her message was one of resolve. There is pain and challenge, but we cannot afford to lose faith, she said. I have lost my child, have seen the length and breadth of obstacles over the last 40 years, and still I stand her with all of you.
Dr. Morissanda Kouyate, a Guinea-born pediatrician now heading the Inter-Africa Committee on Traditional Practices. It wasn’t that long ago that the world gave little thought to the violence of FGM, female genital mutilation. No one wanted to take a meeting, no lawmaker wanted to talk. Yet with persistence, legislation was passed. Today, FGM is a crime in multiple countries in Africa. We were knocking on doors, knocking doors and we must keep knocking.
Caroline Herewini has been working for more than 20 years to aid her indigenous Maori community in New Zealand. She captured the spirit of our collective effort when she spoke of the treaty reached between the British and the Maori long ago. She explained that before she speaks, she pays respect to her ancestors, and that history roots her in the present. Similarly, working with respect to existing cultures and beliefs, as we are with this treaty, paves the path for peace and productivity. She noted that when the visitors came from the UK long ago, they were pulled into the existing legal framework of the Maori people in New Zealand. The local law was part of the agreement with these guests and the treaty was an agreement between equals. Equality, respect of culture, and working together are essential, Caroline emphasized, adding, we have proverb: “He aha te mea nui o te Ao”? He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata! What is the greatest thing of all? It is people, it is people, it is people!
The gathering had a motivating effect on all of us. It reminded us we are in this together and wanted to share that thought with all members by including a sampling of emails members sent to executive director Vidya Sri after the event.
“This treaty, now going through its arduous journey, will have learnt lessons from what was missing in the CEDAW. I believe it is going to play a significant role in eliminating the many types of violence that destroy women’s lives. At last, we are addressing the injustices that widows endure, so hidden, so neglected. Bless you all in your great work, love, Margaret.” – Margaret Owen, Widows for Peace through Democracy, England
“On this journey to a just world, there are hardships and obstacles. But there are also extraordinary stories of courage, perseverance and grit, the sweet fruits of friendship and bonding, and oases in the middle of this desert of cussedness of vested interests. Yesterday was one such oasis. “I feel blessed to be part of this extraordinary group and this amazing journey. Success then for us is not an option. It is a given.” —Meera Khanna, Guild For Service, India
“Thanks for bringing together such a beautiful gathering of hearts, heads and minds. We did not get to hear all our stories, but we definitely felt the passion that binds us together. Keep the flag flying. Excelsior!” – Eleanor Nwadinobi, Widows Development Organisation, Nigeria
“Hearing stories from the other great women have really empowered me and helped me to understand and know that I am not battling alone in my corner of the world, there are other sisters doing the same thing and we are in it together. This really motivates me to feel part of the movement and I must not give up.” – Lilly BeSoer, founder of the women’s rights NGO Voice for Change, Papua New Guinea
“Dear Heroes: I am so moved by your life and activism and stories. My heart is full and your smiles are tattooed on my soul. Be safe in your travels home. Blessings.” – Indrani Goradia, Indranis Light Foundation, USA