NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Violence against women and girls is so pervasive that the next set of United Nations development objectives must include it as a priority when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, panellists at a U.N. ministerial meeting on gender violence and the post-2015 agenda said on Wednesday.
“There is hardly anything more universal than gender-based violence,” said Heidi Hautala, minister for international development in Finland, which co-hosted the event with Liberia and UN Women, the global body’s agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“Violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations during times of peace and conflict,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, the new executive director of UN Women. “It means that in the world, the beating up of women is a pastime.”
According to a June 2013 report by the World Health Organization, the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women (VAW), no part of the world is free from gender-based violence.
One in three women globally will experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in her life, most commonly at the hands of an intimate partner.
Ending the global pandemic of VAW must be a priority as the U.N. works on the post-2015 development agenda, said Mlambo-Ngucka. “Indeed, it is the missing MDG and we must correct this glaring omission.”
The current MDG 3 concerning gender equality, formulated in 2000, focuses on parity in education, political participation and economic empowerment, but makes no mention of violence or other gender inequities and discrimination. Many ministers at the meeting agreed with Mlambo-Ngucka that stopping violence against women must be spelt out in the next set of objectives.
For the post-2015 agenda, UN Women has proposed a stand-alone goal that would build on MDG3 by addressing three target areas: freedom from violence against women and girls; gender equality in terms of sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to resources and opportunities including land, decent work and equal pay; and gender equality in terms of decision-making power in public and private institutions, national and local political bodies, the management of businesses and in families and communities.
Experts said that MDG3 may have omitted VAW in 2000 partly because there seemed to be no way then of measuring it, a situation changed by the recent WHO report and by greater reporting of incidents.
Julia Duncan Cassell, Liberia’s gender and development minister, for instance, grimly gave the statistics for her country. In a nation of fewer than 4 million people, she said, in the period 2011-1012 there were 2,711 cases of rape reported, 33 of them involving boys. She said that 305 victims were under the age of 5; 817 between 6 and 12; 1,305 were 13 to 17 and 284 were 18 or older.
“Violence against women is the most shameful of human rights violations,” said Cassell. “It is clear that the violators remain unpunished and the perpetrators enjoy a climate of impunity.”
VAW is also a barrier to reaching many of the Millennium Development Goals, said Aziza Ahmed, a law professor at Boston’s Northeastern University and an expert in gender and the law, domestic violence and reproductive rights.
She noted, for example, that VAW is a barrier to women negotiating safe sex, which makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection, the reduction of which is the goal of MDG 6.
UN Women has argued that VAW also undermines the goals of achieving full employment and reducing hunger; ensuring that children complete a full course of primary education; reduction of under-five mortality; reduction of maternal mortality, and universal access to reproductive health, and economic empowerment.
“What is needed now is more attention to freedom from violence for women and girls, from now until after 2015,” said Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Erkki Tuomioja.