SILENCE SURROUNDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN HAS BEEN BROKEN - UN EXPERT
New York, Mar 5 2009 10:00AM
Women around the world are no longer fearful of speaking out against the
violence they encounter, according to Yakin Erturk, whose mandate as the
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes
Consequences, expires in June."As I leave, what gives me encouragement is
that the silence about violence against women has been broken," Ms. Erturk
said. "It's an initial step, but it's a prerequisite for us to respond to
that violence. I think women in all parts of the world now realize that
violence is not their fate."
The Special Rapporteur spoke to the UN News Service ahead of this year's
International Women's Day (8 March), whose theme is 'Women and Men United
End Violence against Women and Girls.'
Ms. Erturk said she found inspiration in the impressive struggle by
survivors of violence to rebuild their lives and those of their families,
sometimes against enormous odds.
"The Democratic Republic of Congo comes to mind," she said. "Some women
there have experienced total destruction. It's impossible to describe the
extent of the violations women and little girls go through. Then those who
try to speak out face threats."
The creation of an international mechanism to protect such women should be
an urgent priority for the future, she noted.
"We don't have a mechanism to protect these women who speak out, where
States are dysfunctional or can't respond," she said. "Sometimes the only
solution is to take the women out of the situation - but sometimes they
don't want to leave because they have husbands and families. It's a
issue, but we should not be afraid to act."
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that until relatively recently, the
of violence against women was itself seen as too complex for legislation
intervention, but that attitudes had changed. In her six years as the UN's
expert on the issue, Ms. Erturk has travelled to many countries advocating
for action to address violence against women, including its most extreme
Before leaving office, she will submit mission reports to the Human Rights
Council in June on Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Moldova, and on her last
country visit to Kyrgyzstan.
Looking back on her time in office, Ms. Erturk said she believed that her
2007 report on the intersections between culture and violence against
had played a key part in changing perceptions, and had inspired some civil
society groups to start to look at culture and religion in a more critical
"Anything built in the name of Islam is based on certain interpretations
Islam, and these groups are starting to challenge hegemonic
of Islam which reject universal human rights norms," she said. "I believe
that cultural excuses will be challenged more and more in future years,
I consider this to be one of my strongest achievements in fulfilling my
Considering the different countries she has visited during her mandate,
Erturk said she had particularly enjoyed returning to Saudi Arabia, where
she spent time working before joining the UN.
"From a personal perspective, it was amazing to go back," she said.
an interest in making changes; for example, a woman has been appointed to
the post of deputy minister in the Saudi Government. These changes may
appear small but we must contextualize our understanding - while pushing
Ms. Erturk regretted that media outlets and human rights stakeholders were
attracted to problems when they erupted in violence, "but we can do more
prevent problems if we deal with them before they reach that point."
She welcomed what she described as "promising gestures" on human rights by
the new United States administration, but added: "We need to see action -
home, at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq." She said she was hopeful
that the US would ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"Ratifying CEDAW would be one very visible outcome that could give us hope
about what to expect from the new US administration," Ms. Erturk said.
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Coordinator - femLINKPACIFIC
+6793310303 (Office DL)