After releasing a study in October that for the first time called violence against women a global health problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a campaign to prevent violence against women through public education. The WHO timed its campaign to begin on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25. The WHO report emphasizes the role that such gender-based violence as intimate partner abuse and sexual assault can play in women’s health, as well as their economic status. The WHO found that nearly half of all women who are victims of homicide are killed by a current or former husband or boyfriend, and that in some countries, up to 47 percent of women report that the first time they had sex, it was forced.
Also launched on Nov. 25 was a worldwide campaign for women’s human rights organized by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership called “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day, groups around the world will raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Creating a Culture that Says No to Violence Against Women.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a statement to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, citing the International Criminal Court (ICC) as one way the international community is dealing with violence against women. The ICC has been soundly rejected by the Bush Administration, with President Bush going so far as to unsign the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, which was signed by former President Clinton but not ratified by the Senate. The ICC has widespread support among developed nations, as well as within the US from groups such as the Feminist Majority because it identifies gender crimes and apartheid as crimes against humanity. Article 7 of the Rome Statute presents clear language that defines rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as gender crimes.
The Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the international women’s rights treaty, is another tool against gender-based violence that the US Senate has refused to ratify since former President Carter signed it over 20 years ago. It was finally approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August, but it has not yet received a vote on the Senate floor.