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Prevention is key to ending violence against women, says UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay

[UN, New York, 5 July 2011] Prevention of violence against women was the focus of a discussion on women’s human rights held last month at the UN in Geneva in the framework of the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

“In the struggle to eradicate violence against women, we should all task ourselves to be leading voices and engines of action,” said UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay.

“One third of women in the world have experienced or will experience some form of violence in their lives,” Pillay said. “In some contexts up to 60 per cent of women experience physical violence at least once in their lifetime,” she added.

She explained that the prevalence of violence against women was so high that no State had or would have the means to deal with the extent of the violations and the number of victims. “This is why preventing violence from happening in the first place must be central to any strategy to eliminate violence against women,” she pointed out.

The UN defines three levels of prevention: primary, such as preventing violence from happening in the first place; secondary, which corresponds to the immediate response after violence has occurred to limit its consequences; and tertiary, or the longer-term care and support for those who have suffered violence.

Pillay stressed the lack of sustained funding for implemented related programmes. “The lack of consistent funding for initiatives and policies aimed at preventing violence against women hampers sustainable implementation of programmes and activities over time and greatly affects their impact,” she said.

She added that prevention initiatives focusing on the underlying causes of violence against women, such as gender inequality and the feminization of poverty, were scarce. “Yet, eliminating violence against women necessarily encompasses measures to empower women to stand for their own rights, make decisions on their lives and participate fully in the life of their communities,” she explained.

“Primary prevention is a new frontier in the field of violence against women,” said Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, the office that works for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
She explained that the focus on primary prevention enabled to re-enforce the “critical, and somewhat revolutionary” notion that “violence against women is not inevitable, it can be systematically addressed, reduced and, with persistence, eliminated”.

Ending violence against women “is a long-term project that involves transforming gender relations,” stressed. However, there are key strategic investments in women’s empowerment that “can also serve as protective and preventive factors against violence,” she added.

Bachelet said that the strategic investments included ensuring that girls complete secondary education, delaying the age of marriage furthering women’s reproductive health and rights, ensuring women’s economic autonomy and security, and increasing women’s participation in decision-making positions and political power, in order to influence policies and institutional practices that perpetuate impunity and tolerance for violence against women. Primary prevention also included universal strategies that can reach large population groups, for instance, school-based like skills training for all children.

In urging governments to promote and support women’s empowerment, Rashida Manjoo, the UN expert on violence against women, said that women that are empowered “understand that they are not destined to subordination and violence; they resist oppression; and they develop their capabilities as autonomous beings and they increasingly question the terms of their existence in both public and private spheres.”

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