NEW YORK Linking every continent in a live video-conference, the United Nations spearheaded a campaign on Intemational Women's Day to end rape, wife-beating and forced prostitution. For nearly three hours yesterday, victims, activists, govenunent leaders and celebrities including Julie Andrews and Bianca Jagger focused a global spotlight on what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called "the most shameful human rights violation." All agreed there had been progress in combating violence against women. Dozens of countries have changed laws and launched education campaigns but much more remains to be done especially by men. "The pandemic of violence against women and girls can never be stopped without concentrated, detemiined activism by men," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women, who was the driving force behind the conference. According to a World Bank study, up to 50 per cent of women have suffered physical abuse by an intimate partner. In the United States, a woman is battered by a partner every 15 seconds. A Rwandan mother of four, identified only as Athanasie, described to the worldwide audience how she was gang-raped every day for months by Hutu militiamen during the 1994 genocide. She said: 'My greatest pain was to hear the cries of my 12-year-old daughter as she was raped behind our house." Irma Rojas, a 28-year-old Me3dcan mother who was burned, beaten and raped by her husband, said her case helped changed the law on marital rape. Alpana Chandola, a young Indian woman, said she was starved, abused and thrown out of her husband's home because her family could not afford a car as part of her dowry. Despite threats, she is pursuing legal action against them. 'My advice to young girls is to remain financially independent," she said. But Judge P.N. Bhagwati, former chief justice of India, noted that as Asia's economic crisis deepened and economic conditions shrank, "the flesh trade grows." Asian girls and women sold into prostitution generate $US7 billion ($13.3 billion) in profit annually for their traffickers speakers noted. 'Legislation is critical," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special adviser on violence against women. Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University, said allocating more resources and recognising violence against women as a community responsibility could go a long way toward ending the abuses. "Dedicating a meagre 2 per cent of defence budgets to feed, house, and educate women and children victims of domestic violence would go a Iong way toward giving them peace at home." Marta Rocha, chief of police in Rio de Janeiro, described how homicides against women by their partners -spurred the formation of women-only police stations in themid-1980s.
NEW YORK Next year women are expected to be able to file complaints to the United Nations for the first time on discrimination, sexual exploitation, and other violations of a 1981 international treaty. "They will finally be able to take their complaints and grievances to the United Nations in case they cannot get remedies within their own judicial systems," said Patricia Flor, who chairs the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Members of the commission agreed to adopt an "optional protocol" to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which came into force in 1981 after being Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The treaty has been ratified by 163 countries but not by the United States and some Gulf states. lt bars all forms of legal discrimination against women, demands equal access and equal opportunities in political and public life.
It also calls for affirmative action until equality is attained, but it is difficult to enforce. One method is investigations, and at times, public embarrassment when adherence to its articles are reviewed by the commission. However, unlike other human rights treaties, women or their representatives have not been allowed to file individual grievances against their governments violating the convention. The new protocol would allow women to bypass their governments and have the commission investigate their complaints. The General Assembly is expected to approve the measure in September by consensus, after which 10 countries have to ratify it before it becomes intemational law. Aloisia Woergetter of Austria, chairman of the working group that negotiated the protocol, said many delegations changed their minds after having opposed it for years, mainly because of its affmnative action provisions.
But she said "everybody has understood that it is important to fully implement the convention and I think there wul be a lot of positive support for the protocol, even from state parties that receive complaints." King, however, said that one difficulty was a lack of financial resources, once the long-anticipated protocol came into effect and complaints began to mount. Without proper financing the protocol "will be a dead letter," she said. REUTERS