Stop violence against women
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  Priority actions for parliaments

Ending violence against women requires a comprehensive and all-inclusive approach

Violence against women (VAW) stems from gender-based discrimination and gender inequality. Addressing VAW without taking into account the wider context in which women evolve and the need to secure respect for women's fundamental rights in general is hopeless. All policies, laws, budget decisions, etc., impact in one way or another on women and have the potential to increase their vulnerability to violence.

The response to violence against women should also be holistic. It should prevent and protect. It should be geared towards assisting victims and making sure that they are protected in the future. It should criminalize violence against women, strive to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. It should fight impunity.

Putting an end to VAW is not the responsibility of one person, actor or group. Final eradication will require a collective response, in which everyone has a role to play. Actions therefore need to involve all stakeholders, men and women, developing and developed countries, representatives from government, parliaments, the judiciary, law enforcement agents, civil society, the private sector and international organizations.

There is no single solution or means of putting an end to violence against women, which is the goal to be pursued. However, there are various measures that reflect the diversity of national situations and experiences.

The six priorities listed hereafter do not constitute an exhaustive list of practices recommended for parliaments. They were, however, identified as the principal elements and strategies likely to push back violence against women at an international conference entitled A Parliamentary Response to Violence against Women, held in Geneva in December 2008 under the auspices of the IPU.

Priority 1: Adopt laws that work

To address VAW, parliamentarians must begin by building a legal framework. This is a basic foundation for which they have responsibility.

  • First, many countries have already passed legislation on VAW. Some have one omnibus law whereas others address violence through a variety of laws. In this case, we need to ensure that there is harmonization between the different laws.
  • Second, legislation on VAW needs to include several key elements. It must acknowledge violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination, and that violence may affect different groups of women differently. It should also be comprehensive, including provisions regarding prevention of violence against women, protection and support for the complainant/survivor, and prosecution and punishment of the perpetrator. Ensuring that prevention is covered by law is of paramount importance.
  • Third, legislation should be evidence-based. It must also address national realities and serve the interests of all constituents, including rural women and marginalized women. Women in vulnerable and crisis situations (in situations of conflict, migrant women, trafficked women, victims of the sex trade, etc.) should receive special attention.
  • Fourth, legislation should also provide for implementation mechanisms such as budgetary support, the creation of specific institutional mechanism to monitor implementation and collection of statistical data.
  • Fifth, legislation should be regularly monitored and amended in order to respond to new realities, address gaps or correct inadequacies.
  • Sixth, national legislation must meet the international standards and benchmarks to which countries have committed. Particular attention should be placed on international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the concluding comments of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1820; and regional legal instruments on VAW.
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Priority 2: Make sure laws are implemented

While legislation is necessary, it is not sufficient, as there is often a gap between de jure and de facto equality, between legislation and its effective implementation. Responsibility for bridging this gap lies also with parliamentarians, as they can oversee the implementation of policies and programmes to ensure that they meet the standards and goals that have been set.

  • First, parliamentarians must ensure, through parliament's budgetary powers, that allocated resources match the requirements of legislative priorities and national policies on violence against women. The development of gender-sensitive budgeting can help in that regard. Cost assessments of legislation could also be carried out to identify needs for effective implementation.
  • Second, parliamentarians must have access to comprehensive, sex-disaggregated data and use indicators and targets to assess the impact of laws. They need to build national statistical capacities and should not hesitate to make use of tools and instruments developed by the international community in this field.
  • Third, parliamentarians should use existing parliamentary mechanisms (such as parliamentary committees) or set up new parliamentary bodies specifically mandated to oversee the implementation of VAW legislation. These bodies should benefit from sufficient resources and support, and also have the power to impact on the work of parliament.
  • Fourth, the creation of specific inter-institutional mechanisms should also be promoted. Members of parliament should be included in such bodies with a view to enhancing political follow-up.
  • Fifth, parliamentarians must not hesitate to use all of their powers to monitor the VAW situation in their countries. They must ask the difficult questions and hold governments to account regularly on the implementation. They can also engage with independent bodies such as the audit office or the office of the ombudsman.
  • Sixth, parliamentarians must encourage and support civil society actors to play an active role in putting an end to VAW.
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Priority 3: Educate and sensitize

Effective progress will require a change in mentality and social patterns, a growing awareness of women's rights issues and violence against women. As opinion leaders and policymakers, parliamentarians must take the lead.

  • First, change starts at birth. From a very early age, children - girls and boys - should be educated on human rights and gender equality. Teaching and learning materials that are used in schools must also be reviewed to address stereotypes. Families should be targeted in terms of raising awareness about women's rights and challenging social stereotypes. Parental education on women's rights should also be developed.
  • Second, for laws to be effective and make an impact, they must be known about and understood. Legislative reform must therefore be accompanied by campaigns to raise awareness and educate women about their rights. Boys and men should also be targeted. We should therefore not hesitate to speak up, explain the laws, and challenge the media, civil society associations, the private sector and others to join in public education programmes. Laws must also be easily accessible and translated into local languages.
  • Third, training and education programmes should be designed to target judges and law enforcement agents such as the police. Parliamentarians should ensure that specific programmes are designed to that end and receive sufficient funding.
  • Fourth, sensitization campaigns should be launched to make VAW visible and raise awareness. Parliamentarians should not hesitate to support national campaigns on VAW or even lead some. They should also not hesitate to make use of existing campaigns, such as the White Ribbon campaign or the United Nations Secretary-General's Campaign to End Violence against Women.
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Priority 4: Build partnerships

Progress will only result from the combined efforts of all stakeholders to achieve equality and put an end to VAW. Parliamentarians need to build a united front. It is important to maintain open channels of communication and forge alliances between the various actors, from the local to the international levels.

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Priority 5: Show strong political will

Violence against women is a political issue and needs strong political will to be addressed as a matter of priority.

Priority 6: Establish a sound institutional framework

Effective change requires a strong institutional framework and national bodies that have the power and the capacity to take action.

In summary, parliamentarians need to coordinate efforts and work together - women and men parliamentarians - civil society, central and local government, international and national organizations, and ordinary citizens. “Together” is the key word.