Alex Duval Smith, The Independent
London, United Kingdom; Mar 06, 2004
LONDON - VIOLENCE AGAINST girls and women should be added to
the list of evils -guns, terrorism, discrimination and torture - that
curtail freedom across the world, Amnesty International suggested yesterday.
Launching one of its most ambitious campaigns, the human rights group said
one in three women in the world has been beaten or coerced into sex in her
lifetime and that, in Britain, one in four women experiences violence at the
hands of her male partner.
Three days before International Women's Day, the organisation, which is
based in Britain, has drawn together all forms of abuse for the first time -
from the British woman beaten by her partner to the Sierra Leonean child
abducted by rebels to become a sex slave.
Speaking in London, Amnesty International's secretary general, Irene Khan,
said: "Violence against women is a human rights atrocity. From the
battlefield to the bedroom, women are at risk. Governments are failing to
address the real `terror' of our world that millions of women face every
day.'' She said violence against women was a "cancer" eating away at the
core of every society. But Amnesty's 122-page report, It's In Our Hands -
stop violence against women, says domestic violence in Europe claims more
lives and causes more ill-health than cigarettes or road accidents.
The report says 70 per cent of the world's female murder victims are killed
by their partners and two million girls under 15 are introduced into the sex
market every year. Amnesty says domestic violence, rape as a strategy of
war, female genital mutilation, dowry killings, "honour crimes" and
infanticide continue to exist on a huge scale, and in all cases governments
and justice systems trivialise their importance and impact.
Ms Khan said Amnesty would begin its work among its own 1.5 million
supporters. Footnotes in the report suggest the organisation has decided to
canvass the views of its members with a view to adopting a policy on the
circumstances in which it should consider abortion to be acceptable.
The report describes a wide range of sexual abuses such as the experience of
a Zimbabwean lesbian whose family allegedly locked her in a room and brought
an older man to her every day to "correct" her sexual orientation. "They did
this to me every day until I was pregnant so I would be forced to marry
him," said the woman.
Amnesty criticises a US policy, in force since 2001, which restricts aid to
countries with family planning programmes and legalised abortion. In at
least four countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Romania - the policy has
reportedly led to healthcare cuts and has restricted efforts to inform
people about HIV.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says hundreds of thousands of
women were systematically raped during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and many
contracted HIV. In many countries where rape is or has been used as a weapon
of war - in Africa, Afghanistan or Bosnia-Herzegovina - girls who have been
raped are shunned by their families and condemned to poverty because they
are deemed unworthy of marriage.
When wars are over, violence continues; a US army study shows the incidence
of "severe aggression" against spouses is three times as high in army
families as in civilian ones.
In South Africa, which has high rates of HIV and where many girls' first
experience of sex is by force, 54,000 cases of rape and attempted rape were
reported in 2002. The scale of the problem becomes clearer when you consider
that in a country like Britain - where talking about rape is less of a
stigma than in most African cultures - it is estimated that only one in five
cases is reported.
Amnesty is critical of aid workers - including United Nations workers who
abuse their authority in refugee camps - and says the human rights movement
itself, including Amnesty, has been "slow to come to the defence of women
[because] it has taken a long time to overcome the false division between
violations in the public and private sphere".
The report describes UN peace-keepers in Kosovo who frequent prostitutes,
and criticises disarmament and demobilisation programmes for failing to
address the damage suffered by girls and women.
Amnesty says women made great progress in the fight for equality and freedom
from violence in the 1970s but that, since 1980, "cultural, religious and
ethnic movements in many parts of the world have made organised efforts to
reverse this progress and to reassert apparently traditional roles". On 11
March 2002, 15 girls in Mecca were burnt to death at their school after
religious police prevented them from leaving a burning building because they
were not wearing headscarves.
Despite recording a regression in sex equality, the human rights group
praises several initiatives around the world that have put women at the
centre of efforts to improve societies. Amnesty quotes an initiative in Sri
Lanka in which a female sub-committee was created early last year to ensure
gender issues were not ignored in the country's peace talks. In Cambodia and
India women have created local mediation bodies that help settle domestic
disputes. In Brazil, special "women's desks" have been set up in police
The African Union adopted a treaty on the human rights of women last year
and the international war crimes courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
have convicted perpetrators of rape and those who forced women into sexual
slavery. Several countries, including Canada and the US, have granted asylum
to women who had been sexually harassed or discriminated against.
Celebrities have also joined the battle by speaking out. Charlize Theron,
who won the best actress Oscar last Sunday for her role in Monster, grew up
in rural South Africa watching her alcoholic father beat her mother. In 1991
Charlize's mother, Gerda, killed her father, Charles, with a shotgun. A
court found that Mrs Theron had acted in self-defence. In 2001, when
Theron's Hollywood career was beginning to take off, she told her story in a
three-minute television clip which she offered to South African television
for broadcast, and in which she urged women to come forward and report
crimes of assault and rape.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
A woman is raped every 90 seconds; four women die each day as a result of
violence in the family
Only 3 per cent of raped women report the attack
Around Juarez at least 370 women have been murdered in the past 10 years
14,000 domestic violence deaths per year
Two women are killed a week in family violence; a call to emergency services
every minute. 14,000 recorded rapes in 2003 (8 per cent up)
97 per cent of married women aged 15 to 49 had female genital mutilation
Approximately 15,000 dowry deaths a year
At least a thousand women a year die in "honour" killings
Ratio of newborn girls to boys 100:119; biological norm is 100:103
More than half of all women suffered sexual violence during the 1999
Source: Amnesty International
Amnesty International: http://web.amnesty.org/actforwomen/index-eng