GLOBAL: International Women’s Day - Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS vulnerability
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
DRC: Kavua (name changed) producing soap that she sells with other women in the Mission for Assistance to the Oppressed (MAO), about half of whom lost their husbands to AIDS, the other half to war.
NAIROBI, 8 March (PLUSNEWS) - Major organisations worldwide are using International Women’s Day 2004 to expose the proliferation of sexual violence against women, and the increasing numbers of women infected by HIV/AIDS, both trends directly aggravated by continuing gender inequality.
The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Since then, International Women's Day has assumed a global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. International Women's Day is used as a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of women's rights.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the massive 1995 Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing, which the UN Women's Development Fund, UNIFEM, identifies as the occasion on which the global women’s movement was mobilised by engaging in strategic alliances and garnering collective power. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of women’s networks across the world, but with continuing gender inequality, a critical gap between proclamations and real change remains.
This year, major international organisations and UN agencies all agree that the central and urgent issues facing women are those of sexual violence and HIV/AIDS. The international NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres have issued a briefing paper cataloging the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in numerous countries from Bosnia to Rwanda. MSF say ‘Enough is enough’ and that the culture of impunity around rape and sexual violence must end.
London-based Amnesty International (AI) are using the day to launch a global campaign to Stop Violence Against Women against what they call, ‘this outrageous scandal.’ Irene Khan, Secretary General of AI said in her statement, "From the battlefield to the bedroom, women are at risk. They are the first to feel the lack of poor social services, the first to be denied education and health care. The effects of economic globalization are leaving more and more women trapped in poverty on the margins of society. Poverty leaves women more exposed to violence, less able to escape it. It severely restricts women's ability to organize and fight for change. In this, as in so many other ways, governments are failing to address the real 'terror' of our world that millions of women face every day."
The International Commission of the Red Cross are using the day to launch a new operational manual- Addressing the Needs of Women Affected by Armed Conflict: An ICRC Guidance Document. Their emphasis is that the plight of women can be improved if international humanitarian law is respected. The challenge lies in putting existing law into practice.
Statements from various United Nations agencies today also highlight women’s vulnerability to violence as part of the evident gender inequality, but UNIFEM, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation (WHO) specifically identify the increased risk of women world-wide to HIV/AIDS as a critical concern. According to the WHO statement ‘women now account for almost 50% of HIV/AIDS cases worldwide, a percentage that has grown remorselessly since the beginning of the epidemic 20 years ago’. Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s executive director claims that education and inequality are directly linked, "Girls denied an education are more vulnerable to hunger, violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking. They are more likely to die in childbirth and are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS."
Statistics available today, and reported by all agencies, on sexual abuse, prevalence of women affected by HIV/AIDS, lack of access to education and sexual inequality in the workplace indicate that the gap between aspirations of the 1945 UN Charter and reality remains considerable.
UN Division for the Advancement of Women - International Women's Day
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
www.un.org and www.un.org/womenwatch/
WFP Focus on Women
UNICEF - Facts and Figures on Women and Girls
World Health Organization - Fact Sheet on Gender and Disasters
UNAIDS - World AIDS Campaign 2004 - "Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS"
UNDP Gender Website
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
ICRC - Women and War