Friday 6 March 2009, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji Islands
Comprehensive, integrated law reform is needed to provide adequate legal protection from violence for all women and effective redress for the survivors of violence.
Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Thursday, human rights lawyer and activist Imrana Jalal said that amending bits and pieces of criminal and evidence codes is not enough.
'That is like putting a small band-aid plaster on a deeply flowing wound. Such a response cannot possibly stop the bleeding.'
Jalal, the chair of the UN Expert Group on Best Practices on Violence against Women Legislation and internationally recognised as an expert in the field, was one of four members of the High Level Panel at the 53rd UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW meeting is commemorating International Women's Day on 8 March.
Jalal drew attention to the range of examples of positive legislative changes around the world in areas of criminal justice, family law, civil law, health and education.
'The law can be a powerful and potent force for positive change, even as we accept that it has in the past, and continues to be in many cases, an instrument of oppression. In the right hands the law can be a tool of change for the better.'
However, Jalal pointed out, many obstacles remain: lawmakers who refuse to acknowledge that violence against women is a serious problem, those who believe that it is a private matter or that the culture sanctions it, recalcitrant judges and police officers who resolutely hang on to the old ways, and a lack of resources to implement laws where they have been reformed. She added that changing laws should not be an end in itself.
'Formal legislative equality by itself has limited value unless it translates into substantive equality for women. However, it is an important necessary first step.'
Jalal explained that a combination of strategies is needed to deal with violence against women.
These include mobilising, funding and resourcing the women's movement at national and regional levels; providing mass education at all levels; informing, lobbying and campaigning among all stakeholders about existing law and the need for legal reform; altering the substance of discriminatory legislation by working with members of legislatures; and training judicial officials, lawyers and court officers on the new laws and in gender equality principles which affect the functioning of law.
Earlier in the same session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had urged all states to review applicable laws, and to revise them or enact new ones to ensure that violence against women is always criminalised.
Delivering the keynote address, the Secretary General said,
'There is no blanket approach to fighting violence against women. What works in one country may not lead to desired results in another. Each nation must devise its own strategy. But there is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.'
He also called on the private sector, women's groups, and men around the world, to make clear that violence against women is an act perpetrated by a coward, and that speaking up against it is a badge of honour.
For more information, please contact Filipo Masaurua or Peter Creighton, RRRT/SPC at (679) 3305 582 or email: [email protected] or [email protected] The full text of this speech can be found at www.rrrt.org.
Background: The Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), which is a programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, works with partners in nine focus countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Vanuatu) to offer training and expert advice on the development of human rights advocacy, lobbying, mobilisation strategies and the drafting of national human rights legislation. The team provides human rights training, technical support, and policy and advocacy services tailored specifically for the Pacific region. Its mission is to seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights.