[Statement read by Alison Aggarwal, Principal Adviser, Sex Discrimination Team, Australian Human Rights Commission]
Thinking Big: A Convention on Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls
AWAVA Parallel Event
Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session
10th Floor, Church Centre.
12.30pm, Friday 8 March
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Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you to AWAVA, a national alliance that is leading the work on addressing violence against women in Australia - for convening this challenging and thought provoking panel at this year’s CSW.
While we have a Declaration on the elimination of violence against women, the CEDAW Committee’s authoritative General Recommendation 19 on violence against women, and some strong regional Conventions on violence against women, most notably the European and Inter-American Conventions – it is curious that there is no international Convention on eliminating violence against women and girls.
In 2012, When Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women stated, ‘[i]t is time to adopt a comprehensive international convention on violence against women at the UN level’ – it brought to the forefront a debate on the need for a specific legally binding instrument on violence against women.
So I am very pleased that the Special Rapporteur could be with us here today as we continue the discussion she started last year.
In light of this debate I thought it might be useful to go through what I consider are some of the pros and cons of having a specific convention on the elimination of violence against women.
The first reason for calling for a convention, would be that despite violence against women and girls being one of the most heinous of human rights violations, it is not explicitly identified as a human rights violation in the CEDAW Convention. We have started seeing it being referred to in some of the subsequent conventions, namely the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and it was referred to in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.
Yet there remains a gap.
This gap means that there is lack of recognition of the various dimensions of the right to live free from violence, encapsulated in a binding agreement.
It means there is a lack of a binding framework of accountability for states to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
So if we were to fill this gap with a Convention, what would be some of the advantages of having a convention?
Visibility is one. Arguably, without a convention that specifically identifies and protects women and girls from violence, these issues risk falling between the cracks of mainstream human rights instruments. For example, it is only relatively recently that different human rights bodies are increasingly considering violence against women within their mandates.
Having the human rights standard of elimination of violence against women scattered throughout various international and regional conventions can make it more difficult to seek accountability.
This is of particular concern when you consider the tendency of governments to track their progress against their express international obligations, such as those contained in international instruments and conventions that they have specifically signed and ratified.
Looking at it from the State’s perspective, there can be advantages for governments in having a convention. For a government, a convention can be used, not only to identify and frame these human rights, but also to articulate programs that it should put in place in order to ensure these rights are adequately protected.
By entering into a convention, a country and its government agree to be bound by the terms of the Convention. Thus, countries that ratify the convention would be legally obliged to put in place legal protections from violence and ensure access to redress.
A convention can improve reporting and provide a mechanism that would make governments more accountable for their actions to end violence against women.
A convention also specifies a measure or a ‘minimum standard’ below which the government should not fall. This is particularly important for ensuring violence against women and children does not continue to occur with impunity.
This need for norm setting is what also informed calls made earlier this week for a specific ILO standard on gender-based violence in the workplace.
Additionally, a convention might assist in the much bigger challenge of preventing violence. Its role here lies in its usefulness in promoting positive attitudinal change throughout communities. For example, the very process of creating a convention could have the effect of increasing the visibility of the issues and provide a useful focal point for co-ordinated domestic and global advocacy, as well as for public awareness and education campaigns.
But of course not everyone thinks a specific convention on violence against women is a good idea. There are some valid arguments against creating a new convention that I would like to explore with you.
- - ‘convention fatigue’ – that is, that the world has a sufficient number of human rights conventions; Governments are already having to report regularly against at least half a dozen treaties, in addition to reporting against the Universal Periodic Review and other processes.
- - Secondly, some are concerned that having a further convention would risk increased fragmentation of the issues, and argue that the CEDAW Convention provides sufficient coverage for the issue of violence against women.
- - A related argument is that the implementation of a convention and establishment of committees and monitoring bodies would be expensive.
- - A further argument is the importance of focusing energies and resources on protecting human rights at the domestic level, rather than engaging in the development of international conventions that if not implemented properly, retain merely a symbolic value.
- - Fourthly, it is well known that negotiating a new convention can take many, many years. In the process of negotiations it will be necessary to sustain a strong advocacy by women’s groups to ensure that the standards identified in the convention are rigorous.
Violence against women remains as prevalent as it was twenty years ago, when at the UN Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, women from around the world advocated for violence against women to be addressed as a human rights issue.
It was my intent today – by providing a brief outline of some of the pros and cons of creating a convention on the elimination of violence against women – to provide a basis for furthering the discussions and surfacing the arguments underlying the debate.
Because at the very least, twenty years on from the Declaration on violence against women, there should be debate and discussion of when should we move beyond a Declaration to a Convention; and such a discussion needs to be broad and widespread, and engage women’s organisations, States and UN agencies. I look forward to such a discussion.
Thank you very much.
Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, ‘Convention of Belem Do Para’ (1994); Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, CETS No 210 (2011).
 UN Women, ‘Needed: specific international legally binding instrument on violence against women’, 1 November 2012. At http://www.unwomen.org/2012/11/needed-specific-international-legally-binding-instrument-on-violence-against-women/ (viewed 8 April 2013).
 Article 16.
 Article 22(2).
 ‘Impact of domestic violence in the workplace’, Joint Government of Australia/ILO side event at the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.