The nightmare of violence against women, seen up close | Neus Bernabeu

28 May 2014

Nothing is more powereful to raise awareness abour violence against women than experiencing this nightmare first-hand. We always think such things only happen to others, but current data shows that violence against women is horridly common, albeit in different forms and degrees of cruelty.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one in every four women in the region experiences some form of violence from her partner. This is also the leading cause of death worldwide for women aged 15 to 49 -- killing more women than cancer, malaria, traffic and war-related incidents.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, known as “Convention of Belem do Pará.” How much have we advanced in the past two decades?

Less than one third of countries in the region (28 percent) have a specific national plan to respond to this issue, and most (78 percent) approach it tangentially in other plans or national security policies. This is corroborated by our UNDP analysis  carried out in 32 countries in the region, which led to the study States' Commitment: plans and policies to eradicate violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The result of the study shows there is no clear response by the states to violence against women. This study identifies eight critical issues that hinder better results in public action, such as the fragmentation of the institutional response, weak coordination and technical skills, and lack of coherence between legal instruments and policies. Due to the magnitude of the problem, states must improve their institutional approach, boosting responses that are more  comprehensive, with more dedicated resources.

The issue of information, or rather "disinformation", also needs special attention. We still use general or old data and outlooks that indicate troubling scenarios, but we do not have good, continuous and comparable data that cover different aspects of the issue. Only 62.5 percent of the countries in the region have generated information systems to measure violence against women. This is unheard of, because we know that “if it cannot be measured, it does not exist." This is a way to keep ignoring violence against women.

Today, more than ever, the issue is present on the public agenda -- but that does not mean this is sufficient or that it is included in the best way. There has also been progress in creating a more favourable legal and institutional framework, although there are still problems in its implementation. Indeed, 11 countries in the region have adopted laws that go beyond domestic or family violence. In addition, there is increasing social stigma against these situations, yet many people still approach the issue as a natural and private matter.

The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Belem do Pará Convention, the defining of the new Post-2015 Development Agenda, and the Beijing +20 review all provide an opportunity to give this issue the needed attention. Ending violence against women needs to be placed at the centre of the agenda, thus realizing the commitments in action and resources, and ending this cruel violation of human rights.

Original article published in Spanish by UNDP's Revista Humanum

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