Friday, March 13, 2015

How An Internationally Legally Binding Instrument on Violence Against Women Can Make a Difference

Panel Title: Continuing the Global Conversation – Why We Need and Internationally Legally Binding Instrument on Violence Against Women

The question on the floor was raised.. after all this advocacy for women’s rights since the Beijing Conference, have we moved backwards? Violence against women is the most prevalent violation against human rights, yet there has been no stand-alone treaty for women and girls that holds countries accountable for creating and enforcing laws regarding women's rights. There have been conventions, declarations and other movements, however, no country is legally binded to anything. This panel believed in the power of a legally binding instrument, ideally one that would emerge from the global south, in order to proceed forward in improving the conditions of women around the world.

One problem with international legislation that was brought up is the gap between what the policy sets out to do and its actual enforcement. There are also normative gaps; one panel member found herself in one of these normative gaps after she escaped from a forced marriage. After not being able to receive any support upon escaping the marriage, she discovered there are many others out there just like her. These women are overlooked because what is considered a violation of women’s rights depends on the context. This included things like forced marriage and marital rape and forms of domestic violence that are exempt from being punishable by law.  There are research gaps that still need to be filled. This is where The Harvard Kennedy Initiative’s research has come in to try to fill these gaps by conducting research in over 52 countries and at 30 universities around the world. They do their research through advocates, survivors, legal workers and grassroots efforts in order to find out what’s needed on the ground.

An advocate from Scotland noted, the root of the issue is gender inequality, and gender inequality needs to be addressed for proper gender violence prevention. The more opportunities women have to participate in society, the better off we will be as a whole.  While Scotland has a comprehensive system to deal with abuses against women, the way their government and elections are set up make it difficult to introduce new policies to move closer towards gender equality. This globally binding norm gives people the potential to exert pressure on their government to monitor and implement gender focused legislation. In countries where it’s illegal to make gender specific laws, international law ensures it is legal, forcing countries to adopt these conventions. Conversation was held around the Istanbul Convention, and while it has positive and negative aspects, it provides evidence that international laws matter.

Some members of the panel recognized the fact that the UN has yet to create this sort of framework is discouraging, but still necessary and advocate for doing so by “continuing the conversation” as the discussion title suggests. They recognize working from the local level up and the global level down are almost equally important. Since at the local level if its not legally binding internationally it is less powerful. We cannot just export the Istanbul model though; it must come from the voices that are not being heard, from the global south to bring all women on board for an even more powerful movement.

For more information about the research the Harvard Kennedy Schools

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