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Combating violence against women

Published on March 12, 2014
Speech by Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights, Government Spokesperson

New York, March 10, 2014

I’m very honoured that this afternoon – together with Argentina, the Council of Europe and the Organization of American States – we can speak with one voice so that, at this 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, we can reaffirm our shared commitment, in a national, regional and multilateral framework, to combating violence against women – all violence against women.

Women have the right to be free of all violence, in both the public and the private spheres. This is stated in the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, also known as the Belém do Pará Convention. This convention recognizes women’s unconditional right to be protected from all forms of violence.

Until the Istanbul Convention was adopted, the Inter-American Convention was the only international agreement banning violence against women. It was followed by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW]. The CEDAW of 1979 is an important text and a benchmark, but at the same time it doesn’t refer explicitly to violence, even though, thanks to the work of its committee, and particularly its General Recommendation No.19 of 1992, it has been understood that violence against women falls within the sphere of discrimination against women. I want to pay tribute here to the work of the committee, in particular its Chairperson, Nicole Ameline, for thus furthering our understanding of this subject.

With 33 states parties, the Belém do Pará Convention is the most widely ratified text in the inter-American system for protecting human rights. This shows the importance of this commitment to women’s rights by the countries of the Organization of American States, and it also shows how pioneering they are on combating violence against women, which is always at the root of inequalities between the sexes.

I want to say here that, at European level too, the fight against violence is central to our concerns. Proof of it is the work done at the Council of Europe, which led to the adoption of the Istanbul Convention. This too is an extremely important text, signed in 2011, directly inspired by the Belém do Pará Convention and, in a sense, the first text specifically protecting women’s rights at European level, and the first instrument with universal jurisdiction dealing specifically with violence against women in all its dimensions, in the obvious understanding that violence is a continuum.

It is a very powerful lever which is capable of giving a decisive boost to national legislation and has also spurred many signatory states to review their national legislation to better protect women.

It’s very important for the convention to come into force quickly. Two ratifications are still necessary for it to come into force. France is in the process of ratifying it. We ensured that the National Assembly could ratify it on 15 May 2013, and the Senate will do so soon. I hope we will have been able to ratify the text by May. We wanted to do so quickly, not only to send a signal to all the other European signatory states and urge them in turn to ratify swiftly but also because, in the French context, we’ve sought to make progress in recent months on the issue of violence against women by adopting, in particular, a plan for the coming three years. In this plan we state that no reported violence should fail to be addressed any more. We know the situation with violence against women. Taboos and the difficulty of reporting it mustn’t be accompanied by a second difficulty, namely that even when it’s reported the authorities don’t always handle it with the necessary seriousness.

So we’ve adopted this plan, which provides for trained staff to be on call at the end of a phone at every stage, at police stations and gendarmeries, to answer as best they can and support victims.

The plan also provides for a 25% increase in the number of shelters currently available in our country. We know – and this is the case in many countries – that the figure is far from satisfactory, given the needs. At the same time, the plan envisages incorporating into law the principle of the violent spouse being evicted from the home. We can’t spend our time chasing after shelters without also remembering a basic principle: the victims of violence mustn’t face a double sentence – on the contrary, it’s those who strike the blows who must leave.

The plan also ensures that women victims of violence – violence whose perpetrators, as we know, are often liable to reoffend – are given means of genuine protection. We’re deploying téléphones mobiles grand danger [emergency mobile phones], which enable victims, at the press of a button, to have police arrive within 10 minutes when they feel threatened again by perpetrators.

Finally, we’re ensuring that all professionals who happen to meet or cross the paths of women victims of violence are as well trained as possible to identity the violence, talk, get victims to talk freely, and help as best they can. Not all these professionals are from the police: they’re also doctors, teachers, social workers etc. – everyone who, by asking women victims the right questions, will enable them to confide as early as possible.

That’s what we’re doing. This whole plan wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t accompanied – and it’s a major policy we’re implementing in France – by education from a very early age about equality between the sexes, violence prevention and education about respect between the sexes.

These are the broad lines of the policy we’re implementing to take up the challenge which brings us together today: to prevent and combat violence against women and girls.

Beyond what we’re doing in our country, through our international support we’re also seeking to protect women who are victims of sexual violence in conflict areas. We are aware of the heightened danger of this type of situation for women. I want to pay particular tribute, since we had a meeting with him in France, to the Libyan Justice Minister, who has just passed legislation to acknowledge at last the mass rape committed in his country during the war, and which provides for compensation rights for victims and rights to access public services, and the conviction of the rapists. We had a meeting with him in Paris in February. The action he decided to take is far from straightforward in his country. Yet it is exemplary, and we have to be able to support him at international level.

France is going to continue ensuring its support for all women who, in a number of today’s crisis countries, are suffering the same sexual violence. It does so, for example, when it presses for Security Council resolutions – Women, Peace and Security – to be implemented; it does so when it ensures that peacekeeping operations include a dimension on sexual violence; it does so, too, by stepping up the role of the International Criminal Court, because nothing works if things end in impunity. So the International Criminal Court has its full role to play on the issue of sexual violence.

I very much hope that the Organization of American States and the Council of Europe can continue to cooperate together on promoting women’s rights. I think this meeting is the first of its kind and offers us the opportunity to share our experiences and ensure that these two invaluable texts receive the widest possible ratification.

Thank you./.

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