Amnesty Internation reports sexual violence is everyday…
Louise Livesey // 25 May 2007
Amnesty’s recently published report on human rights worldwide has highlighted that sexual violence is common and everyday.
In Africa conflicts in central and east Africa (including Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sudan and Somalia) were countries identified as still engaged in conflict and with human rights abuses mostly affecting the eldery, children and women. The Darfur region was particularly emphasised as an area where the government-armed militia, the Janjawid, used rape as a tool in their ongoing ethnic cleansing.
Women and girls in Africa remained 40 per cent more likely to be infected with the virus than men, and often carried the main burden as carers. Violence against women and girls in some countries also increased their risk of HIV infection.
The situation for women and girls remains grave with violence against women remaining pervasive. Currently only a few countries were debating legislation on domestic violence and sexual offences including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Other items of note include:
- the pervasiveness of gender-based violence, in South Africa and Swaziland in particular, continued to place women and girls at risk of HIV/Aids directly or through obstructing their access to information, prevention and treatment.
- Gender-based violence, as well as stigma and discrimination, also affected access to treatment for those already living with HIV/Aids.
- The practice of female genital mutilation remained widespread in some countries, particularly Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.
- In the DRC, women and girls were raped by government security forces and armed groups and had little or no access to adequate medical treatment.
- In Darfur, rape of women by Janjawid militias continued to be systematic. The number of women attacked and raped while searching for firewood around Kalma Camp near Nyala, South Darfur, increased from about three or four a month to some 200 a month between June and August.
- In Nigeria there were frequent reports of sexual violence, including rape, by state officials. Such abuses were committed with impunity
- In Cte d’Ivoire there were continuing reports of sexual violence against women in the government-controlled areas and the region held by the Forces Nouvelles.
Asia Pacific Region
The Asia-Pacific region is home to six of the 10 most populous states in the world, and alone they account for half the world’s people. Here entrenched practices which curtailed the rights of women remained widespread across the region but were rarely debated in public. These include rape, forced marriage, “honor” crimes and the abuse of women and girls in political and armed conflicts.
- In Papua New Guinea, for example, sexual violence remained an everyday experience for many women, and accusations of sorcery resulted in the killing or abduction of women. Despite this, the authorities did little to stop such crimes.
- In Afghanistan, early and forced marriage and traditional practices such as exchange of girls as a means of dispute settlement remained a continuing threat to the well-being of girls and women.
- LGBT rights activism increased in several countries, including China, India and the Philippines.
- In India, a hundred public figures, including writers, academics and celebrities, signed an open letter calling for the repeal of Article 377 of the Penal Code which criminalizes homosexuality
- in Hong Kong, a young gay activist successfully challenged a law which provides for a higher age of consent for same sex couples than for heterosexual couples;
- in the Philippines, activists lobbied hard for the adoption of a proposed Anti- Discrimination Bill aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBT people.
But there were some positive moves with Pakistan and India amending their violence against women laws. In Pakistan, the crimes of rape and sexual violence were amended to ensure that a complaint of rape can no longer be converted into a charge of adultery or fornication whilst in India, a law on violence against women was finally introduced.
Governments across the Americas failed to uphold laws that criminalize violence against women in the home and the community, and failed to provide support and protection for victims of violence.
Lack of judges and prosecutors specialized in gender-based violence as well as a lack of gender-sensitive police units and adequate and sufficient shelters demonstrated a fundamental lack of political will to end the endemic violence against women.
- The pattern of killings of women continued in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, among other countries.
- The Constitutional Court in Ecuador ruled that emergency contraception should not be available to women.
- In Nicaragua authorities repealed the law that had allowed abortion in certain cases of rape.
- Violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples, including violence against women and girls, were reported throughout the region with the continuation of entrenched racism and discriminatory treatment. This led to many Indigenous communities being driven into extreme poverty and ill-health.
- Failure to tackle high levels of sexual violence reflect social and cultural attitudes that trivialize the crimes and entrench discrimination against women. Jamaican law continues to leave women without the protection of the law in cases of marital rape, incest or sexual harassment, and in court, women’s testimony is explicitly given less weight than that of men (“Just a little sex”(AI Index: AMR 38/002/2006)).
On the positive side:
- In Chile the authorities successfully petitioned in the courts to allow the distribution without parental consent of the “morning-after pill” to girls over the age of 14.
- In Peru, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the “morning-after pill” should be available to every woman.
- In Colombia, abortion was decriminalized in cases of rape in certain situations.
- Mexico City passed a landmark ruling recognizing same-sex unions.
- The Congress in Colombia discussed a bill that if approved would give same-sex couples the same social security rights as those enjoyed by couples of the opposite sex.
Europe and Central Asia
Violence in the home against women and girls remained pervasive across the region for all ages and social groups. It was manifested through a range of verbal and psychological abuse, physical and sexual violence, economic control and killings.
Women still did not report abuse as a matter of couse, deterred among other things by fear of reprisals from abusive partners; fear of prosecution for other offences; self-blame; fear of bringing “shame” on their family; financial insecurity; lack of shelters or other effective measures such as restraining orders to ensure protection for them and their children; and the widespread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators.
Failure to bridge that confidence gap in reporting not only hampered justice in individual cases but also impeded efforts to tackle such abuses across society by hiding the full extent and nature of the problem.
Often the news from this region was mixed:
Middle East and North Africa
Women remained in a subordinate position – legally, politically and in practice – across the region as a deep-seated culture of gender discrimination continued to hold sway.
Positive news includes:
- Kuwaiti women participated for the first time in national elections.
- In Bahrain 18 women candidates stood in elections for the House of Representatives, although only one was successful.
- The Moroccan government announced that it would withdraw its reservations to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and took steps to strengthen legislation on domestic violence
- Oman acceded to CEDAW.
- In Saudi Arabia, there was some movement towards establishing a specialized court to deal with cases of domestic violence, but women continued to face pervasive forms of discrimination, including severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.
- “Honour killings” persisted in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Syria and other states in which the perpetrators benefited from laws that belittled their crimes.
- Throughout the region women were inadequately protected against other violence within the family.
- There were also worrying reports of trafficking of women in Oman, Qatar and other states.
- In Iran, the all-male Council of Guardians ruled ineligible at least 12 women who wished to stand as candidates in elections for the important Assembly of Experts. Demonstrators who called for an end to legal discrimination against women were violently dispersed by the security forces.
- Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other grounds was prevalent in a number of countries in the region.