25 November 2018, GENEVA – On the occasion of the observance of the 2018 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue reiterates the urgent need to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, as a sine qua non condition for the achievement of gender equality worldwide.
Echoing UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who deplored violence against women and girls as “a mark of shame on all our societies”, the Geneva Centre notes that it is estimated that a third of women worldwide have experienced either sexual or physical violence, including domestic violence, in their lifetimes. Phenomena such as femicide, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, cyber-violence against women, early and forced marriage, sexual harassment and intimidation are on the rise and undermine the halted progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women globally.
In relation to the situation in the Arab region, the Geneva Centre recalls that discriminatory laws providing impunity to perpetrators of violence against women and girls must be repealed. The Centre commends the recent efforts of Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia to repeal discriminatory laws against women and girls. They stand out as shining examples of how to address the prevalence of gender-based violence through legislation and practical measures that protect victims’ rights. Loopholes in national legislation should not allow that wrongdoers escape the long arm of justice.
The Geneva Centre also notes that the unprecedented rise of extremist violence and armed conflict in the Arab region has likewise contributed to worsening the status of Arab women. The effects of armed conflict and insecurity have disproportionately affected women and girls. Conflict situations and humanitarian crises constitute fertile grounds for the perpetration of grave forms of violence against women, aimed at tearing apart the social fabric and thus further destabilizing societies undergoing conflict. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are used by some belligerents in Syria and in Iraq as weapons of war. Victims of these forms of sexual abuses face long-term psychological and social effects, as well as exclusion from society due to persisting stigma.
Furthermore, Resolution 1820 of the UN Security Council of 19 June 2008 prohibits and condemns all forms of sexual violence and rape targeting women and girls, which can amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or may be acts constitutive of genocide.
The Geneva Centre underscores the nexus between violence against women and the pervasiveness of gender inequality in leadership positions. Violence against women under its multiple forms, including sexual harassment, is frequently used as a means of intimidation and exclusion of women from the political arena, and from the private sector. A 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentarian Union revealed that a staggering 82% of the interviewed women parliamentarians had experienced psychological violence, whilst 44% had received death, rape or abduction threats.
The use of violence with the aim of excluding women from societies and of undermining their civil and political rights becomes even more evident during election times. Women experience more than twice as much electoral violence than men, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. In this regard, The Geneva Centre calls for the full political inclusion of women worldwide and in the Arab region in particular, and for the adoption of targeted measures to remedy any deliberate attempts to exclude women from leadership positions through the use of violence and intimidation.
In order to improve the status of women in the Arab region, the Geneva Centre appeals to Arab governments to address all challenges impeding the full realization of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this connection, he noted that Arab countries must uphold the positive momentum witnessed in the region with regard to the status of women.
The advancement of women’s rights and the enhancement of gender equality constitute the pillars of an inclusive and harmonious society. Decision-makers must remain committed to taking concrete measures for the elimination of gender discrimination and violence, as well as for lifting the barriers that hinder the empowerment of women.
The Geneva Centre will shortly issue a new publication dedicated to the progress and the persisting challenges with regard to women’s rights in the Arab region. Under the title “Women’s rights in the Arab region: between myth and reality”, the upcoming publication will include a comprehensive account of the panel discussion organized in 2017 on this theme, featuring a compelling statement from Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, as well as an in-depth study of the situation of gender equality in the Arab region and worldwide by Ambassador Naela Gabr, member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Geneva Centre remains committed through its initiatives to giving prominence to women’s rights and gender equality worldwide, in all spheres of the society.
 According to data provided by UN Women.
 International Foundation for Electoral Systems: Breaking the Mold: Understanding Gender and Electoral Violence, by Gabrielle Bardall, December 2011.