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International Call for Action To Combat Violence Against Women

The United Nations, governments and humanitarian organizations are calling for stepped up action to combat violence against women. To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, activists are demanding that countries enact and enforce legislation against a wide range of abuse from rape to wife battering. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Women's rights campaigners agree there is no region of the world, no country and no culture in which women are free from violence.

They say acts of violence against women are among the most important obstacles to the advancement of women and are a fundamental violation of their basic human rights.

Kareen Jabre, an official at the Inter-Parliamentary Union - an organization of 149 national parliaments, says tradition and culture often act as stumbling blocks to women's rights.

She says these beliefs sometimes appear to condone violence against women. But, she notes violence against women exists everywhere. It is a cross cutting issue.

She said, "Whether it is more visible maybe in Islamic countries because ... you have practices like honor killings and female genital mutilation which is not linked to Muslim countries, but more on the African continent.

"You also have domestic violence which is a major issue and which exists in developed countries. And, this is as great an issue to address as other types of violence because it is a hidden one," she added.

Jabre says the Inter-Parliamentary Union has adopted a resolution calling for governments to pass laws making abuses such as rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and other forms of sexual violence forbidden by law.

She says Parliaments have a lot of tools in their hands, which they can use to further the cause of women's rights.

For instance, she says national parliaments have the power of the purse. They can use their control over budgets to fund policies that combat violence against women.

"One can think of ratification of national instruments, but also that condemn violence against women," she said. "Or reviewing legislation which is contravening to women's rights or which is not promoting equality between men and women, facilitating women's access to education, health and their access to land and property."

A study by the U.N. Development Fund for Women shows progress in terms of legislation for women is being made.

In 2003, it finds only 45 countries had specific legislation against domestic violence. Today, it notes 60 countries have such legislation on the books and 89 states have enacted laws against violence in general.