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Advocates Call for Protecting Women from Violence - 2002-11-26

Advocates for women's rights are calling on governments to take action to eliminate violence against women, on a day designated by the United Nations to address the problem.

45 nations have enacted laws that try to stop violence against women. Nonetheless, officials at the United Nations Development Fund for Women say that despite recent progress, gender-based violence continues to destroy the lives of women on a daily basis. They attribute much of the brutality to factors including traditional practices, war and other conflict and human trafficking.

The plight of women in Rwanda, who are still suffering from the 1994 genocide campaign led by Hutus against the Tutsi community, is one tragic example. Thousands of Tutsi women were raped and many were left on their own after giving birth to babies resulting from rape. The director of the advocacy group, African Rights Organization, Rakiya Omaar, describes the horrific situation endured today by by rape victims who contracted HIV/AIDS. "Rape victims with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda have received little practical support. Most are simply too ill to provide for themselves and their families," she says. "They lack the money for food, medicine, rent, transport or school fees. Sitting face-to-face with these women, you realize just how badly we have all failed them."

According to a recent study conducted by the United Nations, a woman is battered somewhere in Africa, usually by her intimate partner, every 15-seconds. But at a United Nations symposium commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, speakers from the Middle East, South Asia and South America illustrated that violence against women is a world-wide phenomenon.

They say in India, trafficking of women and girls often goes unpunished. In the Middle East, so-called honor killing of women for allegedly having sex outside of marriage continues. Hebrew University Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian recently conducted a study in the issue among Jordanian and Palestinians society. "Women around the world were chained in cultural, political, patriarchal, sexist power," she says. "Modern social and legal policy tried for the last decade to control and prevent abuses. Our study started three years ago when I challenged the concept of the crime of family honor, because there is no honor and no family left after a person is killed by family members."

Violence against women is not limited to the developing world. The U.N. women's development fund has programs in more than 100 countries. But officials say more financial support is needed if there is to be a major effort halt the violence.