February 28, 2013

New York–On the heels of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in the United States today, women’s groups worldwide are calling on government leaders at the United Nations to commit to preventing sexual violence and providing rape survivors with safe abortion and emergency contraception.

“Violence against women and girls is a deadly epidemic that continues to be fueled by gender inequality in every part of the world,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “There is no magic cure for ending violence against women. We need a holistic approach that includes promoting gender equality and providing survivors of rape with emergency contraception and safe abortion.”

The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will meet at the UN Headquarters in New York from March 4 to 15 to agree on measures to eliminate and prevent violence against women and girls. Despite the fact that 187 countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), violence against women and girls remains an urgent problem in all countries. Hundreds of women’s rights activists will be at the UN next week to pressure their governments to commit to progressive policies for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In particular, activists say that a comprehensive response to sexual violence requires a commitment to sexual and reproductive health services. In most settings, women and girls who have been raped or subjected to incest currently have limited access to emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies or post-exposure treatments to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. While a majority of countries allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest, in reality many rape survivors face legal and bureaucratic hurdles that prevent them from exercising their rights.

“Too often women who have been raped are further victimized by legal systems that do not provide them with the essential services they need to survive,” said Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition. “Government leaders can’t say they are serious about women’s rights and then tell a 13-year-old rape survivor that she has to live with the consequences of that act for the rest of her life.”

Women’s groups are also calling on governments to commit to providing adolescents with comprehensive sexuality education that addresses harmful gender norms.

“Girls and women are more likely to be victims of violence in societies where masculinity is linked to dominance, and where women have few economic and political opportunities,” said Girard. “How can we be surprised that violence against women exists when we’re still teaching our boys that their lives are more valuable than girls’ lives?”