Women on the street against violence and murders

World’s women lack control over resources, access to services, a voice in decision-making and protection from violence. That’s the finding of a new report by UN Women. “Progress of the World’s Women: in pursuit of Justice” is the first major report of the group charged with working on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The review also shows that there are many ways women who can be active agents of change in improving gender equality, they can be on the frontline of the delivery of justice by being police officers, lawyers and politicians.

The 2011 “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice” report is a global survey of women’s access to justice – looking both at legislation passed by governments and the steps taken (or not taken) to implement those laws. The “paradox” confronted by the report is that despite the recent and rapid expansion of women’s legal entitlements, what is written in the statute books does not always translate into real progress on equality and justice on the ground.

The report looks at which countries have passed special legislation on women’s political rights and economic opportunities and on women’s reproductive health and rights. It looks at which countries have laws against domestic violence, sexual harassment and marital rape. It catalogues data on development indicators related to women, and looks country-by-country at women’s participation in politics.

WOMEN: A LONG MARCH TO FREEDOM

In 1911, women were allowed to vote in just two countries of the world. Today, a century later, that right is virtually universal. During this time, women have continuously expanded their political rights so that, at the time of writing, 28 countries have reached or exceeded the 30 percent critical mass mark for women in parliament and 19 women are currently serving as elected Heads of State or Government. Alongside women’s greater political influence, there has been a growing recognition of women’s rights, not only political and civil, but also economic, social and cultural. To date, 186 Member States worldwide have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which entered into force in 1981, signalling their commitment to fulfilling the human rights of women and girls and breaking down the barriers to achieving gender equality and justice.

The UN Women Report underlines that “greater economic empowerment for women has been achieved through progressive legislation that has prohibited discriminatory practices, guaranteed equal pay, provided for maternity and paternity leave, and put in place protection against sexual harassment in the workplace”. Governments have turned their back on the idea that violence against women is a private affair, with laws in every region now outlawing this scourge in its many manifestations. Legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sex with respect to inheritance and citizenship, laws that guarantee equality within the family and policies to ensure that women and girls can access services including health and education have also contributed to significant advances in women’s standard of living.

And yet. And yet, while examples of countries making immense strides in promoting gender equality abound, in many more, women continue to be deprived of economic resources and access to public services. All too often, women are denied control over their bodies, denied a voice in decision-making, and denied protection from violence.

FRIGHTENING VIOLENCE

The figures are frightening: some 600 million women, more than half the world’s working women, are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation. In the developing world, more than one third of women are married before the age of 18, missing out on education and exposed to the risks of early pregnancy. Despite major progress on legal frameworks at national, regional and international levels, millions of women report experiencing violence in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of an intimate partner. Meanwhile, the systematic targeting of women for brutal sexual violence is a hallmark of modern conflicts.

Pervasive discrimination against women creates major hurdles to achieving rights and hinders progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals – the benchmarks that the international community has set to eradicate extreme poverty – from improving maternal health, to achieving universal education and halting the spread of HIV and AIDS.

THE UN WOMEN REPORT

This volume of Progress of the World’s Women starts with a paradox: the past century has seen a transformation in women’s legal rights, with countries in every region expanding the scope of women’s legal entitlements. Nevertheless, for most of the world’s women the laws that exist on paper do not always translate into equality and justice. In many contexts, in rich and poor countries alike, the infrastructure of justice – the police, the courts and the judiciary – is failing women, which manifests itself in poor services and hostile attitudes from the very people whose duty it is to fulfil women’s rights. As a result, although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the constitutions of 139 countries and territories, inadequate laws and loopholes in legislative frameworks, poor enforcement and vast implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women.

VIOLENCE IN TURKEY

Unfortunately Turkey tops Europe and the US in the number of acts of violence against women, according to the UN Women Report.

Thirty-nine percent of women in Turkey have suffered from physical violence at some time, as stated in the report. In comparison, this figure is 22 percent in the US and between 3 to 35 percent in 20 European countries. Turkey struggles more than the US and many EU countries with violence against women; in fact, the only countries that exceed Turkey in the report are those of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

In 2010, 10 percent of women in Turkey reported being subject to some form of physical violence. While Turkey continued to lag behind the US and the EU, it did fare better than some countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the prevalence of physical violence.

In Turkey, 15 percent of women reported having been victims of sexual violence. The only countries where there were higher rates of the sexual abuse of women were Kiribati and Sub-Saharan Africa. Georgia proved to be a safe haven for women with only 2 percent reporting to ever having experienced sexual violence.

When it comes to accepting violence against women, the report finds that in 17 out of 41 countries, 25 percent or more of people believe it is justifiable for a man to hit his wife. Slightly fewer Turks (22 percent) would agree with this statement, while more people in Germany (28 percent) and China (23 percent) share this perception of domestic abuse. In the US, however, 16 percent of people and an average of 18 percent in European countries agreed that it is sometimes acceptable for a man to beat his wife.

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