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UN: More Countries Confronting Violence Against Women

Girls in Afghanistan (file photo) (epa) UNITED NATIONS, November 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Some 89 states -- more than ever -- have to date addressed the issue of domestic violence within a legal framework. Only 45 had done so three years ago.

The funding to fight violence against women within a broad United Nations initiative has increased four times since 2004, to almost $4 million. United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has distributed this money to 28 non-profit organizations in 20 countries that run programs aimed at ending violence against women.

Among the recipients of UNIFEM grants this year are the International Humanitarian Center (Rozrada), and Kyiv School of Equal Opportunities, both from Ukraine.

The Rozrada project will work in one rural area to create a pilot model for upholding the law, including training police, youth and local authorities on the urgent need to stop violence against women, which remains high in some parts of the country.

The Kyiv School project will create national and regional mechanisms to prevent violence against women and support full implementation of the law for prevention of domestic violence.

A History Of Violence

Noleen Heyzer is the executive director of UNIFEM. She said many UNIFEM activities are targeted at countries in Central Asia, where violence against women is fed by tradition and the difficult social conditions following the collapse of the Soviet Union 15 years ago.

"In Kyrgyzstan, in Kazakhstan, in Uzbekistan, in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and so on, this is precisely the issue, especially in the work place because many women are facing sexual harassment in work places, and also within the family because many men are losing their jobs and going into alcoholism,” Heyzer said.

"Ending violence against women is an issue that is very deeply rooted and therefore you have to deal with the structured discrimination in women's lives." Noleen Heyzer, UNIFEM

“And therefore it is something which is on the rise. But we've had campaigns, we have strategies and there is actually a trust fund that focuses mainly on Central Asia."

UNIFEM considers the practice of early marriage -- where girls are forced as minors into sexual relationships, jeopardizing their physical and psychological health -- a violation of women's rights. The practice is widespread in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to a lesser extent in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

According to a UN report this year, an estimated 57 percent of girls in Afghanistan are married before the age of 16. Economic reasons are thought to play a significant role in such arrangements. Due to the common practice of "bride money," the child-wife becomes an asset exchangeable for money or goods.

In Pakistan, a measure was recently passed that weakened Shari'a law on women's rights. Islamic fundamentalists in the country have rejected it but UNIFME’s Heyzer says just its passage through Pakistan's legal system is an important step toward improving women's rights.

"[It is] extremely important that we support the human rights of women because violence against women is a violation of women's human rights,” she said. “And we are very supportive that this issue is not judged in religious courts, but is judged in criminal courts and the civil courts."

Fighting Traditional Practices

Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women; it involves physical and sexual attacks against women at home, within the family, or within an intimate relationship.

Heyzer says UNIFEM, which has offices in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, is developing a comprehensive strategy to fight violence against women in Central Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"It has to be a holistic strategy, it cannot be at a one-off, neither can it be ad-hoc, it has to be at a multiplicity of levels, and it has to take into account the issue of economic security and rights, as well,” she says. “And therefore the need to look at property rights, and inheritance rights, and rights to land, as well as rights to decent employment is extremely important to increase the options of women."

Other prevalent forms of violence against women include violent traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation; dowry murder, when a woman is being killed by her husband because her family is unable to pay the dowry; and “honor killings” of women who have been raped or are suspected of adultery. To fight these brutal practices, Heyzer says, laws, where they exist, should be enforced.

"Even if you have laws, the best laws and policies, the need to enforce them and to monitor them, to have accountability systems, to have the right level of resourcing is so extremely important to make these laws work, especially at a local level,” she says. “But it also shows that ending violence against women is an issue that is very deeply rooted and therefore you have to deal with the structured discrimination in women's lives."

Trafficking in women and girls is another prevalent form of violence against women in Eastern Europe and CIS. Exact data is hard to come by, but estimates vary between 500,000 to 2 million trafficked women each year.

UNIFEM supported the publication of a report on the links between women's lack of economic opportunities and their vulnerability to trafficking in Albania.

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Four-Part Series:

Women & Power In Central Asia (Part 1): The Struggle For Equal Rights

Women & Power In Central Asia (Part 2): Women Increase Presence In Kazakhstan's Business Sector

Women & Power In Central Asia (Part 3): Afghan Women Rise To Top After Taliban Repression

Women & Power in Central Asia (Part 4): Roundtable On The Tajik, Afghan, and Iranian Experiences