12:00 AM, December 04, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 04, 2012

We must unite to end violence against women

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Neal Walker

Bangladesh has joined the Global 16 Days Campaign on ending violence against women. The theme of this year's campaign, which runs from November 25 to December 10, is "Safe home, safe society: Stop violence against women now."
Unfortunately, the women of Bangladesh know all too well how unsafe homes can be. In fact, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women and girls. In a recent survey by the National Human Rights Commission, 62% reported beating by husband and family members as the most common form of violence against women. Over 63% of married women responded that violence against wives is acceptable. But only 18% of the victims reported accessing formal justice. Thirty percent did not take any such steps because they saw violence as a family matter.
This must change.
Violence against women is a profound and fundamental violation of human rights that has devastating consequences on the health, well-being and future prospects of women and girls. It has adverse and long-ranging impacts on families, communities and nations. It is an epidemic --- global in its scale and impact. Six of every ten women around the world face violence in their lives. Domestic violence extracts billions of dollars from national economies around the world, in part through greater health burdens on healthcare systems and lower productivity.
Bangladesh has made significant achievements to address violence against women, in particular through advanced legal framework, such as the High Court Guideline to Prevent Sexual Harassment (2009) and the Domestic Violence Act (2010).

But there is much more to be done.
The 16 Days campaign is a global campaign and coincides with the United Nations Secretary General's Campaign to End Violence Against Women, UNiTE. The Campaign brings together governments, civil society, private sector partners and the entire UN family calling for action to jointly end gender-based violence at global, regional and local levels. This means ending all forms of violence against women -- from dowry-related violence, early marriages, rape and sexual harassment to trafficking of women and girls, acid attacks, and fatwa -- all of which are very common in Bangladesh.
The campaign kicked off in Bangladesh on November 23 with a March of Brave Men in front of Dhaka University to convey the message that violence against women cannot be ended unless men and boys come to understand its impact, and explicitly agree to take a stand, in both their personal and professional lives, to stop violence against women. On November 26, for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, the police forces created a "human chain" saying NO to violence and committing to contributing to efforts to end impunity in Bangladesh. And at a gathering in front Bangladesh's national Parliament, the Speaker of the House, joined by other parliamentarians, civil society, UN and partners, made an oath to end violence against women in Bangladesh.
Parliament has a critical role to play. It must not only adopt the legal framework but also ensure to allocate funds for services such as hotlines, counseling and medical treatment. As Bangladesh prepares for elections early next year, the parliament must also take into account the impact of political violence on women and candidates.
The campaign continued in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the post-conflict region of Bangladesh, through a series of awareness raising activities and vibrant rally expressing solidarity on strengthening access to justice for women survivors and ending impunity. Out of 215 violence against women cases filed in three districts of CHT, charge sheets were submitted for 166 cases and court verdicts were declared for nine cases. Although gender based-violence affects women and girls in every country, culture and religion, some groups of women, in particular indigenous, disabled, those from ethnic or religious minorities, are often at risk. Serious concern was expressed about 19 incidents of violence against indigenous women in 2012 in CHT, which included two of the girls being brutally killed and ten raped.
Combating Violence against Women is at the heart of the UN's efforts to assist Bangladesh to achieve the MDGs and promote sustainable human development. The UN family is supporting a series of events and programmes tackling all dimensions of violence against women, including health, HIV/AIDS, access to justice, police reform, children, education and strategies to change harmful social norms.
And finally, let me voice my view that violence against women is, not only, a fundamental and gross violation of human rights. I deeply believe that violence against women in Bangladesh could potentially push back by decades the achievement of Bangladesh's coveted objective of middle income status. Yes, achieving middle income status is an ambitious objective, but it is truly feasible for Bangladesh -- as long as women are economically and socially empowered to contribute with their full potential to this great national objective.
We must unite to take action to end violence against women. Violence against women is neither acceptable nor inevitable. The time to stop it is now.

The writer is United Nation's Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Bangladesh. To join hands with UNiTE, go to www.endviolence.un.org

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