To eliminate violence against women
by Eileen Skinnider
The pervasiveness of violence against women in all countries has become an issue of global concern. Violence against women cuts across lines of income, class and culture, in both public and private life. It is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, and one of the ways in which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. The 1997 UNICEF Progress of Nations Report describes violence against women as the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today. Roughly 60 million women who should be alive today are “missing” because of gender discrimination.
Since the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), the proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), there exists a clear agenda at the international level for action to eliminate violence against women. This agenda involves a number of crucial steps to be taken in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice. Over several years, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice developed and adopted the Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice which was approved by the General Assembly last December.
The Model Strategies recognises the multifaceted nature of violence against women and adopts a multidisciplinary approach to combat this problem. It is a plan of action describing practical measures and strategies designed to ensure an appropriate “fair treatment” response on the part of the criminal justice system to all forms of violence against women. The strategies cover all components of the criminal justice system, including criminal law, criminal procedure, police, sentencing and corrections and crime prevention measures. There are also a number of strategies concerning victim support and assistance, health and social services, training, and research and evaluation.
The Model Strategies was adopted by consensus, reflecting the collective will of the international community to take action to eliminate violence against women. While abuses and injustices will not be corrected by reforming the criminal justice system alone, it is clear that many crime prevention and criminal justice practices are themselves contributing to the problem and must be changed.
Criminal justice systems can be mobilised to become more effective tools in denouncing, preventing and responding to incidents of violence against women. States are called upon to review and evaluate criminal law and practice to determine if they have a negative impact on women, and if so, to modify them to ensure that women are treated fairly by the criminal justice system. They are to develop and promote crime prevention strategies that reflect the realities of women’s lives and address their distinct needs.
The International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, as an affiliated institute of the United Nations, has received funding from the Canadian government to develop a draft Resource Manual and Compendium of best and promising practices based on the Model Strategies. These tools will contain examples of means and measures taken by various States on how the Model Strategies is being implemented at the national level. It is anticipated that the Resource Manual and Compendium will be available for consideration at the eighth session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in April 1999.
If you would like to receive a copy of the Model Strategies please contact: Eileen Skinnider at ICCLR, 1822 East Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1, telephone: 604.822.9873 or fax: 604.822.9317.
Eileen Skinnider is the Director of Human Rights at the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform.
This article was published in the August 1998 issue of BarTalk. © 1998 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.