Tackling the cycle of violence against women - challenges and solutions

14 March 2017

Blog by Tichafara Chisaka

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was #beboldforchange. On Wednesday 8th March, I attended an event on behalf of 28 Too Many, organised by Garden Court Chambers, on the subject of tackling the cycle of violence against women. With 3 powerful and inspiring panel speakers, the discussions focused on:

  1. Tackling violence against women in the wider context/ structural barriers 
  2. Tackling violence against women within the context of the law/ legal frameworks
  3. Practical ways of tackling violence against women on the ground


Tackling violence against women in the wider context

Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom talked about where we’ve come from in terms of tackling violence against women, the various UN resolutions, response to sexual violence and the ongoing challenges, including a culture of impunity.

She also spoke of the challenges presented by the dominant narrative of war which excludes women and presents them only as helpless victims. This narrow focus leads to an increase in marginalisation and exclusion. Madeleine talked about the lack of attention to women’s agency and activism on the ground in conflict and post-conflict environments and the importance of women being at the table during peace processes. An example of work happening to challenge the dominant narratives is the Women Organising for Change in Bosnia and Syria project focusing on the importance of taking into consideration existing experiences of women in conflict and empowering women activists.

We need to understand gendered relations and violence against women in the wider context of the political economy. The political economy is about the allocation of resources, namely power, which is in itself a highly gendered concept. Power – who holds it and how they use it - permeates all aspects including social, economic, and political realms. Power structures are highly patriarchal.  Violence is an inevitable consequence of inequalities. To address violence against women we need to look at the structures of power (e.g.in the family, economy, public life) and challenge the systems and structures.


Tackling violence against women within the law

Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law and Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics focused on the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’) adopted in May 2011 and entered into force in August 2014.

Professor Chinkin’s focus was looking at what is the value-add of the Istanbul Convention in comparison to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Some of the points she reflected on were: 

  • In terms of scope, the Istanbul Convention is the most far reaching international treaty to tackle Violence against Women (VAW) and first legally-binding instrument in Europe in this area. Professor Chinkin highlighted that one of the main challenges with CEDAW is that it has been undermined by the number of states using reservations. Under the Istanbul Convention, reservations are not allowed unless specifically stated.
  • The Istanbul Convention is a holistic and comprehensive legal framework to prevent VAW, protect survivors of violence and end impunity for perpetrators and focuses on: prevention of all forms of VAW, protection against all forms of VAW, prosecution of those accused of committing acts of VAW, integrated policies and data collection.
  • The Istanbul Convention operates dualistically – as a human rights treaty and as a criminal law treaty, and seeks to build co-operation among all possible actors law enforcement,  the judiciary, NGOs, support services etc.

The UK signed the Istanbul Convention in 2012 but has not ratified it despite calls to do so. There is currently a private members bill before Parliament which is on its 3rd reading, calling for ratification by the UK.

Once laws are in place, we need to ensure we have the resources to implement and enforce the law.


Tackling violence against women on the ground

‘People are afraid to talk about vaginas. We need to talk about vaginas and what happens to them’those were the powerful words we heard from the final panel speaker, anti-FGM campaigner, Hibo Wardere, who spoke with courage and conviction about her personal journey which led her to talk  publicly to raise awareness of FGM and its consequences, which include psychological and health complications. Hibo’s point was that people are afraid and often uncomfortable to openly talk about the intimate and personal, but it’s something that needs to be done if we are serious about tackling FGM.  Hibo described herself as a survivor of FGM, motivated to take action because of the violation of her rights when she was forced to undergo type 3 fgm as a six year old girl. She spoke passionately about how education is the biggest tool we have and her ongoing work on tackling FGM through community work, educating professionals (health, legal, etc) and talking to young people in schools.  Hibo embodied the theme of the discussions #beboldforchangewith her inspiring story of activism on the ground to tackle violence against women and girls and influence change in behaviour and attitudes. 


Taking action

This event was about tackling the cycle of violence against women - challenges and solutions. It was evident from the discussions that whilst there has been progress in some areas, there is still a lot of work to do to address violence against women and girls. 

From the first speaker of the evening, we heard about violence against women in the wider context and the need to address root causes and structural barriers; from the second speaker we heard about the current legal instruments on violence against women and how the law can help to hold nations to account; from the final speaker we heard about practical ways to take action so these rights are realised. In order to address violence against women and girls, we need a holistic, integrated approach that brings together different experiences to the table and connects people at all levels – from global to national and grassroots levels.

Citing the current global political context and recent women’s marches, the discussions ended with reflections on the need for solidarity and uniting together to take action and defend our rights.  We all need to #beboldforchange for women and girls on IWD and beyond. 


Further reading/ resources

·      Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: http://wilpf.org/

·      The Political Economy of Violence against Women by Jacqui True

·      Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence(Istanbul Convention): https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=090000168046031c

·      The Istanbul Convention and the CEDAW framework :https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=090000168059aa28

·       Cut: One Woman's Fight Against FGM in Britain Today  by Hibo Wardere