and men

Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results

Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

4 Violence against women: innate physical superiority does not imply rights

"Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms... In all societies, to a greater or lesser degree, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture. The low social and economic status of women can be both a cause and a consequence of violence against women. The term 'violence against women' means any action of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering of women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."

The ever-present daily threat of violence

The Beijing Platform leaves no doubt that women are threatened by acts of violence everywhere in the world at all times and every day and that every woman is exposed to the risk - at least in the form of atmospheric threats.
Never before has violence against women been depicted and outlawed so clearly and uncompromisingly in all its devastating consequences in a UN-document.

Not enough protection in any country

The Platform states that everywhere in the world too little is being done against these violations of fundamental human rights. No country adequately protects women against threats of violence. The only progress made since Nairobi is that violence against women, its causes and consequences and measures to combat it, has been more widely studied and documented.
The Platform regards violence against women as "one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men". Acts and threats of violence, whether occurring in the home or in the community or perpetrated or condoned by the State, instil fear and insecurity into women´s lives. The Platform quotes this as being "major obstacles" to the achievement of equality, development and peace, because the fear of violence is a permanent constraint on the mobility and activities of women and limits their access to a risk-free use of resources.

Violence against women instils fear and insecurity into women´s lives

In many cases, violence against women and girls occurs in the family or within the home and is often tolerated there. Neglect, physical and sexual abuse and rape of girls and women by family members often go unreported. The same applies to spousal abuse. Even when such acts of violence are reported, the victims are often left unprotected and the perpetrators unpunished.

"You may give your wife as good a beating as you like ..."
Violence against women at home in all languages of the world:

In all languages of the world there exists a wealth of proverbs bearing eloquent witness to how much for granted people take violence against women. "Beat your wife regularly, even if you do not know why, she will", is regarded as a confirmed male view almost everywhere.
Violence in so many variations, even in the name of love. Sometimes praised as an indispensable means in men´s hands to chastise their wives, sometimes used out of pure power lust. As in the Spanish repertoire: "When you feel like beating your wife, just ask her to fetch the sun down from the skies for you".
The more, the merrier is the general view in Romania: "Women are like wild game: the more beatings they get, the better they become". In Hungary, people know what is needed: "A bone for my dog, a stick for my wife".
Popular Chinese saying expects male self-restraint: "You may beat your wife as much as you like, but never with a stick bigger than your thumb". In Belgium, too, people are in favour of order: "Everything in good measure, said the tailor, and gave his wife a good beating with the tape-measure".
In Russia, people expect some culinary return for a good beating: "The more you beat your wife, the better she will cook for you". Or even some monetary return:" Beat your wife with a hammer, and she will be like gold". Even in France, people anticipate some improvement in quality: "A woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the more you beat them, the better they be".
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the great German philosopher of the Enlightenment of European standing, makes someone say: "Thrash your wife and your corn well, says Sancho, and all will be well". Quite appropriate for a country where popular saying goes as follows: "A woman never beaten is like a cabbage without salt".
Even the Greek poet Lukian thought he knew: " You can get kisses, promises and dancing attendance from any man, a box on the ears only from a man who loves you". An Albanian proverb believes: "Better be beaten by your husband than be kissed by a stranger".
Frequently, women even approve emotionally of the violence directed against them in the proverbs. A French saying is: "Whether bad or good horse, it expects the spurs, whether good or bad wife, she expects the stick". Even in the famous quotation by Friedrich Nietzsche, it is not Zarathustra, but the little old woman who speaks the words: "Do you go to see a woman? Do not forget the whip".
The Platform proceeds from the assumption that violence against women is a manifestation of historically-unequal power relations between men and women. Violence against women through their lives derives essentially from cultural patterns, from traditional or customary practices; based on race, gender, language or religion they perpetuate the lower status of women and legitimize male domination. Such situations prevent a genuine improvement of the status of women. Women are subjected to a wide range of physical, sexual and psychological violence in all areas of life: in the family and in the community, through systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy. Other acts of violence against women include forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced use of contraceptives, prenatal sex selection and female infanticide.

Violence against women derives from cultural patterns

The risk of women of becoming victims is exacerbated by the fact that many forms of violence violate women´s feelings of shame. Fear of exposure silences the victims because they, not the perpetrators, are subjected to public ostracization. The victims of violence suffer from lack of access to legal information, in effective protection by laws and in efficient aid on the part of public authorities. Laws that protect the perpetrators must be reformed. Violence against women is also ever-present in the media: women are raped and sexually enslaved, they are exploited as sex objects in pornography. Such images actually provoke acts of violence against women.

Feelings of shame silence victims and leave perpetrators unpunished

Strategies and actions to be taken:

The Platform lists forty-four actions to be taken under three strategic objectives with which to make gender relations less prone to violence. The objectives:

  • to reinforce punitive measures for protection,
  • to study the causes and consequences of violence,
  • to assist victims of violence.

Education for mutual respect and cooperation

Even if knowledge about the causes and consequences of violence against women and girls has expanded since the Nairobi Conference, it is not sufficient to develop promising prevention strategies which include education. The Platform therefore regards it as essential to promote a gender-based study of violence in the home and in the community to be used for the prevention and elimination of such violence.
All Governments unanimously admit that the two central demands of preventing and eliminating violence have not been taken seriously enough and converted into practical policies. In order to give higher political priority to the problem of violence which, from a woman´s perspective, is a problem of existence, the Platform regards groups of men who are opposing gender-based violence as valuable and indispensable allies. In some countries at least, men could be mobilized for this cause. The Platform explicitly welcomes this as a sign of hope and calls upon all Governments to condemn categorically any act of violence against women. All Governments commit themselves to refrain "from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration", which puts violence into a relative context.

Mobilize men as allies against violence

Whether acts of violence against women are perpetrated by the State or by private individuals, they must be investigated, brought to the courts and punished. In some countries, legislation generally has no penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions with which to punish the offenders and redress the wrong done. In other countries they are not strong enough.
The Platform demands an active and gender-based policy of protection against violence. For example, measures must be taken which are aimed at "increasing the knowledge and understanding of the causes, consequences and mechanisms of violence against women" on the part of public authorities, law enforcement officers and the personnel in the judicial, medical and social services. The Platform regards it as necessary in many countries to reinforce existing laws against government officers who engage in acts of violence against women in the course of their duties. In all countries, women require an institutional framework in which they can report acts of violence and file charges, free from fear of retaliation. Victims of violence must be granted medical, psychological, legal and financial assistance because they also need shelters in which they are safe from the offenders.

Consistent policy of eliminating violence

In the Platform the Secretary General of the UN is called upon to provide the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women with all necessary assistance, in particular the staff and resources required to perform all mandated functions.
Female genital mutilation, female infanticide, pre-natal sex selection and dowry-related violence must be registered and subject to sanction as a violation of women´s human rights. Women´s organizations and other NGOs fighting such practices and creating public awareness for violations of women´s human rights must be actively assisted by all Governments. Information campaigns must increase public awareness of the fact that violence against women constitutes a violation of their human rights. Education within the framework of primary health care is promised support.

Outlawing violence is not enough

The Platform calls upon all Governments to eliminate gender-related prejudices, especially in the field of education. They should fight social and cultural patterns of conduct based on the idea "of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes". State institutions should cooperate with educational institutions, enterprises and women´s organizations "to raise awareness about violence against women as a violation of women´s enjoyment of their human rights". The Platform recommends campaigns in order to sensitize girls and boys and women and men to the detrimental effects of violence in the family and society. Learning programmes should teach methods of communicating without violence and how to apply these methods outside the programmes.

Education helps against violence

Those responsible in the media are encouraged to promote information and education about the causes and consequences of violence against women. The media should raise awareness about the fact that media presentation of gender roles and the way in which they depict the relationship between men and women provides an important orientation for the way in which men and women deal with each other in their real lives. They cannot be neutral in respect of acts of violence. It would also be the task of the media to look self-critically at the impact of gender role stereotypes and how they are perpetuated by commercial advertisements.

Use the orientation provided by the media

Governments who have not yet done so are called upon to ratify international conventions on trafficking in persons and on slavery and carry them out consistently in their policies. More international cooperation is required in the fight against traffic in women in order to defeat the trafficking networks which are operating world-wide. Legislation to protect the women and girls concerned is not only non-existent; the penal and civil code must also be developed further in order to be able to punish perpetrators more effectively. Sex tourism is another issue where too little is being done.

Be determined in the fight against traffic in women

Programmes to heal and rehabilitate in society victims of trafficking are also in short supply everywhere. There is a lack of social, medical, psychological and legal assistance to the victims. The Platform calls for further efforts and more financial resources in this area.


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997