Last week, world leaders gathered for the 78thth The United Nations General Assembly in New York will continue what it has done since the founding of the United Nations in 1945: working together to address the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Notably absent from the conversation was any mention of the most serious and widespread human rights violation occurring today – violence against women and girls.
According to UN Women, on average, more than five women and girls are killed every hour by their partners or other family members. UNICEF reports that 28 girls under the age of 18 get married every minute, and at least 12 million girls get married every year around the world. Women and girls were raped in Sudan and Haiti. Rates of violence against women and girls are unacceptably high in every country in the world. America’s femicide rate is on track to exceed last year’s rate. Femicide in Spain has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. So-called honor killings are common in Iran.
Genocide against women is happening around the world and we are not doing enough to stop it. These numbers are comparable to epidemic proportions.
No one knows this better than the leaders gathered in New York City last week. Their debate focused on “reigniting global solidarity” for peace, progress and sustainable development, but they missed the opportunity to “global solidarity” against the rape, abuse and killing of women and girls happening around the world. The world cannot move forward if half its population is held back by violence.
UN leaders and Member States can put the safety of women and girls at the center of global action by supporting the development, adoption and implementation of a treaty in the form of a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is committed to Eliminate violence against women and girls.
The treaty will codify proven interventions, including legal reform; training and accountability for law enforcement, judges and health professionals; survivor services and violence prevention education. It would also hold countries accountable to specific, measurable benchmarks for women’s safety and security.
Concluding a treaty through the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provides the most direct and convenient way to reach a binding agreement. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is one of the most widely ratified conventions in the world (189 countries). Its recognition as a Women’s Bill of Rights and familiarity with UN member states will serve as catalysts for ratification.
Furthermore, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the progress made by States on gender equality and violence against women and girls make it a natural fit for a binding mechanism, while the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has focused on violence against women and girls. General recommendations 19 and 35 of the Conduct provide the basis for the elaboration of a new optional protocol.
Furthermore, the CEDAW Committee, which oversees implementation of the Convention, has the expertise needed to develop a strong instrument based on the input of civil society. What it needs now is moral and financial support from the United Nations and member states to pursue a new optional protocol.
The impact of the new optional protocol will be far-reaching. Imagine how much progress we could make towards gender equality through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which addresses all forms of discrimination, and its new Optional Protocol to address violence against women and girls. According to a new report from UN Women, “no country is currently on track to eliminate intimate partner violence” and we are “failing the expectations of women and girls”, but a convention plus protocol would push governments to recommit to gender equality, peace and prosperity key factors.
Crucially, intimate partner violence alone is estimated to cost the world $4.4 trillion, more than conflict and terrorism combined. On the contrary, as UN Women puts it, “when women work, economies grow”.
Calls for a treaty to end violence against women and girls are not new. In 1991, the Commission on the Status of Women recommended the development of an international framework specifically to address violence against women and girls. Several UN special rapporteurs on violence against women, its causes and consequences have repeatedly called for a binding instrument. The United Nations has acknowledged the violence for more than three decades. Now is the time to take clear and decisive action. To achieve peace, prosperity and progress, we must first save half of the world’s population. We must take immediate, legally binding action to create a safer world for women and girls.
Patricia Elias, LL.M., is an international law attorney and director of the Every Woman’s Treaty global diplomatic campaign, a coalition of more than 2,900 women’s rights activists Alliance to develop a globally binding instrument to end violence against women and girls.
Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi is co-founder of Every Woman’s Treaty and President of the International Association of Women in Medicine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.