Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why the term “gender-based violence” must be used

by Rebecca Gerome, IANSA Women's Network; Vanessa Farr, WILPF; with inputs from Maria Butler, PeaceWomen/WILPF
The Holy See and a few other states have questioned the use of the terms “gender” and “gender-based violence” and claimed that there is no agreed legal definition of the term. However, as France stated on Friday, the terms “gender,” “gender-based violence,” and “gender-based discrimination” have become very well established within the UN and within national and international legal instruments within the last decade. The examples are numerous. They include UN Security Council resolutions and UN General Assembly resolutions, such as the 2008 General Assembly resolution (A/RES/62/134), which urges states “to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, in particular rape and other forms of sexual violence.” 
UN agreed definitions and references to gender and gender-based violence

The UN Secretary-General defined gender in his 2002 report Women, Peace and Security as: “the socially constructed roles as ascribed to women and men, as opposed to biological and physical characteristics. Gender roles vary according to socio-economic, political and cultural contexts, and are affected by other factors, including age, race, class and ethnicity. Gender roles are learned and are changeable.”

The Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have also referred to gender-based violence on numerous occasions. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in resolution 1994/45, adopted in 1994, called for the “elimination of all forms of gender-based violence in the family, within the general community and where perpetrated or condoned by the State”. In Paragraph 18 of the Vienna Declaration of 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights stated that the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex is a priority objective of the international community. Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice and international trafficking, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated” (A/CONF.157/23). As far back as the Beijing Declaration (1995), states agreed to “adopt and commit ourselves as Governments to implement the following Platform for Action, ensuring that a gender perspectives reflected in all our policies and programmes.

The UN Inter-Agency Steering Committee defined gender-based violence in 2005 in its Guidelines for Gender-based violence interventions in humanitarian settings as an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will based on socially-ascribed (gender) differences between males and females. Acts of GBV violate a number of human rights principles enshrined in international instruments. Globally, GBV has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, due to their subordinate status in society and their increased vulnerability to violence. GBV varies across cultures, countries, and regions. This does not mean that all victims of gender-based violence are female. The surrounding circumstances where men are victims of sexual violence could be a man being harassed, beaten, or killed because he does not conform to the mainstream view of masculinity accepted by society. GBV includes violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Numerous studies have shown how GBV is facilitated when the perpetrator is carrying a small arm or light weapon: whether male or female, people are far less likely to try to fight back when threatened with sexual violence at gunpoint than if other weapons are used.

Why is it important to refer to gender and gender-based violence?

The term “gender-based violence” recognises the broader context and some of the fundamental root causes of the violence. It allows us to offer a nuanced assessment of the kinds of abuse of power that are perpetrated when SALW are uncontrolled. This type of violence does not happen in a vacuum. The term “violence against women and children” overlooks the realities of inequality, oppression, and systematic violence. Moreover, it reinforces stereotypes of women as weak and childlike rather than recognising their strength as activists against personal and community-based violence. Most problematically, it prevents proper analysis and response to the fact that the vast majority of victims and perpetrators of gun violence in the world today are men. Because such language subtly reinforces prejudices that are culturally and socially embedded, manifestations of gendered violence continue to be accepted, tolerated, or justified—with impunity as the norm. Such violence does not always serve isolated or individual purposes. It originates in and sustains hierarchical social relations of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Globally, men account for around 80-90% of homicide victims, while women are affected in more invisible ways, which include rape, threats, intimidation and domestic violence at gunpoint.

“Where there is poverty there is armed violence. Where there are guns there is poverty,” said Michèle Pepe, a member of the IANSA Women’s Network from Côte d’Ivoire, to packed room at a side event on 20 July. Young men in Côte d’Ivoire share common problems with young men in many parts of the world. Disempowered in every way, they face high levels of unemployment, combined with insufficient education resources, lack of investment, and easy availability of guns. Their power resides in readily available small arms and the capacity for lethality they confer. Guns have become the only way for them to subsist and assert their manhood and the legal system in the country is overwhelmed and unable to effectively sanction them. Their guns are increasingly being used to exert power over women. Rapes of women in Côte d’Ivoire are increasing at an alarming rate. The association of guns, masculinity, violence, and power creates a deadly cocktail for both men and women.

What the ATT can do to help prevent gender-based violence

For purposes of the Treaty preamble, goals and objectives, and criteria, the broader language of gender-based violence should be used. The term “gender-based violence” acknowledges the gender dimensions of armed violence, from the perspective of both perpetrators and victims.

At least 61 states have made statements in favor of the inclusion of GBV in the ATT criteria so far this month. These include Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Ireland, Iceland, Samoa, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Uruguay, Portugal, Mexico, Korea, UK, France, Tanzania, Turkey, Peru, South Sudan, DRC, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda, Switzerland, as well as the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It is important that the term remains “gender-based violence”.

The draft circulated on 24 July contains gender-based violence in article 5, yet the language as it stands is too weak to be acceptable. Either “gender-based violence” must be included in article 4, or the language of Article 5 must be significantly strengthened so that it contains a clear obligation not to transfer arms where there is a risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. It cannot simply be just an element to “consider” without any obligations attached, as this weakens the human rights provisions in article 4. Although we continue to believe “gender-based violence” should be explicit in the criteria of the ATT, it would be preferable to entirely delete the mention of “gender-based violence” in article 5, if the language is to remain the same. Gender-based violence would be implicitly covered under the criteria on international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It would then be of utmost importance that the term “gender-based violence” be included at the very least in the preamble, as well as in the goals and objectives of the treaty.

The preamble now only refers to “women and children” in paragraph 12. Not only is this formulation unhelpful, it is also inaccurate, and it represents a clear step backwards. Men, women, and children are all affected in situations of conflict and armed violence. In fact, as mentioned previously, men are the primary victims of gun homicide and serious injury. In the preamble, instead of emphasizing the vulnerability of women, it would be more effective and more accurate to emphasize their key role in conflict prevention and resolution, arms control, and peacebuilding.

Agreed language could be drawn from UN General Assembly Resolution 66/130, 65/283 and 65/69 and UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (SCR 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009, 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010)) such as: Reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding” and "Recognizing the importance of the full and effective participation of women at all levels, at all stages and in all aspects of the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution" (A/RES/65/283 preamble text). Furthermore, UNGA resolution 65/69 on “Women, disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control” recognizes “the valuable contribution of women to practical disarmament measures carried out at the local, national, regional and subregional levels in the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict, and in promoting disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.” Any or all of these texts could be referenced or drawn upon in the ATT preamble.

Finally, if the preamble of the ATT is to be consistent and comprehensive, it should include language recognizing the gender dimensions of the arms trade. For example, "recognizing the gendered dimensions and impacts of the arms trade, particularly gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and further emphasizing and reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding and arms control". Member States must not take steps backward given the gravity and urgency of preventing all forms of gender-based violence in the context of the international arms trade.

For more information, or to discuss the ideas presented in this paper in detail, please see;;

Draft treaty language prepared by IANSA Women's Network and WILPF
  • The preamble of the ATT should include comprehensive language such as "recognizing the gendered dimensions and impacts of the arms trade, particularly gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and further emphasizing and reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding and arms control". 
  • The criteria should require states not to allow an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.
  • The goals and objectives of the ATT should ensure that the international arms trade does not contribute to and facilitate human suffering, including gender-based violence and all other serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.