India, Islamic and Western nations came together at the U.N. on Friday to put in place a potentially far-reaching framework for combating violence against women, regardless of variations in religious, cultural or social norms across nations.

Greeted by loud cheers and applause, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) announced the “historic” accord at the U.N. headquarters in New York, winning particular praise for getting the multilateral membership of the group to agree to language stating that violence against women could not be justified by “any custom, tradition or religious consideration”.

It was a hard-fought victory for women’s rights at a time when incidents of rape and other forms of violence globally appear to be dominating media headlines.

Universality

It was a testament to the universality of the declaration that some participant nations that were said to have conservative views on women’s rights — including Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Honduras and the Vatican — expressed reservations about the declaration, but did not ultimately block adoption of the 18-page text.

Harshest criticism

Harshest criticism of the declaration came earlier from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which said in a statement, “This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.”

However, even within Egypt, media reports quoted Soad Shalaby, a spokesperson for Egypt’s National Council for Women, asking, “How would this declaration lead to a disintegration of society? On the contrary, it will lead to women’s integration within society.”

Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of U.N. Women and former President of Chile, said: “People worldwide expected action, and we didn’t fail them. Yes — we did it.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said violence against women was a “heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage”, adding that he now hoped that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world would “translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls”.

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