Of epidemic proportions

The Council of Europe Convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence will take effect this August, following its recent ratification by Andorra. Persistent instances of physical abuse encountered among large migrant populations of women, and the need to strengthen the legal framework in some of the states of the former Eastern Europe, form part of the context to the Istanbul Convention of the 47-member strong human rights institution. In particular, the plight of victims who happen to be in abusive relationships in Hungary, Belgium and Turkey have come in for some scrutiny by Human Rights Watch over the last three years. The new treaty seeks to address the psychological effects of violence among adults in the family on children, protection for male victims where relevant, provision for a monitoring mechanism and prosecution of perpetrators. States outside its purview should ratify the Treaty. One in three women in the European Union — the separate 28-country entity — is said to have experienced physical or sexual assault, according to a survey by the human rights monitoring agency for the bloc. Another report puts the per capita economic burden of domestic violence in the range of €9.2 to €555 annually, which includes cost related to health, criminal justice and social services. Not surprisingly, there are striking parallels to the situation in Europe around the world, as is evident from a 2013 World Health Organization study. Violence perpetrated by intimate partners affects as much as 30 per cent of women world-wide. In fact, the same report characterises physical or sexual violence against women as a public health phenomenon of epidemic proportions, affecting more than one-third of all women globally.

The Asia region continues to grapple with a particular and premeditated form of violence against women, that is, the sex-selective abortion of female foetuses that has distorted the gender ratios of the population in the 0-6 year age-group. A worrisome aspect of this phenomenon is the extent to which it reinforces traditional stereotypes over generations. The mitigation of different forms of inequalities between men and women has engaged the attention of the international community over a relatively longer period. However, gender violence has received focussed attention only over the past two decades. Hence, the comprehension of its various dimensions and the codification of laws are as yet in the early stages of evolution. As with similar social and human rights instruments, the landmark European convention would serve as a model for developing countries to strengthen their own institutional frameworks. Proactive policies and accountability are vital to upholding the dignity of women.