November 27th, 2006 07:57 EST
Culture of neglect, denial about violence against women is massive
There is a "massive" culture of neglect and denial about violence against women, and refugee populations are in the front line of the scourge, according to the top United Nations refugee official.
"That culture of neglect and denial exists everywhere," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ant"nio Guterres said at the weekend launch of the annual 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
"I think we need to face this," he added, stressing that sexual and gender-based violence against women is a global problem.
Citing a report he had read earlier this year showing that a high percentage of girls in Geneva high schools suffered sexually motivated violence, he said that if the problem was bad in an advanced country like Switzerland, it would be much worse in societies with huge social problems and difficulties.
"Refugee populations are in the front line of those difficulties," he told staff in Geneva in launching UNHCR`s participation in the 16 Days, in which several UN agencies are teaming up with rights organizations worldwide to bring greater attention to this pervasive and deeply entrenched human rights violation.
"The key question, at the level of the UN system, at the level of an organization, at the level of the refugee camp, is the empowerment of women, and that must be one of the central objectives of a modern, democratic system and a tolerant society," Mr. Guterres said, calling for more equality between men and women.
UNHCR offices around the world are participating in the 16 Days with activities and awareness-raising programmes. In Liberia, where violence against women is a major problem, UNHCR is joining in nationwide campaigns and workshops to inform women about their rights and to encourage men to change their ways.
The agency is also involved in television campaigns to publicize the campaign in places like Croatia and Argentina.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has cited a whole raft of issues to be faced in gender-based violence, from bride burning and sexual violence as a weapon of war, to genital mutilation and breast ironing, to date rape and child marriage, and has proposed a range of steps from greater overall publicity and an end to silence over spousal abuse, to pushing for legislative reform and providing safe havens for girls escaping coerced marriages.