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08 March 2013

Ending sexual violence against the world's women

Ending sexual violence against the world's women

Sexual violence being carried out against women around the globe is a scourge which must be ended, Tearfund's head of HIV has said.

Speaking to the Alliance from the UN Commission on the Status of Women taking place in New York this week, Veena O'Sullivan said Tearfund – a member organisation of the Alliance – was committed to building a movement of survivors of violence so that "they can champion and transform the global agenda and strategies".

She added that inspiring, mobilising and equipping the Church to get involved was a key part of the agenda.

But sexual violence is just one of the major issues affecting women around the world.

As we mark International Women's Day today, Veena said "most of the challenges go back to an understanding and expression of women's value in society".

"In most countries around the world, rich and poor alike, women bear a far greater burden of responsibility and activity in their home and community," she said. "A rough exercise to map this reveals a startling fact where women work at least four times as many hours as men! 

"Strangely, the status they enjoy is far inferior to men. They are treated as a weaker sex, expected to bear much including abuse, deprived from access to basic rights. So the low status of women is the primary issue that leads to a whole plethora of struggles for women and girls. When we speak of women we need to speak of girls, to recognise that the challenges start young, even at birth in communities like in my own country (India) that still suffers female infanticide."

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is a function of the UN Economic and Social Council. It is the principal global policy-making body that is dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women.

Once a year, representatives from the UN member states come to New York to evaluate progress on gender equality and set global standards on improving their status.

Speaking about this year's event, Veena said she had found it extremely encouraging. "When people come together and share, you don't feel lonely. You feel powerful, nothing feels impossible.

"This CSW has had the biggest engagement and representation from civil society.

Shocking in some ways as the UNCSW process is about setting policies, reaching agreement on matters that affect us women the most and yet we, civil society have hardly been involved. So that is a ray of light in a massive dark world."