Governments must implement effective laws in tackling violence against girls

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For many countries, violence against women remains a serious problem. [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr]

Governments must have the bravery and commitment to design and implement laws to protect women and girls and to prevent violence against them, write Sirpa Pietikäinen and Marie Rose Nguini Effa.

Sirpa Pietikäinen is an MEP from Finland and Marie Rose Nguini Effa is a Member of Parliament from Cameroon.

When we hear the term violence against women, we often forget that it includes women of all ages, with girls being particularly vulnerable.

In every country in the world, women and girls are beaten, mutilated and sexually assaulted on a daily basis. Worldwide, one in three females will suffer violence during their lifetime.

In the past, various excuses have been employed by governments for not acting against gender-based violence. Until recently, such violence has been characterized as a private matter or, in the case of female genital mutilation (FGM), something that can be justified by culture.

It is neither. Violence against women and girls is a human rights abuse.

Throughout the world, tackling this abuse is difficult; it often occurs behind closed doors and attitudes that condone violence against women and girls, explicitly or implicitly, are prevalent. But there are proven ways to address it and an essential step in doing so is through the introduction of strong and comprehensive national laws.

Today, as part of the European Week of Action for Girls, 10 West African MPs meet with MEPs in the European Parliament to discuss how to eliminate gender-based violence. Our message is a clear one: governments must have the bravery and commitment to design and implement laws to protect women and girls and to prevent violence against them. These laws must be evidence-based, sustainable and involve civil society in their drafting.

We have good examples of such laws succeeding. In the West African country of Burkina Faso, the government has over the past decades effectively implemented a law criminalizing FGM, which has contributed to considerably reducing the practice.

The Burkina Faso law is the centerpiece of a truly comprehensive government approach to tackling FGM, and this is why it has been so successful. Measures to support the law include a national hotline for reporting the crime and training for the police, judiciary and health care workers. Preventing FGM is also a topic on the school curricula.

Other countries afflicted by FGM must take note of Burkina Faso’s example and adopt similarly comprehensive approaches. To date, few have done so.

In Europe too, the national laws of many countries fail to adequately protect women and girls. In an attempt to remedy this, the Council of Europe has agreed a powerful Convention aiming to fill legislative gaps.

Known as the Istanbul Convention, it is the world’s most wide-ranging, legally-binding human rights treaty on combatting violence against women and girls. Ratifying states commit themselves to adopting comprehensive responses to violence, including prevention, prosecution of perpetrators and protection of survivors.

The Convention provides for the prosecution of specific offences relevant to girls, including forced marriage and FGM. This is crucial since these phenomena are considerable issues in parts of Europe – in England, for example, there were 1,000 newly recorded cases of FGM between April and June this year.

The Istanbul Convention can greatly improve the lives of women and girls throughout the Europe. Yet, so far, many EU member states have failed to ratify it. It is imperative they do so without delay and that the EU takes a leadership role in supporting the implementation of the Convention at national level.

Of course it is true that laws alone are not enough to combat gender-based violence. They are however an essential element – together with a range of measures on prevention, education and the promotion of gender equality – in addressing the problem.

In agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a few short weeks ago in New York, UN member states made a clear commitment to ending violence against women and girls. This is explicitly stated in Goal 5 (on achieving gender equality) and in Goal 16 (on building peaceful societies). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that preceded them, the SDGs are global goals applying to both developed and developing countries and, crucially, they have specific targets on violence against women and girls.

If governments are serious about living up to these international commitments, and to their commitments to millions of women and girls, they simply must introduce comprehensive national laws to tackle violence. As parliamentarians, we are committed to working to pass good laws and to holding our governments accountable to ensure that they deliver.

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