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Conference at the UN Center in Vienna on Preventing Violence Against Women

Vienna, Austria - A conference on Leadership Challenges of the 21st Century: The Prevention of Violence against Women and Femicide took place at the Vienna International Center on March 28, 2013. Celebrating International Women’s Day 2013, Seiko Lee, a soprano, sang two songs.

Panel members spoke to a packed attentive UN audience (180 persons from embassies, Austrian agencies and NGOs) The Women's Federation for World Peace International, along with cosponsors, the Academic Council of the UN System, Exit NGO, Eltern Werkstatt, and UPF, provided speakers, advertisement, and assistance to the organization of both panels.

Keynote speakers

"I call for a global study and discussion on femicide at the UN level, which should be seen as a collective concern towards a collective aspiration to call for an end to impunity (exemption from punishment) to femicide and a correction of the cultural mindset on the value of a woman." - H.E. Maria Oyeyinka Laoese, Ambassador of Nigeria to Austria.

"While in 1920 women could to some degree enjoy equality between men and women, today there is complete negation of the religious and political right they are entitled to." - H.E. Ayoob M. Erfani, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Austria

"The issue of femicide and violence against women is one of the very important issues that we all need to tackle together. It is a shared responsibility for all of us, for every Member State and civil society participation to get involved in addressing this problem seriously and find a good way forward into solving these problems. In my opinion, the femicide problem would require a very strong leadership to empower the stakeholders and to raise the awareness of these problems to the general public and also to have strong legislation that enforces the problems of femicide.’ - H.R.H. Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, Ambassador of Thailand to Austria

Session on "Women Standing up to Violence: Finding Hope through Concerted Action"

Dr. Shantu Watt, Vice President of the United Nations Women's Guild, mentioned that violence doesn’t see any boundaries of rich or poor, white or black. It happens everywhere. She also called participants to join in addressing the reasons and the results of violence against women. She emphasized the importance of addressing the topic of violence against women in order to strengthen awareness-raising, and thus support the efforts made to end impunity.

Ms. Claire Laurent, ACUNS Femicide Project coordinator who has been working on this project for the past year and a half: ‘Tackling femicide is extremely difficult especially given gender discrimination and violence against women is so embedded within our social, cultural and economic structures. Responses to femicide must be comprehensive and involve the:Development and implementation of strong legislation; Gender sensitive law enforcement policies and protocols; Awareness raising at the grassroots level; Support for individuals and families experiencing violence; realization of women’s social, economic and political rights; educating men and boys; women and girls.

States should consider the multiple forms of violence suffered by women and the different types of discrimination they encounter, in order to adopt multifaceted strategies to effectively prevent and combat this violence. States have a due diligence obligation to protect women and prevent femicides. They must be held accountable if they do not take action against these crimes. When the State fails to hold the perpetrators accountable, impunity not only intensifies the subordination and powerlessness of the targets of violence, but also sends a message to society that male violence against women is both acceptable and inevitable. As a result, patterns of violent behavior are normalized. Institutional violence against women and their families is present in all aspects of States’ responses to the killings of women. This may include: tolerance, the blaming of victims, lack of access to justice and effective remedies, negligence, threats, corruption and abuse by officials.’

Mrs. Joana Adesuwa Reiterer, president and Founder of the NGO “Exit” in Vienna, continued the session. She gave a personal outlook on the matter as she herself has come in contact with victims and survivors of human trafficking, especially from Nigeria, her native country. She explained how many of these young girls in hope for a better future become victims of sexual trafficking when they are in a state of poverty, not just financially, but psychologically as well.

The third speaker was Mag. Maria Neuberger Schmidt, President and Founder of “Parents Workshop” in Vienna. Emphasizing education with heart, reason and leadership competences, she called for "a well balanced concept, without stereotype role models, which recognizes the dignity and nature of women as well as the dignity and nature of men, in order to develop a harmonious way of living based on respect, understanding, equality and cooperation."

Mrs. Zena Eggough, UPF UN Liaison, presented “a reflective moment in time” and emphasized the dignity of human beings as children of God with the hope to end the atrocities against women.

During the break, part of the film “It’s a Girl” was shown.

Session on “Leadership Challenges to the Prevention of Violence against Women and Femicide”

The moderator of this session, HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, graciously introduced the distinguished guests. "Women are the valuable human resources of society: education, economics, and development," she said. "The killing of women is a serious crime, from the issue of violence against women a most serious one. It needs to be tackled very seriously. It is great to hear there is progress as well as standards and norms being made by the UN. How to make this effective and implement these standard and norms? The question of impunity is to be put to us all to answer."

Dr. Michael Platzer, Chair of the Vienna NGO Alliance for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, claimed that each state must use all possible means to end impunity against violence against women and that domestic abuse is a crime which must be addressed. He asked participants to support ACUNS ‘Femicide’ paper. "Eighty states co-sponsored the Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/20/L.10) which welcomed the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and invited all relevant stakeholders, including regional organizations and mechanisms, treaty bodies, United Nations entities, special procedures, civil society organizations, academic institutions, to contribute to the mandate holder’s study on State responsibility for eliminating violence against women by submitting relevant information, including on providing remedies for women who have been subjected to violence."

On March 8, 2013, International Women’s Day, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued a statement “Murder is the ultimate expression of violence…..18 per cent of the homicides occurring in a year are (femicides). Based on UNODC Statistics, in Europe, 18 women are killed every day; 12 of them murdered at the hands of their intimate partners or other family members. We must now allow theses murders to continue. … I call on nations, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, and the public to work together to create societies where women feel safe and secure”

Dr. Zhannat Konsumkhamedova , an expert on HIV/AIDS prevention at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, gave some statistics concerning HIV, noting that 3 million people today are living with HIV. She emphasized the importance of empowering women in order to bring HIV and drug abuse to an end.

Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, Director of Women's Federation for World Peace-UN Geneva Office, encouraged women to take leadership roles, shedding victimhood and making advocacy a lifestyle. Mentioning a few difficulties which prevent women from taking such roles: lack of conviction, skills or tools, she presented some of the Women's Federation projects in Africa, including addressing genital mutilation by empowering women to connect their local knowledge to the global human rights framework. Ultimately, the cooperation between men and women as a family unit plays a vital role as the vision and enforcement for a culture of peace.  

 H. E. Ayoob M. Erfani gave a brief outlook on the role of women in Afghanistan over the past 100 years. He reported a sincere commitment to joint efforts to prevent violence against women and femicide: "Recently, President Karzai called on religious scholars and community leaders to help preach against domestic violence as a social menace contradictory to human rights and Islamic values. The President called on mass media and radio in particular to broadcast programs that help communicate messages against any form of domestic violence and discrimination against women." The Afghan ambassador concluded by saying that without the full participation of Afghan women, it will be hard to bring real changes.

Many prominent speakers addressed this topic of violence against women from very different backgrounds and insights. This conference clearly called for a world free of violence and to end impunity towards violence against women and femicide.

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