The Declaration on violence against women adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993 requires states to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and in accordance with national legislation punish acts of violence against women whether those acts are perpetrated by the state or private persons.
While it may be true that states may not be able to prevent every act of violence against women they have the responsibility to act with due diligence, which is the minimum acceptable level of effort which a state must undertake to fulfil its responsibility to protect women from violence or indeed abuses of their human rights.
In many countries around the world, states are failing in their due diligence to protect women against violence and violation of their human rights. Exercise of due diligence by a state includes taking effective steps to prevent abuses, to investigate them when they do occur, to prosecute the alleged perpetrator and bring him or her to justice in fair proceedings, to ensure adequate reparation, including compensation and redress and ensuring that justice is upheld without discrimination of any kind.
The failure of a government to prohibit acts of violence against women, or to establish adequate legal protections against such acts, constitutes a failure of state protection and when states fail to provide such protections, they hold responsibility for the violation as can be demonstrated by the unfortunate case of Rodi Alvorada. In that case, Ms. Alvorada married a Guatemalan army officer at 16 years of age and was subjected to severe violence during the marriage. Her husband raped her continuously, attempted to forcibly abort their second child by kicking her in the spine, dislocated her jaw, tried to cut her hands off with a machete. All Ms. Alvorada's efforts to get help and out of the marriage were unsuccessful. The police failed to help her in any way and after she made a complaint, her husband ignored three citations without any consequence and the courts refused to grant her a divorce without her husband's permission. Ms. Alvorada eventually lost her life as a result of her husband's abuse.
So why an article on violence against women? As an individual I continue to be surprised at how much violence I go through as a young woman in my day to day life as I engage in the public sphere in Southern Sudan and also more surprising is that when I do come across incidences of violence that at times I first look inwards to ask what I did to provoke the violence however subtle and accept the perpetrator or society's construction that I was wrong. This is to say that violence against women is very real however subtle and women should never feel responsible for the violence as it is a reality for all women and we must break the silence and challenge the different manifestations of violence if we are to put an end to it.
While society might ignore or ridicule women's experiences, if we are to put an end to violence we have to speak out. I know of a widowed and lower income woman who sought legal aid for her daughter with special needs to get the man who impregnated her daughter while still a teenager to pay for maintenance for the children he fathered. This woman stood by her daughter and rejected society's construction that her daughter who was still a child was not a victim of rape but was somehow responsible for getting herself pregnant and this girl needed to know that what happened to her was not her fault. To me it is a Kudos to this woman for speaking out and making her contribution to ending violence by breaking the silence and seeking out the justice system but of course if more women are to come out to approach the justice system then our justice system has got to take women's claims seriously and make the system safer for survivors. One of the key challenges to ending violence against women and further perpetuates it is impunity when women and girls remain silent then abuses continue and are normalized and accepted thus reinforcing inequality and creating a vicious cycle.
When states on their part fail to take all the necessary legal, judicial, administrative and educational measures to end violence such as adequate legislation on violence against women that criminalizes all forms of violence against women and defines violence not as a crime against decency or family honour but rather as a violation of a women's rights, have an accessible, safe and gender sensitive justice system, hold perpetrators accountable, provide adequate support services for survivors of violence such as safe houses and medical and psychological support and education of the public on violence against women, then states not only contribute to creating a culture of impunity but also engage in exercising violence against women.
Given the juncture we are at in Southern Sudan and the promises that 2011 hold for us all in the birth of an independent country, I certainly feel proud to be Southern Sudanese and hope that an Independent South Sudan can break the ranks with what is a lack of commitment by some states to end violence against women and we can set an example to other states in living up to the measure of due diligence that is required under international law and our commitment to end violence against women is clearly demonstrated by ratifying women's conventions including its optional protocol on individual complaints, enshrining of a right to a life free of violence in our Independence Constitution, prioritization of adequate legislation on all forms of violence against women, setting aside of sufficient budgetary allocations to put in place effective measures to end violence against women, a gender sensitive rule of law sector to adequately respond to and prosecute violations of women's rights without re-victimising survivors all as a matter of priority in the post referendum context.