November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Karin Nordmeyer works with the UN to raise awareness about violence against women and girls across the globe.
Violence toward women affects the lives of people from all backgrounds and communities around the world. It can be inflicted by a stranger, but in most cases abuse starts with someone close, such as a spouse or family member. Karin Nordmeyer is a civil rights activist and president of the UN’s National Women’s Committee. She is fighting to stop gender-based violence.
Deutsche Welle: What are some of the factors found to be associated with violence against women?
Karin Nordmeyer: The violence against women and girls is a widespread human rights violation and we have it in nearly all states around the world. It differs, in its specific forms very much between those aggressions and violence you can see, feel, and psychological harm done to women and girls, which is very, very broad used form of violence. Disproportionately, men affect women in this specific form of violence.
Some of the very worst conflicts in the world for women's rights are those with decade's long armed conflicts like in Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Congo. While such conflicts continue, is there any hope for the millions of women who suffer rape, abuse, even murder?
Since 2000 we have the first ever UN Security Council resolution which deals with that phenomenon, so we see a little light at the end of the corridor. This resolution is dealing with the engagement of women into conflict and after conflict situations. Twelve years after this resolution was set up, we can feel that some conflicts have really taken a part of this resolution directly. Now the conflict parties see that women and women's engagement could be a solution. They now see women as positive agents to overcome conflicts and to rebuild their new society after conflicts.
In what countries have we seen this being affective?
We have seen that effective in the Balkans, for example, there are a lot of women's organizations, and women activists, are involved in the negotiations for peace. These are clear acts that will lead to a positive change. We have seen that when this resolution came out in 2000, there was at the same time the first conference to negotiate the Afghanistan conflict. Just when this occurred, it was seen that (among) the delegate states sent to this conference, …there have not been many women. So Afghanistan has had some benefit from this resolution as well. Rwanda, they have benefited from this situation, they now have a clear instrument in hand.
Domestic violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women around the world. What measures should be taken by politicians and society to decrease violence in the home?
The first is to say very clearly: Violence behind doors or outside is a crime. It is a human rights violation, and it needs prosecution. Governments have to first make sure that people know what it means and how domestic violence is to be defined. It's not only to see that someone was beaten and you have some wounds, or near broken arms – no. It is also these other harmful techniques which are not physical, but they are psychological.
The most serious fact is that women should be empowered to make their rights seen and heard by their partners because very often domestic violence occurs between intimate partners. Everybody should know that violence in the domestic field should be criminalized and shouldn't be seen as a private thing. States have the duty to prevent that sort of violence against women and girls. They have to protect the victims and they have to prosecute the perpetrators. Then we should have a legislation to prevent this violence and let them live without fear.
How satisfied are you with the progress made by the United Nations in the fight for equality for women?
It is for sure that without de facto gender equality we never will achieve any of our 8 millennium development goals. We never will come through our problems in conflict areas. The UN has the goal to set up conventions. We know that in our northern hemisphere countries, the huge companies which now take women on board, they've learned that they benefit much more in the outcome of their financial statements when they have both sides included. We know that if you look at a problem, you should look at the most broad perspective to find a solution.
If women were included in governments and conflict negotiations and climate change negotiations, on an equal basis, how would that look?
That's very clear. Women have a first hand look to makes sure that everyone gets the essential things: clear, clean water; clear, clean air and food, which is not constructed by chemical ingredients. Women help to bring up children and to bring up the elderly, and the existential things that everybody needs to live. It will change a lot if the negotiations, climate change, are determined by both angles. I believe very strongly that it is another approach, not a better one - another one - women are not the better human beings.
You were the president of the UN women's national committee in Germany. What are the biggest issues facing women here?
Looking first around the world, we don't have serious problems (here), to be very clear. But we have them, because also in such rich communities and rich states - as Germany is - we are not equal. Before the law - okay. But not in daily life. If you look at income, there is an enormous wage gap between women's and men's salaries. In some cases we have differences up to 23 percent for the same and equal work.
We do not come through the glass ceiling. Look at the fact that some weeks ago, there were no women nominated to the board of the European financial institution. That means women's organizations would like to see equal participation in all levels of companies, small and big companies. Then we need to have a clear participation in all political democratic processes; and this is also not at the point that we would like to see it.