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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

22 October 2007

On the eve of tomorrow’s open debate in the Security Council on women, peace and security, Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said that women’s bodies were a battleground in time of war. She was speaking at a Headquarters press conference in New York, where she appeared with Joanne Sandler, Ad Interim Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), who said that for centuries, violence against women during wartime had been seen as inevitable.

They said tomorrow’s meeting on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on addressing gender-based violence against women, and including a gender perspective in areas of peace and security, offered the opportunity to raise awareness of violence against women as a security issue. Ms. Sandler said that it was essential for the issue to be seen consistently in that light if it were to be addressed effectively. It was time for the Council to focus on national implementation, Ms. Mayanja said. Until now, attention had been given primarily to the United Nations system, but it was at the national level that real action would be taken. She called on the Council to come up with a mechanism to be used to ensure implementation of the resolution.

The most serious sign of inadequate implementation was the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, Ms. Sandler said. For this reason, UNIFEM and 11 other United Nations organizations were jointly starting United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. She appealed to the Council to take up the issues of remedial measures, judicial response and prevention. She stressed the importance of understanding violations of women’s rights as a security issue, requiring the Council’s attention much more frequently than once a year.

In response to questions on whether the situation was improving, both speakers said that it was difficult to provide statistics since victims often felt themselves to be at fault. Feelings of shame, stigmatization, and cultural and religious proscriptions, as well fear of being ostracized, all contributed to women’s reluctance to report such violence. Whether the violence occurred in Darfur, Myanmar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Afghanistan or anywhere in the world, it would not stop until the perpetrators were held accountable and brought to justice, Ms. Mayanja said. As an example, Ms. Sandler noted that the atrocities being reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were just the tip of the iceberg, and were only coming to light because women were seeking treatment.

She said there was a lack of accurate reporting and no good way of collecting data, which made it difficult to assess whether the situation was improving or worsening. Accumulating good documentation would be a good place to start. Humanitarian workers had to get into the areas where violence was occurring as early as possible to report on what was actually taking place. Recognizing rape as a weapon of war might also draw the attention of the media in a bigger way.

In response to a question on the situation in Afghanistan, Ms. Sandler noted that UNIFEM and its partners in the United Nations system were working with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of the Government of Afghanistan to establish a database to track more effectively the types of violence occurring, and where, and to whom those incidents were occurring. She hoped that that would lead to a more accurate assessment of the situation in a year or two.

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For information media • not an official record

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