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Friday, July 31, 1998 Published at 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK


Worldwide move to stamp out violence against women

Abuse of Somali girls and women in Kenya is reportedly widespread

The United Nations campaign on violence against women in Africa is part of an international movement to raise awareness about the issue.

The inter-agency campaign marks the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

It aims to change attitudes, government policies, laws and practices regarding violence against women.

The agencies involved include the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the World Health Organisation and the World Bank. It is coordinated by the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

It was initiated in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has been at the forefront of moves for greater UN action on women's rights.

In a recent report on women and human rights, it said: "Women's rights are human rights and human rights are not only universal, they are indivisible."

Women's rights have been placed firmly on the international agenda since a 1993 UN meeting in Vienna.


Amnesty is campaigning for changes in practices such as female genital mutilation, a tradition common in 20 African countries.

Around two million women and children in the world a year are circumcised. The process, which can involve sewing up a woman's labia, can be fatal.

Amnesty says African women have been at the forefront of an international campaign to ban the practice.

The organisation also highlights the practice of trafficking in women and girls, which is carried out in Sudan, as well as the impact of domestic violence and wars on women.

It says sexual violence is common in refugee camps. There have been widespread reports of violence against women refugees from Sierra Leone and Rwanda as well as Somalli refugees in Kenyan camps.

Doctors 'ignorant'

The American-based organisation Human Rights Watch has done several reports on the subject of violence against women, particularly in South Africa.

A report published last year highlighted the issue of rape. It said that a high proportion of rape and sexual assault cases were dropped and blamed police, medical and court ignorance and sexism.

[ image: Rwandan women were held as sexual slaves in the 1994 genocide]
Rwandan women were held as sexual slaves in the 1994 genocide
It says doctors often graduate from medical school "without a clear idea of the normal anatomy of a woman's genitalia, still less the complex physical and psychological consequences that may result from sexual assault".

A report on Rwanda says women and girls were subjected to sexual violence "on a massive scale" during the genocide of 1994. Some were held in sexual slavery.

As a result of rape, many women and girls were infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

Abortion is illegal in Rwanda so many women also had injuries caused by self-induced abortions. Some of the girls raped were extremely young, leading to further health problems.

It is estimated that up to 5,000 children have been born in the country as a result of rape during the genocide period.

Felicia Ekejiuba, chief of the Africa section of UNIFEM, said: "It is critical to raise awareness and build the capacity at all levels of African societies to create a non-violent environment for women and girls, and to broaden the platform from which their voices against violence can be heard."

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