International Women’s Day
On 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a global day dedicated to women and girls worldwide, where we reflect on achievements by women and in securing women’s rights, and take stock of the areas where we must concentrate efforts to achieve equality for all women and girls.
The 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a body created to promote women’s equality, is also due to take place this month. This year presents a milestone as we celebrate 25 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a roadmap of actions to advance women’s rights and a global blueprint for empowering women. The focus of this year’s session is to review implementation of the Beijing Declaration and address current challenges and opportunities for its fulfilment, in light of more recent commitments for full realisation of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Both the Beijing Declaration and Agenda 2030 include commitments to end all violence against girls with an indicator being the prevalence of violent ‘discipline’ in the home. Ending violent punishment of children is key to reducing violence across the whole of society in the longer term and working towards other targets across Agenda 2030, including those related to health, education, equality, non-discrimination and economic growth.
Girls’ right to live free from corporal punishment
As we consider advancements for women and girls this month, it is important to shed light on corporal punishment, the most common form of violence experienced by girls worldwide. On average, 80% of girls and boys globally experience violent ‘discipline’ at home. Some girls are particularly vulnerable to corporal punishment and all violence, including girls with disabilities, from minority groups, in migration, living in situations of conflict or crisis, living in institutions or detention.
Corporal punishment violates several fundamental rights guaranteed under international conventions for girls, including the right to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity, as well as rights to health, education and equality. Experience of corporal punishment in childhood is often gendered, as physical and humiliating punishment can be used to control girls’ social and sexual behaviour and reinforce traditional socio-cultural gender norms by encouraging girls to be more submissive, timid and less outspoken.
Ending violent punishment of girls is therefore key to ending all violence against girls (SDG 16.2) and is central to the achievement of other targets across Agenda 2030, including those related to health, education, equality, non-discrimination and economic growth. The Beijing Declaration (in para. 112) also highlights that violence against women and girls is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace.
Corporal punishment and other forms of violence in school is a major barrier to girls’ right to education. For girls and boys, physical and humiliating punishment at school can cause serious injury and contributes to difficulties learning, mental health difficulties and school drop-out. What happens in classrooms is key to enable all girls and boys to remain in school, to learn effectively and to benefit equally from their education. Prohibition of corporal punishment in schools and the use of non-violent and positive alternatives is essential to facilitate learning and positive outcomes for girls and boys.
The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children actively seeks to end corporal punishment through universal prohibition of its use in all settings, and effective implementation of prohibiting legislation. One of the ways we work towards this is by supporting the work of UN and regional human rights treaty monitoring bodies. We regularly submit shadow reports on states coming up for examination, where we highlight the law on corporal punishment and call for recommendations for the state to fully prohibit and eliminate its use.
We also encourage and support national organisations to do likewise by sharing our submissions in advance and providing all necessary technical advice and support. Since 2005, we have submitted 265 briefings to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Committee has in turn highlighted the obligation to prohibit corporal punishment and promote non-violent forms of discipline to over 25 states.
A cycle of violence
Research has shown there is a strong correlation between violence against women and violence against children. In families where domestic violence takes place, children are more likely to experience corporal punishment and, vice versa. Studies have found strong links between intimate partner violence and corporal punishment. In some cases, women experiencing violence at home may use corporal punishment with their children, and experience of corporal punishment in childhood has been associated with an increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence in later life, either as a victim or perpetrator.
This cycle of violence that corporal punishment perpetuates is one of the crucial reasons that we need to prohibit violent punishment of children and ensure protection for all girls. Ending violent punishment is therefore key to ending all violence against girls (SDG 16.2) and reducing violence across the whole of society in the longer term.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) have examined the intersections of violence against women and violence against children, including shared drivers, risk factors and consequences, and proposed a range of collaborative solutions for working to prevent violence against women and children. Proposed solutions to tackle this issue include implementing and enforcing laws that criminalise abuse of both women and children, promoting gender norms that do not accept violence against either women or children and integrating material on equal treatment of boys and girls into home and community-based parenting programmes.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child marked a pivotal moment for children’s rights with international recognition of children as full rights-holders, and acknowledging girls are entitled to the same legal protection of their rights as women. Although violence against women is widely recognised as a violation of their fundamental human rights, it stands to question why girls are too often not offered the same protection from violence under the law.
We have come a long way in advancing the rights of women and girls since the first celebration of International Women’s Day in 1911. Having said that, inequalities still prevail around the world and in order to help achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensure each child grows up free from violence, it is important to recognise the harmful effects of corporal punishment and take action.
At the Global Initiative, we work with partners across the world to lobby for law reform to end violent punishment of girls and boys. There are currently 59 states that have prohibited corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. Prohibiting violent punishment is an essential first step towards eliminating its use, as highlighted under the first strategy of INSPIRE, a set of seven strategies developed to prevent violence against children.
In order for law reform to be effective, it is crucial for it to be accompanied by public and professional educational awareness-raising programmes aimed at changing social norms and attitudes towards violent discipline. Only then will be able to say that SDG 16 has been achieved and all boys and girls can grow up free from violence.