Vienna (Austria), 24 May 2023 – Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) is like a contagious disease that affects cultures, generations, and families the world over. Its harmful side effects lead to broken relationships, abuse, and even death. GBVF can be stopped though, by using a multi-sectoral approach, understanding its intricate nature and modus operandi, and responding effectively.
The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) side event was one such powerful reaction to GBVF's devastation by bringing together policymakers, victim's rights advocates, and experts working in the criminal justice sector to discuss survivor-centered strategies for preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Participants had the opportunity to share experiences and best practices and explored innovative approaches to address this complex issue.
Ambassador Laura Holgate acted as Moderator, and the Executive Director of UNODC, Ms Ghada Waly, presented the Keynote Address. Dr Linda Naidoo, Dr Beth van Schaack, and Ms Sonja Aziz contributed as panellists.
Dr Linda Naidoo, Coordinator of the Gender-based Violence Programme in the SADC Region, focused her presentation on a recent production of a mock trial, developed in partnership with the Namibian judiciary. She pointed out that gender inequality and intersecting forms of discrimination negatively impact women’s ability to report GBV and access justice. Therefore, a survivor-centred, justice response to GBV through a gender-responsive institution, is required to meet the diverse needs of women.
Survivors of GBV face many diverse challenges in pursuing justice. Women with intersecting vulnerabilities, such as those in conflict with the law, those with disabilities, drug users, those in conflict situations, etc. face even greater challenges. With that in mind, the mock trial has been produced as a short film that represents a practical, humorous, two-part, capacity-building tool.
The first part of the film provides a critical, insightful depiction of everything that can go wrong in a courtroom, which would further violate the survivors' rights. Even the judicial officers' attitudes, e.g. prejudices, body language, tone of voice, etc., could prompt factors to hinder the course of justice.
The second part of the film presents the correct way judicial officers should manage the environment of the courtroom, thereby fostering a survivor-centred approach. Survivors should feel protected and supported to testify, and their agency and autonomy should be promoted. Ultimately, these factors impact the quality of evidence obtained.
Ms Ghada Waly, Executive Director, stressed that being a woman increases a person’s likelihood to experience sexual violence. Women account for 6 out of every 10 homicide victims killed by intimate partners or other family members. Crimes involving violence against women remain under-reported and unlikely to end in conviction. Those women who are brave enough to seek justice often face secondary victimisation through gaps in criminal law and procedures, or victim blaming and inadequate responses by professionals. Inadequate responses from criminal justice institutions mean that perpetrators are irresponsibly released on bail, or not penalised when they disobey the protection orders against them. Many women have lost their lives when partners launch a revenge attack against them at the first opportunity.
Dr Linda Naidoo mentioned that a legal response alone (even a correct one), is inadequate to meet the complex and multi-faceted needs of GBV survivors. What is needed, is a comprehensive, context-specific, long-lasting prevention approach to GBV survivors that includes consideration of their rights and needs.
Women in the criminal justice system should act as agents of change, which UNODC is promoting through its ‘Women in Justice/for Justice’ campaign. For example, women judges bring different perspectives and experiences, thereby, strengthening judicial systems.
A survivor-centered approach highlights promising pathways to justice for GBV survivors.