Violations of human rights of women, such as domestic violence, have only rather recently been recognised as a human rights issue. Originally, the purpose of human rights norms was to protect the individual citizen from encroachments by State authorities into his/her private sphere. Traditionally, however, women were mostly responsible for home and family, which was part of the private sphere not covered by human rights standards.
Starting with the International Year of Women in 1975, the United Nations began to intensively discuss the situation of women around the world. The greatest achievement of this decade was the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of 1979, which now is one of the main international human rights agreements. The Convention established a Committee of Experts which reviews compliance with the Convention on the basis of State Reports. Since 2000, it also considers complaints submitted by individuals, pursuant to the CEDAW Optional Protocol drafted under Austrian Chairmanship. Austria was among the first countries to have accepted this individual complaint procedure by the CEDAW Committee. The review of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Austria by the CEDAW Committee took place on 13 February 2013 in Geneva.
The World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 marked a historical turning point by expressly recognising women’s rights as an “inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights”. This recognition and the demand that “women’s rights are human rights” resulted in the ambitious outcome of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, adopted on 31st October 2000, presents another milestone. This UN Resolution for the first time emphasises the essential role of women in all phases of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Austria is currently not a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), but actively participates as an observer. An Austrian delegation attends the Annual Meeting of the CSW every year. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) as well as the Population Fund (UNFPA) are also important partner organisations for the strengthening of women’s rights.
In cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Education and Women’s Affairs, the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs regularly organises events in order to facilitate exchange with NGOs and civil society on international developments regarding women’s rights.
Austrian activities for the protection of women’s rights
Better promotion and protection of women’s rights is a priority of Austrian foreign policy. Austria advocates this issue at all levels: at the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, as well as in its relations with third countries and in the context of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). Austria’s thematic priorities are enhancing the participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution and in peace processes; fighting violence against women, as well as economic and political empowerment of women.
The term “violence against women” means acts of violence committed against women on the grounds of their gender, or acts of violence that particularly affect women. Violence resulting from traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage is part of the global phenomenon of violence against women which happens in all cultures, religions and social groups. Austria is committed to combatting FGM and other traditional practises in the framework of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC), through awareness-raising programmes, for example in Ethiopia and Kenia. Moreover, Austria also supports the Gender-Unit of the African Union, which, in implementation of the „Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa“, is combatting FGM at the regional level. Finally, Austria is making financial contributions to the UN-Trust Fund on Violence Against Women.
Through training of its Embassy staff, Austria seeks to provide prompt consular protection to Austrian citizens abroad who e.g. are in danger of forced marriage. The Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) also supports projects in South Eastern Europe, including Moldova, combatting trafficking of women and girls for prostitution and slave labour. Under the chairmanship of the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, a National Action Plan Against Human Trafficking was drafted, which especially takes account of the situation of women and girls.
In the framework of the Council of Europe Austria played a leading role in the elaboration of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (so-called Istanbul Convention). Austria was also among the first States to ratify the Convention on 14 November 2013. The Istanbul Convention is the first legally binding tool that obliges States to act against gender-specific and domestic violence. It provides comprehensive measures to combat all forms of violence against women and to protect all victims of domestic violence.
During and after armed conflict, violence against women rises dramatically. Sexual violence against women is employed as a cruel weapon of war, and fleeing from war zones often results in economic and social insecurity. Austria is therefore particularly active in the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and UN Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008), as well as their successor resolutions 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013) und 2122 (2013).
UN Security Council Resolution 1894 (2009) regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict , which was adopted under Austrian chairmanship of the Security Council in 2009 presents another tangible contribution to systematically integrate women’s rights and interests in the context of peacekeeping missions.
Since 2007 Austria has a National Action Plan on Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) in peace missions, in the context of multilateral and bilateral contacts, as well as in the framework of development cooperation and humanitarian aid. The Action Plan, which was revised in January 2012, aims at the promotion of the inclusion of women in peace processes, the strengthening of preventive measures against violence against women, the increased participation of women in peace missions, as well as increasing the number of women in senior positions in the UN or the EU. A Working Group chaired by the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs reviews the implementation of the Action Plan on an annual basis.