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UN Inter-Agency Campaign to Prevent Violence against Women

Campaign Highlights

Executive Summary

The Campaign to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls has achieved significant gains with limited resources. It has demonstrated that a concerted effort can make inroads into combating social ills. Today people living all over the world view violence against women and girls as a human rights violation that must be stopped.

The shift in attention given to human rights abuses by the media and courts has been accomplished by a uniting of movements and historical circumstance. With dramatic changes in politics and information systems, many local movements have adopted universal language and worked with international counterparts to advance toward their goals. As global messages have gathered momentum, human rights issues have gained prominence.

The timing of the Regional Campaign corresponded to the push to increase the profile of human rights issues among UN Agencies and other international bodies worldwide. International and local actors have placed violence against women on national policy makers’ agendas. They have reframed it into an issue of universal human dignity rather than one subject to the vagaries of cultural specificity.

In most societies, including Western ones, violence against women has been seen traditionally as a private problem: the physical manifestation of family disputes over which the state had no authority. The attention paid to universal human rights abuses provided an opening in which to expose violence against women and elevate it from the position to which it has been relegated in many societies. As a result, violence against women and girls is no longer a private problem or a personal tragedy. It has a public name and face.

New social movements have taken advantage of these political opportunities to unite local issues with international human rights standards. These movements have a signatory success: they place important issues at the top of international agendas. International agendas, in turn, support standard setting to transform social movements from silent revolutions into vocal action.

International networks and public campaigns have achieved significant success through supporting national social movements. These movements have designed new strategies to target powerful international actors with influence over policy. In the context of increased global trends and decreased public influence on the part of local constituencies, social change networks are learning and implementing new and innovative techniques for setting agendas and making their voices heard. Most importantly, these networks have presented human rights debates in ways that draw strength from the genuine universal principle of human dignity which exists in most cultures throughout the world (Kek & Sikkink, 1998).

The passing of 1998 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet despite increased acceptance of these standards, the tension between local traditions and universal principles still exists. Promoting human rights through legal instruments does not necessarily resonate among populations without strong legal traditions, and legislation that promotes human rights can be viewed as invasive. Viewing human rights principles as issues of human dignity makes the basic principles more palatable to a more diverse group of people.

Acts of violence violate human dignity and make the connection between preservation of dignity and prevention of violence against women and girls clear. Promoting human rights as an aspect of human dignity also furthers the agenda to prevent violence against women. Thus, the Campaign to Prevent Violence against Women, carries an intercultural message that unites women and men against violence.

The UNDP portion of the Campaign has provided a rallying point for local movements and lent an international profile to these campaigns throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It helped these movements achieve recognition and push forward the reforms they have promoted. Without this support, these movements may have lost themselves in local bureaucracy, patron/client relations and traditional cultural paradigms.

External actors such as intergovernmental agencies act as watchdogs, requesting adherence to promises and facilitating collaboration that subsequently supports government actions. Intervention of this type also provides support to those within governments or other organizations who would like to pursue similar changes, but have been blocked by competing priorities in the governments within which they work. Additionally, widespread institutional involvement in the Inter-Agency Campaign has helped to mainstream the movement to prevent violence against women and girls by broadening participating constituencies at local and international levels. By making this an Inter-Agency Campaign, constituencies and institutions may have been engaged which, otherwise, the traditional women’s movement would not necessarily have accessed.

Lessons learned

Based on campaign successes, we would like to highlight three primary elements of this initiative:

  1. Partnerships. Partnership is perhaps one of the most common words used among international organizations, whether they be governmental, intergovernmental or nongovernmental. Although the word is used often, it is rarely implemented effectively. Social change requires strong collaboration, and these partnerships require committed membership, dedicated leadership and clear goals. Effective collaboration is supported by agency mandates that make collaboration a priority, measure it and include it as a criterion in evaluations.
  2. We cannot overstate the importance of effective partnerships. Public partnerships pressure political actors to stand for the issues their constituencies support. Greater collaboration among governmental, nongovernmental and intergovernmental agencies therefore provides leverage for social movements to claim their gains.

  3. Local networks. Programs to promote social change fall flat in the absence of a meaningful link to society. Using existing social networks can provide a point of entry for promoting other issues that are beneficial to the community. For example, in Brazil there are many organizations that are currently involved in human rights issues. These organizations adopted women’s human rights within their mission and promoted these issues within their already existing networks.
  4. Complementary goals. Many organizations that attempt to launch partnerships do not find meaningful and complementary goals for all participants. Innovative programs provide innovative ways for partners to use their comparative advantages and work together constructively. Collaboration entails understanding clearly the benefits of a movement for each participant. As a result, it is important that all involved understand and support the goals the movement is working toward.


Regardless of the extent to which universal values resonate with universal populations, no divide can be crossed without concerted efforts and concrete plans to change public perception. New social movements have made gains through effective collaboration between service delivery and advocacy organizations. While service delivery organizations are critical in dealing with the symptoms of violence, advocacy organizations are critical for raising awareness about the causes of violence and ultimately eliminating these causes.

Successful public education campaigns are predicated on delivering one clear message via multiple venues and a variety of public media. The Campaign to Prevent Violence against Women has taken varied approaches on national levels to eradicate the same public scourge.

The following excerpts provide examples of innovative programs selected from national campaigns in Latin America and the Caribbean. For a comprehensive list of the achievements of the Campaign, please see national campaigns.

Legal Reform

Raising the profile of critical social issues, signing and ratifying international treaties accomplishes little without simultaneous substantive changes in national legal frameworks. The Campaign provided a clear goal toward which UN agencies and other groups were able to collaborate in instances where their collective strengths may not have translated into decisive action. Through the Campaign, many of the governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have also taken steps to reform the laws that protect women from violations of their rights and dignity.

Although many of these governments have made significant gains in defining and criminalizing acts of violence against women, Ecuador, particularly, has provided an excellent example of the advances made in domestic legal reform. The following points highlight these reforms:

  • As follow up to the approval of the Law Against Domestic Violence, and in collaboration with women’s groups, UNFPA supported the Parliament’s Special Commission on Women, Children and the Family to present a proposal for incorporating reforms in the Penal Code. The Penal Code that addresses cases of rape, incest, prostitution of minors and sexual harassment, has not been modified since 1971. The proposals include: deleting subjective terminology, such as referring to ‘honest women’; increasing penalties for rape from two to four years; increasing the age of protection to minors from 12 to 14 years of age; defining and punishing sexual harassment, with incarceration of six months to two years; penalizing child prostitution.
  • Women’s human rights have been introduced into the curriculum of the law faculty starting in Guayaquil. A number of seminars were held with lawyers and judges.
  • UNFPA and WHO supported women’s groups and parliamentarians in preparing proposals to incorporate sexual and reproductive rights in the 1997 Constitutional Reforms. The Constitutional Reforms recognize the right to personal integrity, and forbid all forms of physical, psychological, and sexual violence and moral coercion.
  • Through the initiative of the Municipality of Quito and UNIFEM, and with the participation of various NGOs, a Network for the prevention of gender violence was established with the participation of the Municipality, UNIFEM, NGOs, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO.


Press releases, articles, interviews and stories raise the profile of campaign issues from the national to the international level, and from the private to the public level. This section presents 10 articles, press releases and newspaper articles that have done just that. The articles were produced for and distributed to all resident coordinators, UN media and gender focal points prior to each designated UN day. Guatemala launched an innovative media section of the campaign. Some highlights are listed here:

  • November 1997: A high level meeting on violence against women with Inter-Agency groups on Gender, Government counterparts and NGOs. 200 people attended and it was inaugurated by the Vice President.
  • March 1998: A press conference to familiarize the media and population with the regional campaign.
  • April 1998: GIGAM (Inter-Agency group on Gender and the Advancement of Women) held a meeting to design the national action plans to help the Campaign and coordinate initiatives and functions amongst the UN and other actors participating in the Campaign.
  • Public Education: The materials were used to produce short radio and television spots which will broadcast all over the country; 23 radio spots including four in five indigenous languages broadcast nationally; two TV spots produced and broadcast; well-known Guatemalan women were mobilized to advocate for action to stop VAW.
  • November 1998: The Campaign was launched during a national public event with the First Lady and the UNDP Representative of the Regional Inter-Agency Group in commemoration of the International Day to Prevent Violence Against Women.


Training programs have provided essential information and raised awareness among government officials and the military regarding key issues relating to prevention of violence against women. In Peru:

A workshop was held entitled: "Situation and Proposals to End Violence Against Women", organized and financed by UNFPA/Peru. Various national networks and UN agencies participated. The workshop addressed issues in the areas of legal reform, education, communication and coordination in addition to launching special projects.

Summary of training goals established:

  • Launch information and communication campaigns to prevent interfamily violence and raise awareness among the authorities, communities, health personnel, organizations in general.
  • Create and develop a project for adolescents: "School of future parents, for children and adolescents of school age"
  • Training specialized personnel to assist victims of violence.
  • Awareness raising among the media, schools, associations, parishes, municipalities and health centers.
  • Educate authorities regarding ways to avoid unwitting furthering violence (entrapment).
  • Promote prevention among institutions (schools, universities, churches).

In Venezuela:

  • May 1998: UNDP organized a one day training seminar for: the National Guard, the Air Force, the Navy and the Army on issues relating to violence against women and girls. This human rights seminar was also coordinated with UNHCR. The overall context of the seminar was on human rights in general and specifically on violence against women. The specific component on violence against women was facilitated by local women’s NGOs and by AVESA (the oldest organization working on the issue). The media covered these seminars with a full-page article in local papers and in the Daily Journal. Follow-up to these seminars may include a gender and violence component in the Military curriculum.

Public awareness campaign items

All effective public education campaigns rely on campaign slogans and products promoting these slogans. By seeing and using the Campaign symbols, the issues enter into the everyday lives of the public and gain currency as a collective goal. Brazil produced and launched many innovative campaign products. Some highlights are listed here:

  • A famous Brazilian artist designed a national poster for the Campaign.
  • One million checks are sent to civil servants every month with the Campaign slogan.
  • An information kit was created and disseminated that includes: posters and stickers with the national design, the national report on Violence Against Women (VAW), information on UN agencies mandates on VAW, information on the National Secretary on Human Rights and its activities, information on the National Mechanism on Women and its activities, a calendar of UN agency activities, and Pledge of Commitments.

In Ecuador:

  • Providing snacks to school children with the Campaign slogan " A Life Free of Violence: It’s Our Right" written on each package.
  • Other Campaign products: posters, capacity building kits, pens, stickers, pins, buttons, media kit, etc.

Special projects. Many countries established their own special project to correspond to local needs and resources. Nicaragua used existing local networks and interests to focus resources on examining violence against women in an innovative and collaborative way.

  • 28 May 1998: A Forum on Women’s Human Rights coordinated by UNFPA and the National Women’s Institute (INIM) in Juigalpa, with the Mayor of Juigalpa, hospital director, chief of police and representatives from the local women’s movement. A youth group presented socio-dramas on violence. Brochures and badges on the one year old Nicaraguan Law (Law N. 230) on the prevention and sanction of sexual and domestic violence were available to participants.
  • UNFPA Integrating VAW initiatives at sub-programme and project level: Established a project to support the National Network of Women against Violence, through publishing and disseminating material on violence addressed to youths and adolescents. A seminar was held with members of the media on treating interfamily violence adequately. Also the Network has requested UNFPA to collaborate in a national campaign under the slogan: No mas impunidad: Quiero vivir sin violencia (No more impunity: I want a life without violence), to be channelled through mass media, publications and seminars at the community level. This campaign was linked with the UN campaign during Nov-Dec 1998.

UNDP Against Violence Home Page

For more information, please contact Aparna Mehrotra, Focal Point for Women, Tel: (212)963-6828 Fax: (212) 963-9545, e-mail: mehrotra@un.org

Management and direction: Aparna Mehrotra
Website  design
: Lola Salas
Writing, editing& proofing: Aparna Mehrotra, Dana Burde, Rini Banerjee and Tanaz Pardiwala
Graphic: Joan Miró
(detail) from folder by Isis International