Abstract

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in September 1995, and represented an important step towards the achievement of equality for women. At the Conference, the progress made towards equality was acknowledged, but it was also acknowledged that many goals have not been achieved yet, and that cultural changes of fundamental importance remain to be made. Indeed, in many countries the cultural approach to violence and discrimination against women is quite fatalistic; they believe violence against women cannot be solved by laws. However, this approach overlooks the role played by societies in tolerating practices of discrimination; stereotypes based on sex are promoted and circulated through communication channels. This is particularly evident in pornography; through the use of mass-media, pornography advertises images of women deserving and enjoying sexual degradation. By doing so, pornography functions as the means by which sex offenders can justify to themselves violence against women. Despite evidence linking pornography and actual perpetration of sexual violence, in many countries, pornography is socially and legally regarded as protected expression. This paper illustrates the links between pornography and sexual violence that make pornography a human rights issue, and indicates prospective measures to be taken in national laws and policies as well as in international law.